Clarion South 2 1/2 years on – Rob Hood and the lessons he’s still trying to teach me

So I’m reading over my notes from Clarion, which, due to my handwriting, is reminiscent of a worm orgy, and I find myself still, after 2 ½ years, trying to incorporate the lessons I learned into the daily act of writing.  (Which I obviously haven’t, as I used 6 commas in one sentence, just now.  There’s another 2…)

I find my memory unreliable, better for short, vivid, snippets of the past then, you know, actually remembering anything.  People will tell me of conversations we’ve had, or things that occurred in our presence which seem like something I certainly should remember, but I don’t.

Anyway, I’m going to spend a little time putting some of the important stuff out into the world that the tutors at Clarion South taught me.  It’ll remind me what I should be doing, and perhaps it’ll do someone else some good as well.

When I applied for Clarion (that is to say, when my wife “applied” [I wrote the included writing samples, of course, but she did the rest] on my behalf, after stalking them on the internet without my knowledge for a few months) I was pretty naïve about exactly what it meant to be an author.  Worse, once I got accepted, I found that I hadn’t read anything by any of the tutors.  This wasn’t because of their lack of available work, mind you.  I discovered, in that kind of numb way I imagine you’d reach down and discover a lack of limbs, that I hadn’t read anything in the genre, really, except for some very specific stuff by Orson Scott Card, Steven King, Elizabeth Moon, etc.

So, I wandered the web, found some ezines or bought some books, and ended up doing a quick crash course in what my tutors were up to before I went to Clarion.

Rob Hood was our tutor for week 1.  I remember how kick-back he was, how he’d adopt this slouch in his chair while we each gave our 2 minute soap-box crit.  He’d nod, when we spoke, and occasionally he might make a note or two when a ditto/anti-ditto storm swirled up from the ether.  (With only 2 minutes to give your crit, repetition is frowned upon, and when someone says something you agree with/don’t, ditto/anti-dittos are the way to go).

Rob’s a horror guy, and it didn’t take a lot of research to see that he was very, very widely published.  He’d written novels, short stories and articles, in the genre, and it didn’t look like there was a whole hell of a lot going on that he didn’t know about.  Here are some of my notes from Rob Hood’s week at Clarion South:

Some horror is about bad things happening to bad people.  This is in contrast with bad things happening to relatively good people, although usually there is a societal standard that’s been put into jeopardy by their action (sex, religion, staying-within-the-lines)

Write fiction that pushes the boundaries of the genre.

(One of Rob’s quotes from a crit session, which I love) “She may be a cold-hearted, sadistic bitch, but what’s different about her?”  He really drummed characterization into us, and the need for there to be a character in the story the reader could use as some sort of foundation, a benchmark, to heighten tension.

Funny is funny, regardless of the genre

Write a story that someone wants to read.  (Some of the most simple, yet complex advice.  You hear the “write what you know” stuff so often, but it’s really important to remember that the reader has to get something out of it to, has to experience something new and interesting.)

Rob also taught me a lot, just by the way he led the week’s discussion.  He treated us like peers, told us what impressed us and what had been done before, and had a clear and certain love for the craft that struck me as incredible.  For a guy that’s been writing since the ‘70’s, he’s an incredibly inexhaustible source of ideas, dedication and inspiration.

Follow him at


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