Wednesday, December 28, 2016

#Xmasmoviethon Index, 2016 Edition

Every year around Christmastime, DeeAnn and I spend an entire day at the movies seeing as many first-run shows as we can. Here are some statistics recounting how we spent our Boxing Day this year...

(with apologies to Harper's)

Movies seen: 5

Musicals seen: 3

Animated movies seen: 2

Disney movies seen: 2

Animated Disney movies seen: 1

Movies set in the past: 3

Movies with Alan Tudyk in a supporting role: 2

Movies in which Alan Tudyk played a human: 0

Movies DeeAnn compared to No Country for Old Men: 1

Movies with problematic depictions of race: 2

Movies with problematic depictions of sex/gender: 2

Movies that made me cry: 3

Yes, I am a __-year-old girl: 12

Length of marathon, in hours: 15

You could probably figure out most of the films we saw from the clues above. Feel free to work on that puzzle as long as you like, then see below for more hints (click through to Instagram for answers):

  1. A musical set in the past
  2. A movie set in the past
  3. Another musical
  4. Yet another musical
  5. Another movie set in the past


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Saturday Night #LongKiss2016

WHAT: livetweeting movie THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT
WHEN: 8:00PM Pacific Time (UTC/GMT-8) on December 24th (Xmas Eve)
HASHTAG: #LongKiss2016

You may recall this film from Day 15 of #42Movies, my birthday blog series last year. A few of our live-tweet participants have never seen it before, and I'm looking forward to seeing their reactions, and how well this flick holds up after the last two decades of tumultuous American history.

Want to follow our featured commentators? Subscribe to this Twitter list comprising:
  • Cylia Amendolara
  • Mindy Bardon
  • Angela Burkhead
  • Curtis C. Chen (IT ME)
  • Simone Cooper
  • Jennifer Dumont
  • David D. Levine
  • Mary-Lynn McGregor
  • Maria Fisher
  • Taylor Fisher
  • Andy Steigleder
Of course, anyone is welcome to join the fun by tweeting along with the #LongKiss2016 hashtag.

IMPORTANT: you're responsible for synchronizing your own viewing! If you don't own the movie, you'll need to secure a physical copy; it doesn't appear to be available to rent online. Check your local public library, video store, or an online retailer (many offer the DVD for less than $10, including tax and shipping).

Watch for an official "movie sign" tweet from @curtiscchen at 8:00 PM Pacific Time on Saturday!


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my post-election ennui. Now I'm doing something about it.

Today is #GivingTuesday, and regardless of how you feel about the proliferation of Thanksgiving holiday adjuncts (Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, etc.), there are many opportunities to amplify your donations today and this week due to other people and organizations matching funds.

And sure, those folks could just give their money freely instead of digging a hole in the ground, but it's their money. Anyway, the point of matching funds is to spread awareness and encourage others to give as well.

I'm taking the advice of many wiser people and setting up monthly donations to support causes I believe in. I can spare $100 a month—that's $10 to each group, in case you're counting—and here's where it's going:
  1. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) - not tax deductible, FYI.
  2. Planned Parenthood (PPFA) - tax deductible "to the fullest extent allowable," because laws matter, goddammit.
  3. Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) - "fully tax deductible as allowed by law, less the fair market value of any substantial gifts received."
  4. Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) - now based in Portland, Oregon!
  5. Black Lives Matter - "IDEX provides services such as fiduciary oversight, financial management, and other administrative services to Black Lives Matter. IDEX is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization for both federal and state purposes. Our federal tax identification number is 77-0071852."
  6. Native American Rights Fund - not just because their acronym is NARF.
  7. National Immigration Law Center - because immigrants, we get the job done.
  8. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) - "a not-for-profit organization recognized as tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3)."
  9. Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) - "a 501(c)(3) under federal tax guidelines. TAX ID: 77-0646756"
  10. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) - the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights organization in the United States.
So. Tell me. What are you doing to fuck shit up?


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

We Can Be Heroes

Hello. This is my post-terrible-election blog. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

I've had a lot of thoughts and feelings over the past week. I haven't been very productive, writing-wise. But here, I think, is some much-needed perspective:

To wit, nobody should be surprised to learn that America—overall, historically, demonstrably—is racist as fuck. Non-white minorities have always known this. If you look like any kind of brown person, it's something you have to deal with every single day. (I could tell you stories. Oh boy, could I tell you stories. But later.)

So. Racism wins: not that surprising. Still devastating, yeah. Many of us hoped for better from our fellow citizens. But we are ready to face this.

Remember back in the year 2000, in DC Comics, when Lex Luthor was elected President of the United States? That's right, evil supervillain Lex Luthor. And that motherfucker was a straight-up murderer.

That storyline had some logic issues, as pointed out in the article linked above, but my point is: we've been imagining dystopias for, well, ever. 1984, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid's Tale, is any of this ringing a bell?

This situation is nothing new. We've been seeing it for years, in fiction and in other nations' oppressive regimes. The difference is that now, we get a chance to fight for real. We are the Rebel Alliance. We are the Maquis. We are the Green Martians.

So fight, if you haven't already been fighting. Fight for the oppressed. Fight for those who are weaker and less privileged than yourself. Donate money if you can. Volunteer if you have time. Fight for truth, justice, and the goddamn American way. Because this is where heroes are made, in the crucible of change.

And never forget—this is important—always remember, we are stronger together.

We all have a choice: to kneel before Zod, or to rise up with Alexander Hamilton.

What will you choose?


P.S. If you don't know where to start, HOLY FUCK THE ELECTION might help.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

My OryCon 38 Schedule

Next weekend (Nov.18-20) I'll be reading, paneling, and drinking at Oregon's premier, fan run, annual science fiction/fantasy convention held in Portland. Please stop by the Portland Marriott Downtown Waterfront if you're around. We can raise a glass to freedom, if nothing else...

Thursday night 11/17 (pre-con)

Karaoke with friends. Contact me for details, if we be friends.

Find me to get KANGAROO swag!

Friday 11/18

4pm - Reading from Kangaroo Too - Hawthorne (2)
You won't believe where the superpowered secret agent is going next, in the forthcoming sequel to Waypoint Kangaroo! #clickbait

5pm - Panelist: "Social Media and the Modern Writer" - Meadowlark (3)
with Lizzy Shannon, Stephanie Weippert, Elton Elliott, Katie Lane
Websites, Facebook fan pages, email lists, contests, twitter, tumblr, Pinterest, ads, blogs and that annoying thing called a "platform": what works, what doesn't, and why you need to care (spoiler: you do).

Saturday 11/19

11am - Moderator: "First Page Idol" - Douglas Fir (3)
with Annie Bellet, Doug Odell, David Levine
Submit the first page of your novel to our talented author panelists, and listen to them read aloud that first page(keeping the writer's identity anonymous) and give thoughtful reactions. ADD(14 Nov 2016): E-mail your first page submission (please omit the author name) to:

2pm - Panelist: "How to Blurb Your Novel" - Meadowlark (3)
with Dale Ivan Smith, Tori Centanni, Lizzy Shannon
We all need them, we all hate them. Summing up our books may be harder than writing them in the first place! Learn techniques to write compelling book descriptions (aka "blurbs"), and hook readers.

3pm - Co-Host: "Sci Fi Ask Me Another! (Quiz Show)" - Columbia (L)
with Jeff Soesbe
Curtis Chen and Jeff Soesbe present a variety of games involving science fiction and fantasy trivia, puzzles, and wordplay. Audience participation is required, and rewarded! Can you make it to the final Elimination Game? Come have fun while competing for prizes!

7pm - Moderator: "The Star Trek Universe: My, How You've Grown!" - Columbia (L)
with Alma Alexander, Jennifer Willis, Phyllis Irene Radford
A wide ranging panel, with the changes (or consistencies) found in TOS, TNG, DS9, and all movies being fair game. Gene Roddenberry tried to create a future without racism or hatred, and a Federation that prioritized peace and non-interference. Yet disagreement, jealousy, envy, war, and a monetary system for keeping score of one's successes are all excellent literary plot devices. With the benefit now of 20/20 hindsight, did the writers succeed? Is the Star Trek future one you'd want to live in?

Sunday 11/20

11am - Panelist: "Feedback Workshop" - Douglas Fir (3)
with Susan Matthews, David Weber, Richard A. Lovett, David Levine
Bring your questions, manuscripts, critiques, etc. A hands-on workshop on how to apply the feedback you get from readers, editors, writer's workshops, critique groups, etc.

1pm - Autograph Session - Autograph Area (LL1)
with Blythe Ayne, Joyce Reynolds-Ward, Deborah Ross, David Dvorkin
Get your books (or whatever) signed by your favorite authors!

2pm - Panelist: "Hold on to Your Reader" - Douglas Fir (3)
with Caroline M. Yoachim, Maura van der Linden, Shawna Reppert
The wrong word choices can throw your reader right out of the story. Learn how to maintain suspension of disbelief.

4pm (offsite) - Powell's Sci-Fi Authorfest 10 (Cedar Hills Crossing)
"A starfleet of science fiction and fantasy authors descends for one galactic booksigning event. Meet Brent Weeks, Timothy Zahn, Daniel H. Wilson, Annie Bellet, Tina Connolly, David Levine, Curtis Chen, Lili Saintcrow, Dave Barra, Wendy Wagner, Jennifer Brozek, Mike Moscoe/Shepherd, J. A. Pitts, Devon Monk, Steve Perry, Patrick Swenson, Rhiannon Held, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Kevin James Breaux, and Deborah Ross."

For complete details, visit:

ALSO: I will not be running the ORCs (Open Read & Critique sessions) this time around, but I've passed the torch to three new facilitators! If you're a writer looking for some fast feedback, see if any of these sessions will fit into your OryCon weekend:
  1. Friday 1pm with Jeremiah Reinmiller
  2. Friday 2pm with Stephanie Weippert
  3. Saturday 1pm with Stephanie Weippert
  4. Saturday 2pm with Mark Niemann-Ross
  5. Saturday 3pm with Jeremiah Reinmiller
  6. Sunday 1pm with Mark Niemann-Ross
Look for ORC rules and sign-up sheets outside the Willamette room (lobby level).


Tuesday, October 04, 2016

1,356,976,800 Seconds Old (Approximately)

I turned 43 years old this past Saturday. We celebrated without much fanfare, and that was by choice: I guess I'm now on the even-numbered-birthdays-blowout plan, after the big Trek puzzle hunt for my 40th and the karaoke extravagana for my 42nd.

But despite being low-key, we did manage to pack in quite a few things:

One week before my actual birthday, I livetweeted my binge-rewatch of the first season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the best damn show on television. See my Storify for #CXB43.

The night before my birthday, I gathered some friends for drinks and dinner at the Multnomah Whiskey Library, followed by dessert at Petunia's Pies & Pastries.

On my actual birthday, D and I had breakfast (featuring waffles!) at Gigi's Cafe. Then I met some friends to do "Kidnapped!" at Portland Escape Rooms, which we did escape, taking just six minutes longer than the current record time. We rounded out the evening with Bridget Quigg's one-woman comedy show Techlandia at Funhouse Lounge, and filled the intervening hours with stops at two different McMenamins.

On Sunday, we dragged our friend Darla to the Portland Art Museum, where among other things, we saw this camel. Then we stopped at Lapellah for happy hour.

Finally, on Monday, we met another friend for dim sum and chatted about escape rooms and general puzzling.

Is that an accurate snapshot of my life right now? More or less. It doesn't encompass any work activities (writing, freelancing, etc.), but otherwise these are pretty much the things we love doing: hanging out with friends, watching shows, eating and drinking, and playing games. Not necessarily in that order.


Friday, September 09, 2016

Saturday Night's Alright for #WritersWithDrinks

September's Writers With Drinks includes multi-award-winning author Anuradha Roy. Plus survival poetry, kickass comedy, and tons of science fiction and fantasy!

When: Saturday, September 10 from 7:30 PM to 9:30 PM, doors open 6:30 PM
Who: Anuradha Roy, Margaret Wappler, Hollie Hardy, Naamen Tilahun, Dominique Gelin and Curtis Chen!
How much: $5 to $20, all proceeds benefit the CSC
Where: The Make Out Room, 3225 22nd. St., San Francisco, CA

About the readers/performers:

Anuradha Roy's latest book, Sleeping on Jupiter, won the DSC Prize for Fiction 2016 and was nominated for the Man Booker prize 2016. It has been nominated for various other literary prizes, including the FT/ Oppenheimer Prize, Hindu Prize for Best Fiction 2015, the Tata Book of the Year Award 2015, and the Atta Galatta Bangalore Literature Festival Fiction Prize 2015. She won the Economist Crossword Prize for her second novel, The Folded Earth. Her first novel, An Atlas of Impossible Longing, has been widely translated and was picked as one of the Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post and the Seattle Times. It has been named by World Literature Today as one of the 60 most essential books on modern India and was shortlisted for the Crossword Prize. Anuradha Roy won the Picador-Outlook Non-Fiction Prize in 2004 for her essay, "Cooking Women". She works as a designer at Permanent Black, an independent press which she runs with her husband, Rukun Advani. She lives in Ranikhet, India.

Margaret Wappler is the author of Neon Green, which has been praised by Edan Lepucki and Joe Meno. She has written about the arts and pop culture for the Los Angeles Times, Rolling Stone, Elle, Cosmo, New York Times, and several other publications. Neon Green is her first novel. She lives in Los Angeles and can be heard weekly on the pop culture podcast, Pop Rocket.

Hollie Hardy is the author of How to Take a Bullet, And Other Survival Poems (Punk Hostage Press, 2014), winner the 2016 Annual Poetry Center Book Award. She teaches writing classes at the SF Creative Writing Institute, SFSU, and Berkeley City College. She co-hosts Saturday Night Special, An East Bay Open Mic, curates Litquake’s Flight of Poets, and is a founder and core producer of Oakland’s Beast Crawl Literary Festival.

Na'amen Gobert Tilahun has spent most of his life shuttling between San Francisco and Los Angeles. He writes many different things that have appeared in/on, Fantasy Magazine, Queers Dig Time Lords, Stone Telling, Full of Crows, The Big Click, faggot dinosaur, Spelling the Hours, Eleven Eleven and others. He was recently named one of 13 Bay Area Writers to Watch/Read in 2016 by 7X7 magazine and his debut novel, a second-world epic/urban fantasy, The Root was published by Night Shade Books in June.

Dominique Gelin is a comedian in San Francisco who offers strong opinions on stupid things, -isms, and assholes. It’s all very fascinating. Before moving to the Bay Area, she was a finalist for the Ultimate Miami Comedian and was a part of the Boca Raton Comedy Festival. Dom has also touched the stage of a really famous comedy club that one time. She co-hosts two comedy shows, Millennials Ruin Everything and The Lazy Brunch Hour.

Curtis Chen is the author of Waypoint Kangaroo. His short fiction has appeared in "Daily Science Fiction" and SNAFU and will be featured in Baen's MISSION: TOMORROW. On top of all that, he's a former software engineer and once built a cat feeding robot. He lives in Vancouver, Washington.

About Writers With Drinks:

Writers With Drinks has won numerous "Best ofs" from local newspapers, and has been mentioned in 7x7, Spin Magazine and one of Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City novels. The spoken word "variety show" mixes genres to raise money for local causes. The award-winning show includes poetry, stand-up comedy, science fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, literary fiction, erotica, memoir, zines and blogs in a freewheeling format.


Friday, August 26, 2016

Schrödinger Sessions II Debrief

One month ago, I was fortunate enough to attend the Schrödinger Sessions II (SS2), a "science for science fiction writers" workshop at the University of Maryland (UMD), organized by the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) and focusing on quantum physics. The workshop was free, including lodging in a UMD dormitory and breakfast and lunch every day, and it was totally worth paying for my travel there and back.

I first got interested in quantum mechanics (QM) back in high school, when I'd had enough math and science education to grasp how subatomic physics actually worked. Well, that's what I thought. Quantum phenomena are super weird, you guys. But they are incontrovertibly real, even if they seem non-intuitive; as several of our SS2 lecturers mentioned, QM is possibly the most well-tested experimental science, and the results are reproducible and undeniable. We don't know why the universe works this way, but we know that it does.


A video posted by Curtis Chen (@sparckl) on

If you want to try deciphering my notes, here they are in one massive Google Doc.

And here are some excerpts from others' blog posts:

"JQI is what they call low energy quantum mechanics. This involves quantum computation, low temperatures, superconductivity-- all of those sorts of things we can do in a relatively small lab. High energy quantum mechanics and physics, those things done at the Large Hadron Collider and supernovas, aren't done at JQI. That didn't prevent us from asking about it."
Steven Popkes (day 2, day 3)

"And lest any of the participants leave the U Md (College Park) campus without their brain having exploded, we also covered -- bonus material -- some cosmological speculations and the recent first detection of gravitational waves."
Ed Lerner

"FYI: Next year, 2017, JQI plans to offer a similar seminar for a different professoinal group, Physics for Journalists, and then, pending funding, re-offer this same session as I attended, Physics for Sci-Fi Writers, in the summer of 2018."
Sally Ember (2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

BTW, the gravitational waves Ed mentions above were detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), which is pretty freakin' awesome. That evening lecture by Peter Shawhan was also where I learned about "squeezed light," and like most things during SS2—laser cooling, ultra-cold Bose-Einstein condensates, and quantum computing algorithms, to name just a few—it legitimately blew my mind.

I am definitely, as one person put it, "confused at a higher level" now. And I'm glad to know that even trained physicists continue to argue about the philosophical interpretations of QM. Nothing out of SS2 directly informs anything I'm currently working on, but I look forward to seeing what my subconscious does with it after a few months or years.

Some of the other awesome writers who attended SS2:
Apologies to anyone I've forgotten to mention. You're all fantastic and I'm glad I got to hang out with you for a few days!


On the way home from the workshop, Southwest cancelled my Saturday night flight (unclear whether due to weather or computer meltdown) and the earliest rebooking was Tuesday morning. Fortunately, my high school pal Tony lives in the area, so I was able to stay with him, catch up on the last eight years of our lives, check out the Udvar-Hazy Center, and also meet up with some DC area Sea Monkeys for lunch.

Life finds a way.


Friday, August 12, 2016

Is This a Clue?!

I received a mysterious postcard this week:

No obvious hidden messages jumped out at me from the text, but DeeAnn wisely pointed out that several different video games are mentioned or described. That's pretty interesting.

Without knowing where this might lead, I'm not very motivated to spend time trying to solve it... but I'm sharing it here in case somebody else out there wants to take a crack at it.

If you do figure something out, please leave a comment below! (I also don't care about spoilers.)


Sunday, August 07, 2016

My MidAmeriCon II Schedule

If you're going to Worldcon later this month, here's where you can find me:

SFWA Autographing: Curtis Chen
Friday 16:00 - 16:50, SFWA Table (Kansas City Convention Center)
I'm volunteering to staff the SFWA Table, and I'll be there starting at 3:00pm along with Ed Lerner. Stop by and say hello!

Reboot! Changing Up Comic Characters
Friday 18:00 - 19:00, 2204 (Kansas City Convention Center)
"Spider Gwen, Amadeus Cho, Thor, Captain America. We've seen a lot of rebooted characters in the the last couple of years with dramatically altered social and cultural backgrounds. The panel discuss how these 'new' old characters have changed the Marvel Universe, for better and worse."
Mr. Robin Wayne Bailey (M), Nina Niskanen, David VonAllmen, Mr. Curtis Chen

...and I'll otherwise be wandering around, probably in search of barbecue and/or booze.

If you run into me at the con, ask for a "TEAM KANGAROO" ribbon to decorate your badge and show your support for the hapless hero of my debut novel Waypoint Kangaroo!

Last but not least, my friend, Clarion West classmate, and all-around awesome person Marlee Jane Ward is organizing a Karaoke Extravaganza on Thursday night. This is a private(ish) event, so if you're interested, message me on Facebook and I'll invite you!


Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Kanga-Roundup

Yesterday was the "book birthday" for my debut novel WAYPOINT KANGAROO, and I did a bunch of guest blog posts and interviews to coincide with its release! But first things first... is running a sweepstakes to give away five copies of the book! Enter before 12noon Eastern Time this Friday, June 24th (US/Canada only).

And now on to the blog posts! Some of these may be more interesting to writers and other publishing professionals, but I hope they give every interested party some more insight into what went into creating Kangaroo:

John Scalzi, one of my instructors at Viable Paradise XII, was kind enough to offer me a spot on The Big Idea.

Mary Robinette Kowal, erstwhile Portlandian and all-around outstanding human being, generously let me ramble on about My Favorite Bit.

Alex Shvartsman, editor of the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology series, hosted my breakdown of WK's opening chapter on The Hook.

Sally 'Qwill' Janin—who, coincidentally, founded The Qwillery on my birthday in 2008—interviewed me about a variety of writing-related topics for the Qwillery's 2016 Debut Author Challenge.

Stephen Geigen-Miller, a fellow writer in Toronto and friend of the fabulous Claire Humphrey, interviewed me about Breaking In as a writer.

BONUS: related to "My Favorite Bit" above, you can hear an excerpt from the forthcoming audio book!

Thanks to everyone for supporting WAYPOINT KANGAROO. Launch day was fantastic. Now let's see if we can push this rocket all the way to Mars... and beyond!


Wednesday, June 01, 2016

My Preliminary Westercon 69 Schedule

Two blog posts in one week? Madness! (But it is technically a different month, so.)

I've received my draft schedule from the Westercon 69 programming department, and it's pretty light (as I requested):

Curtis Chen Reading
Fri Jul 1 3:00pm - 3:30pm
Curtis Chen reads from a selected work.
Curtis Chen

Choosing a Writing Workshop
Fri Jul 1 4:00pm - 5:00pm
From one-day workshops and moderated critiques to residential programs and even MFAs — what are the possibilities? How do you figure out what you need, and when? Panelists with experience as students, instructors, and program administrators review the pros and cons and answer questions.
Curtis Chen, David D. Levine, Karen Anderson (moderator), Manny Frishberg

Saturday 10am Kaffeeklatsch
Sat Jul 2 10:00am - 11:00am
Small group discussions with authors, artists, and other interesting personalities (referred to as "hosts") Sessions are limited to the host and a small group of attendees.
Anthony Pryor, Carol Berg, Curtis Chen, David D. Levine, Diana Pharaoh Francis, Sonia Lyris, Tod McCoy

Sun Jul 3 10:00am - 11:00am
Get your goodies signed!
Anthony Pryor, Curtis Chen, Emily Jiang

Of course, I'll be around all weekend. I'm always around.

Any updates to the above will be published in the official online schedule. If you're into Facebooking, feel free to add yourself to my rogue event listing for possible additional updates. And, of course, follow me on Twitter for my most up-to-the-minute blathering.


Sunday, May 29, 2016

Who Just Got Paid Once for Each Thumb He Has?

I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count:

For the record, that's a check from University Book Store for sales of Thursday's Children trade paperbacks, which Duane Wilkins was kind enough to stock at their table during this year's Rainforest Writers Village and Norwescon; and a check from SFWA for my "Special Synopsis Sauce" blog post, which editor extraordinaire Christie Yant encouraged me to write and submit.

And speaking of blogs, I know it's been several months since I posted here, and the business of writing (as shown above) is a big part of what's kept me away. I stopped doing my weekly "The I in Meat" posts because they were taking time away from more important, possibly income-generating things, and IMHO social media has supplanted blogging as online tools of choice for personal oversharing.

But just like Slack is no replacement for e-mail, there's still a place for blogging in the new internet landscape. I'm going to spend a little time re-figuring out how best to use this platform, especially since I'll be traveling a lot this summer and it might be nice to record some of those experiences.

Meanwhile, Happy Memorial Day Weekend, fellow Americans!


Saturday, February 06, 2016

I applied to Clarion West SIX TIMES

Applications for the Clarion West Summer Six-Week Writers Workshop in Seattle are now open. If you apply before February 10th, the fee is only $30; it goes up to $50 after that date. The last day to apply is March 1st. This year's instructors are Paul Park, Stephen Graham Jones, Elizabeth Bear, N. K. Jemisin, Sheila Williams, and Geoff Ryman.

As the title of this post says, I applied to CW six times (every year starting in 2008, only skipping 2012 because of WarTron) before I attended the workshop in 2014. My classmate Shannon Fay recently posted her CW personal essay—requested as part of the application; they want a "description of your background and your reasons for attending the workshop"—and I remember having the same experience she describes, of wondering what it was I should say about myself and how much weight the essay (vs. the writing sample) would carry with the decision-makers who selected each year's students.

So here's my own CW2014 personal essay, which was used "to introduce [me] to the workshop’s instructors" after my acceptance. Did the people reviewing the initial applications even read it? I don't know. On some level, I was really writing this essay for myself, to codify my own thinking about where I was with my fiction writing and what I wanted to work on next.

NOTE: hyperlinks below were not included in the original document, but have been added here for reference.

by Curtis C. Chen

Hello again! Here's what I've been up to (writing-wise) since my last Clarion West application in 2013:

I started querying my science fiction spy novel, WAYPOINT KANGAROO (the writing sample attached to this application), and the first place to which I sent it was literary agent Janet Reid's "Query Shark" blog. I'd never written a query letter before, and I figured it would be good to get some impartial feedback. Of course, there was no guarantee she'd even look at my e-mail, but it was a good way to set an external deadline--and those really help me get things done. (More on that later.)

So imagine my surprise when Janet Reid wrote back three days later to tell me she was posting my query on the blog. Not only that, but she wanted to read the novel! Now I really had a deadline to meet.

I cranked through the rewrites-in-progress, finished them in less than a week, and sent Janet Reid the full manuscript. Two months later, she replied--saying "it's not ready yet" but offering very detailed advice on how I might improve it. She also said she'd be glad to take a look at the next revision.

"Chuffed" doesn't begin to describe how I felt. I've done a lot more work on KANGAROO since then, and plan to get a new draft back to Janet Reid before the end of March--which would [be] one year since the Query Shark post. Deadlines are good.

Speaking of deadlines, I also wrapped up my "512 Words or Fewer" blog project last year. In October of 2008, I set myself the goal of posting an original piece of flash fiction every Friday. I wanted to force myself to write more and different stories, and this compact format seemed like the perfect way to experiment and actually finish things.

Why 512 words? Mainly because I used to be a professional software engineer, and thus have an affinity for powers of two. (2^9 = 512.) It also seemed like a manageable amount to produce on a weekly basis. In fact, that was one of the first things I learned: my first draft of any scene tends to come out around 1,000 words. Cutting that by half can be painful, but it was an invaluable exercise in critical thinking--I had to decide which words were absolutely essential, and which darlings I could murder. Learning to see the forest for the trees was one of the most important things I learned from the 512s, and it's something I've been able to apply to all my writing.

I concluded the 512s in August, 2013, after 256 consecutive weeks. Not all of the stories were great, but the process of creating them has made me a better writer. I'm aware of how much more clarity I now have when thinking about capital-S Story, even if it's simply heckling a sloppy plot contrivance on Downton Abbey. (Seriously, eight months later, he's still got the damn ticket? C'mon, guys.)

To commemorate the 512 Words project, my wife helped me select 117 of the most interesting stories to include in a collection which we published on January 31st of this year. That process taught me a lot about what it takes to design and produce both a printed paperback and an electronic version. The 512 book (which we titled THURSDAY'S CHILDREN, ha ha) was also a fun project, but I'm not sure I'd want to self-publish again--I would much rather have help navigating the business side of publishing.

In fact, I recently had a very good publishing experience with a novelette I sold to Leading Edge. They're a BYU publication, and as such have guidelines about explicit language and sexual content--which required me to revise my story featuring foulmouthed police detectives and cloned prostitutes. They were willing to copy-edit the swear words themselves, but also wanted me to consider rewriting one of the final scenes.

So I cleaned up the language, rewrote the scene in question, and did some minor touchups here and there--but otherwise was pleasantly surprised at the overall quality of the piece. (Good job, past me!) And the whole process, from contract to rewrites to final copyedits, was about all of us pulling for the same goal: getting the story in shape and into print.

I want to write fiction people want to read. That means developing my skill as a writer, and also understanding markets, editors, and audiences. I believe Clarion West will help me with all of those things.

Thanks for reading!

I don't know what factors, apart from me improving as a writer between 2008 and 2014, led to my finally getting into CW. To be honest, when I was working on this essay, I thought of it like Red's final parole board hearing in Shawshank Redemption: it was more important to speak honestly than to try to game the application process. Because, in the end, all you have is your own integrity.

And it doesn't matter how many times you fail, as long as you always fail better. Getting a result means you're making the attempt. You can't succeed if you don't try.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I Will Be at Some Conventions This Year

(Wow, has it really been a whole month since my last blog post here? I'm a terrible person.)

If you're a SF/F convention-goer, here are some 2016 events I'm definitely attending and which I would recommend to any fan:

A few others are undecided, but watch my author Twitter stream for announcements.

Plus my friend Claire Humphrey and I are working on a mini-book tour for our debut novels this June (Spells of Blood and Kin and Waypoint Kangaroo, respectively). More details on that as we figure it out.

I'm also like 90% sure I'm going to the Star Trek 50th anniversary thing in Las Vegas this August. Don't even act surprised.