DC! New York! Berlin! ChengDu! (Is it a bird? Is it a plane?)

I’m never sure how these things happen, but it turns out I have a few events in the upcoming days, if you want to come and see me read a story or try (and often fail, tbh) to say clever things. I should’ve written this post a month ago and included Readercon in Quincy, MA, but that’s going to be for the next year now.

So if you’re in any of the abovementioned excellent cities, I’ll really love it if you came over and said hello and partook of the tomfoolery. Besides New York I’ve never been to any of those places, so dining recommendations afterwards are also welcome. Here are the rest of the deets:

Artboard-1-copy-1August 3 in Washington, DC! 

7:30 pm to 8 pm at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Eaton DC Crystal Room (Second Floor), you can listen to a new story by me and an open mic/music by the artist collective POstb1nary, if you get tired of listening to me. This is curated by Maya Acharya as a part of the 2019 Asian American Literature Festival (August 2–4), and the full festival schedule is here.

August 8 in New York, NY!

7 pm to 9 pm at the Erewhon Literary Salon, I’ll be reading a new story along with fellow SFF writer and Brooklyn Speculative Fiction Writers organizer Rob Cameron. Curated by Liz Gorinsky for Erewhon Books. RSVP on their Facebook/Twitter event closer to the date for the door address, although it’s in midtown.

September 13–15 in Berlin, Germany!

Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin, at which I have three events. Exact times and co-panelists TBA, but it’s a 10-day-long festival (September 11 to 21), and if you’re in Berlin it may be fun to attend the rest of the day as well!

September 13: Tribute to classic SFF writers
September 14: Reading from a new story
September 15: Panel discussion on Artificial Intelligence

November 22–24 in ChengDu, China!

International Science Fiction Conference. Everything else about this one is so far TBA, but if I happen to know anyone in ChengDu (or you happen to know who I am!) you may as well come over for the entire convention. I will also appreciate company for panda-spotting and amazing-but-non-spicy-food-spotting, and everyone who knows more Mandarin than I do, which is approximately 8 billion people in the world.

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The Clarion West 2016 Write-a-thon and Me: Part 1

Last summer, I went to a science-fiction-and-fantasy writing workshop in Seattle called Clarion West. I was the first among my friends in India to apply for this workshop, although I had heard of a couple of Indian writers here and there (famous people, mostly already NRIs, no one I knew personally yet) who had attended it before. I don’t come from the sort of family background that allows me the luxury of attending creative writing workshops abroad, and neither do most of my friends, so that just wasn’t the level I would naturally think at, although I had known vaguely about Clarion West for years. You cannot avoid it, especially if you’re a reader of contemporary international SFF, because so many of the writers are Clarion West graduates (or graduates of the other Clarion workshop in San Diego), and they’re almost always proud enough to mention it in their author bios.

Honestly, I only applied in December 2014 because I already had a writing sample going out for MFA applications, so what was one more application (or potential rejection)? But I also applied because of the generous language on scholarships on the Clarion West website – the fact that they tried their best to fund anyone who couldn’t attend the workshop without funding. The fact that you didn’t need recommendations to apply, only your writing sample, so it didn’t matter who you knew. It didn’t say going there was easy, and I’ve met writers – strong, talented, dedicated writers – who only got into Clarion West on their second or third attempts, but it felt like this was a place that was fair, encouraging, and filled with genuine goodwill towards nurturing new writers.

If you’re a certain kind of naïve idealist (i.e. like me), a lot of places feel like that from a couple of continents’ distance, and then you turn up there and realize that the “real world” is equally squalid and oppressive everywhere – just one structure of discrimination displaced by another – and that marketing language on websites can be very far from the ground reality. One year down the line, I have no such complaints about Clarion West.

I also learned, in a way that you can probably only learn if you go there and see the workings of it firsthand, that goodwill is really the currency that runs this large and prestigious workshop, hard as that is to believe. Clarion West isn’t attached to any university or other organization with a larger funding system. All the generous scholarships are donations, as are often the bedding, fans, edible treats, toys that are given to the workshop attendees every year. Many of the (incredibly talented and famous) teachers and guest lecturers are alumni, who are happy to pass on their knowledge to new students at I imagine a very small fee. Alumni and friends of the workshop who live in and around Seattle open their houses for weekend parties (I attended parties at the houses of Greg Bear and Nicola Griffith), and drop by at the workshop house with free books and other goodies, or often just to carry stuff, offer rides, clean the common spaces and so on. Alumni who live elsewhere send in little things through Amazon or regular courier. A lot of people pitch in whatever they can, and the result is this abundant and nourishing experience that repeats itself every year. No one is an employee. No one earns anything by offering their time, money, resources or expertise to Clarion West, except maybe the good you do in the world multiplies itself, and that is a reward on its own.

In honour of that spirit and that community, which had helped me and made me one of their own – an amateur writer from a different country, a queer female person of colour with very little inherited privilege in the world – this year I’m doing the Clarion West Write-a-thon.

This is a process in which alumni (but also friends of the workshop) set themselves a number of writing goals for the duration of the current year’s workshop, and appeal to be sponsored for their efforts. The money goes to Clarion West, so it doesn’t make a difference which writer you sponsor. It’s not a competition for honour – the participants aren’t set in a hierarchy according to how much money they bring in; in fact, those individual stats are never released. So there are the really big-shot alumni – writers of bestselling books, writers who have taught at Clarion West in turn – setting themselves up for the Write-a-thon, alongside my class who are the most recent alumni, alongside alumni who’ve not even published anything yet. Some writers offer gifts in return to a certain amount in donation, but there’s no minimum amount anyone can donate, because the idea of crowdfunding is that every single dollar (or rupee, or any other currency) helps.

The way this helps the participating writers is that it sets us goals and deadlines, and a lot of us work better with goals and deadlines, given that “real life” is so endlessly distracting. Sometimes we write with more joy and focus when there are others writing along with us, and there are Write-a-thon events happening at Seattle, New York and California where participating writers can meet and share notes. I am very far from all that, spending my summer at home in Calcutta (there’s no reason why there can’t be a Calcutta event, I suppose, except that there aren’t that many of us here, and we didn’t call to organize an event), but the sense of doing something together is largely online and pervasive, the way it used to be for writers who participated in NaNoWriMo. Except that this is even more flexible than NaNoWriMo (which I always felt too anxious to participate in, because a novel in a month, with constant word-count races, just seemed beyond the capacity of a slow writer like me), because each writer chooses their own goals.

The Clarion West Writing Workshop this year is taking place in Seattle between June 19 and July 29. In the last ten days, I have written:

  • one essay on a speculative-fiction-related topic,
  • one experimental fantasy short story, slightly longer than a flash,

both of which are in the publication queue at different venues, so I may be able to share them soon. I have also sent the third story from Other People to my editor at Juggernaut Books, which is likely to be available on the app in August. You can look at my other writing goals, on which I am working, at my Write-a-thon page.

So, I would love it if you go take a look – at my page, but also of the other writers who are participating – and give Clarion West any amount of money you wish for having enabled the writing career(s) of any (or more) of us. These are genuine, earnest, mad talented people, and the fact that they continue to organize this workshop every year – generous scholarships and toys and parties and all – restores my faith that the collective goodwill of individuals can move things in the world. I’m glad to be participating in this year’s Write-a-thon, even though until the last day of sign-ups I wasn’t sure if I was ready for it writing-wise. But at Clarion West you don’t feel judged or discouraged, and my ex-classmates have continued to hold up that tradition, and that kinda thing alone (if nothing else) is worth putting oneself up on the stage for. And maybe, after all, I will end up writing some fun things that some people will enjoy reading. One can always hope.

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The jitters have started. Finally began packing last night. In another four days, I board a train to Dilli (which used to be the Other City of this blog, except that it’s my other city no longer); in a couple of days from there, I take two flights to Seattle for the Clarion West Writing Workshop. I fly in the direction opposite to the earth’s motion and across the international date line, so a very long flight schedule will still find me in Seattle on the same day. All these things are new.

I have to write six new stories in six weeks. I have been given a very prestigious and very humbling scholarship. I will meet a lot of interesting people, a number of smart and seriously talented people, some of them likely to be so famous that even people back home (where the awareness of contemporary international SFF is surprisingly low) would have heard of them. For a month, I haven’t come up with a single plot that holds beyond a few pages.

Raiding my old steel almirah to start packing has made me realise that I own more clothes than I know what to do with, more clothes than I even know.  I am not really a wardrobe girl, which is sometimes worse. I don’t look through my clothes often enough. So I pick up a nice bit of clothing somewhere and proceed to stuff it into my almirah, and soon I forget all about it. I wear the same five or six staples over and over again, and the nice new thing lies in there, untouched for years.

My long holiday at home is coming to an end. I don’t know if I appreciated it well enough — I recall long periods of being bored out of my mind and feeling stifled for the lack of company in the Home City, abandoned nest of all its children. I wrote more than I had done in years, and read a great deal too. I travelled and went to watch films with Ma, made so many trips into the city with her. I had a car and a driver at my disposal most of the time. I visited Bangalore, Jaipur, Lucknow, Benaras, Bombay, Ajanta-Ellorah-Aurangabad and London. I chilled around in air-conditioned bliss while the rest of the country blistered and sweated its way through what was one of the worst summers in years. Back now again to a life of living out of suitcases, bad cooking (my own), always keeping a budget, and so, so much of the world to see.

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As a child, I hardly ever travelled. My father, who took a train into the districts every morning and returned home every night to Calcutta, did not want to get out of the house on his days off, so the family never went anywhere. As a result, I have still never been to any of those eternal Bengali tourist spots like Puri or Darjeeling. (Digha I only ever visited with a school trip in 2005. I still remember being the only child in the 200-strong school group who was there for the first time.) Another such place is Benaras, where I finally went last week after years of wanting to go. I also went to Lucknow just before, and it was a long trip with lots of learning and lots of photos, so I will post about them one at a time.

The river in winter
The river in winter
There were dogs. Many dogs.
There were dogs. Many dogs. This one is Johuree Dog for the white eye you cannot see at this size.
And many sadhus in swag.
And many sadhus in swag.
And much graffiti (odd/wonderful)
And much graffiti (odd/wonderful)
Beginning of the evening river aarti at Dasashwamedh Ghat,
Beginning of the evening river aarti at Dasashwamedh Ghat,
which gets quite spectacular in music, light and colour.
which gets quite spectacular in music, light and colour.

Benaras is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world, having existed since around the 1000-1200 BC. Evidence of it is all over the place. You can never tell the age of a particular ruined wall, a particular faded step, a corner or one of the many little shrines under holy trees. Everything is significant. There are layers upon layers upon layers of human touch. I did a puja at the Kashi Vishwanath Temple for my parents. I visited an ashram where old people go to die. There was so much else I did not do. This city will require a revisit.