Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Am Going to Clarion West

When the phone rang on the afternoon of Saturday, March 15th, I didn't answer it because I didn't recognize the number. The call rolled over to voicemail, and a few minutes later I got this transcript by e-mail:

(Though that first sentence contains some egregious errors, I can't help but imagine what a "craigslist writers workshop" might look like.)

I listened to the message at least twice before I called back, leaving my own voicemail and initiating the twentieth-century practice known as "phone tag." I then returned to whatever I was doing, a bit distracted because why would Clarion West call me if they were just going to reject me again? I'd applied several times before, starting in 2008, and they'd always sent responses by e-mail. Could it be? I did my best not to get my hopes up. Maybe there was a question about my application info, or some kind of file problem with my uploaded writing sample PDF.

Anyway, long story short, they called back about an hour later, and this time I picked up the phone. I don't quite recall the details of the conversation because I was alternately nervous, excited, and flustered throughout. But the gist of it is: they offered me a spot in this year's workshop, I said yes, and now I'm going to spend part of this summer at "an intensive six-week workshop in Seattle’s University District, geared to help [me] prepare for a professional career as a writer of speculative fiction."


I almost didn't apply to either Clarion workshop this year, because the one-two punch of annual rejections from both of them had become a pretty discouraging ritual. But DeeAnn convinced me to do it, because if nothing else, the process would force me to (1) write two new short stories and (2) reflect on why I had wanted to go to a Clarion workshop in the first place. And she was right, as usual. I was rejected again by Clarion UCSD, but now I have two great new stories to submit to paying markets; and writing my "backgrounder" essay for Clarion West reminded me of why I do what I do. Even if I hadn't gotten in, that would have helped me keep on keepin' on.

So that's the big news from the last couple of weeks. This will be the longest workshop I've ever attended. Some people describe the Clarion experience as "boot camp for spec-fic writers," and I'm hoping it will be at least as motivating and focusing as Viable Paradise was for me, nearly six years ago. I've been working at this writing thing for a while now—over twenty years, if you count my high school scribblings and ignore my long hiatus in the late 1990s and early 2000s—and I'm ready to take the next step into a larger world.


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I Like Signage

One of the many reasons I loved Star Trek: The Next Generation was its art direction and set design--in particular, the signage. Here are a few examples, courtesy of Ex Astris Scientia:

Of course, the text shown on these signs consists of various jokes, including song lyrics and references to other TV shows and movies. But in the world of the series, I love the idea that everything on the Enterprise-D was clearly labeled, and even a new crew member would be able to easily find what they were looking for by checking a map, asking the computer, and/or reading signs.

In the bachelor pad apartment I had right after college (which I shared for a time with this roommate), I made my own paper-and-tape signs for a lot of things. I labeled which switch was the light and which was the fan in the bathroom; I labeled what that one random switch on the wall by the kitchen did; I even put a sign on the bottom of the toilet seat cover to remind guests to put the lid down after using it.* And in our current home, we have signs showing where the trash and recycling bins are in the kitchen. (Some guests still get confused, but that's another story.)

Why so many signs? Because each label I can read is information I don't have to remember. We can debate about whether it takes more mental effort to read a couple of words than to recall the same fact, but the point is, I'm used to reading signs. Reading signs and interpreting their meaning is how I survive in the world. I'm doing it several times a minute while I drive, I do it every time I look for the restroom in a new bar or restaurant, and basic literacy is a requirement for using Twitter. Signage is civilization.

More than that, signage is inclusive. Putting up a sign is an implicit welcome to people who aren't intimately familiar with the culture of your place, who may not understand all the "unwritten rules" or traditional etiquette. Posting a sign means you acknowledge that the people who visit may not have studied the complete local history before stopping by--and that's okay.

I don't like not knowing the rules when I meet people or go to a new place. I don't like people not telling me the rules but acting like I should know them anyway. You don't want people in your club? Fine. Just make it clear that it's a private thing. Don't be a dick by pretending like anyone can come in, then treating the uninitiated like they're second class citizens. Everyone was a newbie once, and of course nobody's going to know what your rules are if you don't make the rulebook available.

Maybe it makes you feel more important if you have the power to make other people feel bad. And maybe you'll eventually alienate so many people that they go away and make a bigger, better organization without you, and you become the underprivileged. At which point you'd better hope those unwashed masses don't hold a grudge.

So that's why I like signs, I like FAQs, I always look for the "about" page when visiting a new web site, and I always read the fine print. Because even if you were pressured by threat of legal action to put it there, even if it's written in dense legalese, and even if most of it is boilerplate, it's inviting me to learn about you. And that's a friendly gesture.


* Closing the lid entirely bypasses the inane "leave the seat up or down?" question that often divides women and men. It also prevents pets and small children from accidentally falling into the bowl.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

SnoutCast #203: Stacy Costa

This month, we talked to the world's only female enigmatologist, Stacy Costa at the University of Toronto, who helped create the recent "Research Matters" Virtual Scavenger Hunt!

[ Download mp3 ]

Show length: 49:49
File size: 47.8MB

Our conversation topics included (but were not limited to):

Follow @Stacy_A_Costa on Twitter for more!

What Else?

Tell us we're wrong on the Internet! E-mail or post a comment at

Music: instrumentals from "Code Monkey" and "The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton

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Curtis DeeAnn Stacy

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Love My Wife

Nine years ago today, I married my best friend.

A few fun facts about our wedding:

Our invitations included custom-made Fluxx cards.

As part of our ceremony, The Richter Scales sang "Pencil Boy," "Storybook Love," and "Up the Ladder."

We had pyrotechnics on stage.

There was a mini-puzzle hunt.

Instead of dancing, we had a game show called "Win Curtis and DeeAnn's Wedding Presents!"

All our friends and family made it a wonderful day.

Happy Anniversary, DeeAnn. I love you.


Wednesday, March 05, 2014

I Am in the One Percent

...of unsolicited stories which were accepted for publication in Cohesion Press' upcoming military horror anthology SNAFU. Just signed the contract last night! Here's the cover:

Per the official announcement: "Out of a total of just over 1100 submissions, only 11 made it into the final ToC." That means I'm in the top ~1% of unsolicited submissions, and that ain't nothing. Plus, according to the back cover copy, I may also be one of "some of the best writers working in the field today." Aw, shucks.

In related news, I've been reading Weston Ochse's SEAL Team 666, and I can understand why (1) he's an internationally best-selling author and (2) the book was immediately optioned by Metro, with The RockDwayne Johnson attached to star.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

More Information Than I Required

If it weren't for robo-calls to the wrong phone number, I would have absolutely no idea what was going on in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Thanks, imperfect automation!

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