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UC San Diego’s Clarion Workshop Teaches Promising Sci-Fi, Fantasy Talent

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A banner for the Clarion Writers' Workshop at UC San Diego.

UC San Diego's Clarion Workshop Teaches Promising Sci-Fi, Fantasy Talent


Cory Doctorow, instructor, Clarion Workshop

Nalo Hopkinson, instructor, Clarion Workshop


Some of the biggest names in science fiction and fantasy are flocking downtown to Comic-Con this week. But aspiring future writing stars in the genres have congregated in a different part of San Diego to work on their craft.

They are students of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop, considered the premiere place for sci-fi and fantasy writers to hone their skills and become professionals. The summer workshop dates back nearly 50 years, with past instructors including "Game of Thrones" creator George R.R. Martin, "American Gods" writer Neil Gaiman and "Kindred" writer Octavia Butler. Clarion has been held at UC San Diego since 2007.

"Like a lot of Clarion students, I was one of the most precious writers I knew. When I got there, I discovered I was about average for a Clarion student. That was an important lesson," said author Cory Doctorow, who attended Clarion in 1992 and is one of this year's instructors.

One of the things Doctorow tries to teach his students is to avoid "card tricks," such as having a story's point of view wander from one character to another, making it seem as if one character can intuit the thoughts of others.

"There is something borderline miraculous that happens when we read made-up works of fiction. Nothing that happens is of any literal consequence. Romeo and Juliet never lived. The bacteria in the yogurt I eat live more consequential lives than Romeo and Juliet," he said. "And yet we react as though it does. I’ve come to realize the first job of fiction is to not remind the reader that what’s going on doesn’t matter. And you do that by calling attention to the artifice, that you’re just making it up. It’s like reminding Wile E. Coyote he’s gone off the edge of the cliff."

Nalo Hopkinson was a Clarion student in 1995 and is another of this year's instructors. She said it might have taken her six years to learn what the workshop taught her in six weeks.

"One of the things I say is Clarion is where you come to write really badly," she said. "You are testing your limits and trying new things so much that it’s not about whether or not you’re going to produce a great work of thrilling genius at Clarion. That’s not the point. The point is to try things you haven’t and take some risks with your fiction."

Doctorow and Hopkinson joined KPBS Midday Edition on Wednesday with more on what it takes to write good science fiction.


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