AMB: You went to Clarion; what do you think such a writing workshop has given you?
KT: An instant career. I was at Clarion East in the summer of 2000 and by summer 2002 I'd sold a novel trilogy and I had stories in Asimov's: I've got three paperback titles out in 2004, my first year in print as a novelist, and a leather-bound first edition from Easton Press. Would I have done that without Clarion? Not a chance, especially living in the UK. I'm not pretending Clarion is an automatic passport, but it lays the kit out on the table for you and if you're prepared to pick it up and use it, it can work spectacularly well.
Clarion gave me two specific things: business contacts and advanced craft. I like to use the carpentry analogy. When I started writing fiction seriously in late 1998, I could hammer in nails and saw wood to length. Then the first workshop I attended - Liz Holliday's One Step Beyond - taught me to make proper mitred corners, do dovetails and saw straight lines with hand tools. Then Clarion taught me to use power tools. The sense of empowerment that it gave me was unbelievable. I hate that word, but it's the only one that describes it. It was that Garfield moment: "Get off, King Kong".
One of the good things about Clarion is that it shoves writing down your throat for six weeks, and the duration is probably the most critical part of it. You're locked up with writing and you can't run away from it. You'll know at the end of that time if you're cut out to write professionally or not. It saves you dabbling around for years and finding that you're not up for the criticism or the deadlines or the slog. I'm sure other people have had very different experiences and drawn different benefits from it, but in the end all Clarion can do is say, "Here's writing for a living in one megadose. Like it?" All I know is that I planned on going, knew what I wanted to get out of it and was delighted when I found it gave me what I expected and more. I can't understand why the Clarion technique - and by that I mean six intensive weeks - isn't being used widely in other genres. It's a damn shame Clarion East has been under threat, too.
AMB: In case some of our readers are unfamiliar with it, can you describe the Clarion method?
KT: The Clarion method is basically a literary cage-fight. A group of fifteen to twenty writers are locked up for six weeks with a sequence of tutors. You write short fiction until you drop and it's critted in the group: mornings for crits, rest of the day for writing. You have six tutors over a six-week period who are all established pros. You write and write and write and then your class shreds the stories as they roll in, and in my year we did over a hundred (I think). It's the pattern that's used at Milford too, except six weeks of critting and writing is a wholly different experience to a nice civilised week of crits at Milford. I've never known people resort to cannibalism at Milford, however small the portions at breakfast, but it's a close run thing at some Clarions, apparently. It's intense, good and bad. You make good buddies. Some people make good un-buddies, too. The food isn't as bad as they tell you, either, but the heat and mosquitoes are.
I'd do it again in an instant if they'd run a refresher for pros. It was a blast. It changed my life.