From Outworlds 52 Copyright © 1986 and reprinted with the permission of the estate of Terry Carr.
Writing is something that is in the blood of all fans. They pick it up like a virus from the first science fiction books or magazines they read, and there is no cure for it; for the rest of their lives they undergo periodic outbreaks, and willynilly they produce letters to editors, fanzine articles, science fiction stories, fanzines, novels, or even trilogies when the virus weakens the critical functions of their nervous systems.
They go through their teen years writing stories and often submitting them to sf magazines, from which they get polite form letters of rejection; or else they discover fanzines, which also reject their sf stories but which do sometimes publish their articles about science fiction. And many of these writers, when they read other fanzine articles telling of the doings of fans, recognize in them much the same sort of fantastic fictionalization that has delighted them in science fiction itself; these people are usually soon sitting at their typewriters or word processors telling tales about fans they've met that are either true (and therefore a bit dull) or highly exaggerated (therefore often funny).
Consider Ike Remington, who is sitting before his MacIntosh writing a fanzine article about his best friend's foibles. Every now and then Ike writes a stretcher that even he can't believe, so he calls in his mouse and has it eat whole paragraphs. Ike is feeling particularly imaginative today, so his mouse has been eating a lot and Ike thinks it is beginning to look more like a bigger animal, such as a raccoon. He is thinking that it would be a good idea for certain authors who write overweight novels to buy computers that use raccoons, or even bears, when he hears his mail carrier pushing today's bundle of advertisements, bills, political endorsements, and maybe one or two real letters through his mail-drop.
Sighing as he glances at the four paragraphs that remain on the screen, although he has written at least ten this morning, Ike turns off his computer and goes to get his mail. And lo! the gods of his chosen microcosm have been kind to him today, for sandwiched between an envelope proclaiming that he may already have won a million dollars and another urging him not to neglect the condition of his car's brakes is a real letter...a letter from the Clarion Fanwriters' Conference in McLean, Virginia. He tears it open and reads the news that he has been accepted as a student at this year's workshop, pending only the receipt of his tuition for the six-week course.
The instructors, he reads, will be Ted White, Harry Warner, Mike Glicksohn, Eric Mayer, and Bob Tucker, with Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden teaching the final week. The letter asks him to bring his own typewriter and says he should be prepared to write another fanarticle, column, or fannish story during each week of the Conference. Twenty or so of his fellow students in fanwriting will criticize each of his submissions to the workshop, making suggestions for any revisions they feel necessary or desirable, as will the next week's instructor(s); at the end of the course, the best pieces will be published in a special fanzine called CLARIFAN 1989. Ike remembers that the last issue of this fanzine was nominated for the Hugo Award, so he is almost as delighted to be given a chance to contribute to the next issue as he is to have the opportunity to study fanwriting under the direction of so many of the current masters.
He immediately goes to his desk and writes the check for his tuition. He does not mind the fact that he will be eating nothing but tuna sandwiches between now and the time the Conference begins; after all, he has been eating tuna sandwiches for the past eight months, saving money in case he should be accepted for Clarion Fannish.
There are many different kinds of fans and not all of them discover fanzines or are interested in fanzines. Some never swerve, even temporarily, from their goal of writing science fiction professionally, tempted though they may be by the greater writing freedom offered by fanzines. Some of them may write an occasional fanzine article, but when they do it is about the latest trend in sf writing or an interview with one of the writers whose stories have been published in science fiction magazines.
Maggie Roberson is one of these fans, an ambitious writer whose stories have been characterized by the number of paragraphs she underlined because she believes that is "literary." She has a wonderful imagination--in truth a very strange one--but somehow she has not learned, even from the personal letters she's received from editors, that plot and meaning are more important to a story's success than writing gimmicks can be. She's applied to the Clarion Science Fiction Writers' Conferences for the past two years, but even there she has found only rejection.
See her now as she works heatedly at her ancient Royal Portable; she is writing a story about Earth people meeting a delegation of alien beings whose entire philosophy is based on the assumption that the multistarred universe was created for the purpose of humor. Right now Maggie is writing a scene in which the aliens, between somersaults ending in pratfalls, tell the Earth representatives that they respect our civilization because it has produced Robert Benchley and George Armstrong Custer. Her typewriter keys keep jamming and she thinks maybe she will substitute for Custer's name that of the man who sold the machine to her, but she realizes that would be an in-group joke like those in the fanzines she's seen and Stanley Schmidt probably would not enjoy it. For a moment she thinks it would be nice if she were to be accepted for this year's Clarion Fanwriters' Conference, to which she applied in a fit of depression the day one of her stories was rejected by Space & Time.
During this pause she hears the unmistakable sound of her mail truck stopping outside, and with a flutter of her heart because she sent a manuscript to Amazing a month ago she goes out to her mailbox. There she finds a thick envelope that immediately tells her Amazing has rejected the story...but there is also a letter from Clarion Fannish, which she opens and discovers that she has been accepted for this year's course.
Studying the list of instructors, she realizes that most of them have sold sf stories and novels; they are more than just fannish BNFs. What the heck, she thinks, and writes a check for the tuition. She was going to spend this summer writing a novel about gods from outer space who built Stonehenge and the Easter Island statues as pieces in a chess game, but she has enough money saved to pay for the workshop and anyway she has not been able to figure out whether or not the moves for the Egyptian and Mayan pyramids should be the same.
The Clarion Fanwriters' Conference is held in a former shopping mall where the students are housed in storerooms of abandoned department stores. Workshops and lectures are held in the defunct Spangler's Boutique. There are still posters on the walls advertising the latest creations of five years past, though previous students have added propeller beanies on the models' heads, and on one poster someone has drawn a brass bra copied from an Earl Bergey painting.
At Clarion Conferences of any sort, the students get to know each other quickly. They have to write their pieces for the workshops at night and since several students sleep in each stockroom most of them move their typewriters into the boutique at night. Ike Remington establishes himself there the first evening and begins a long article about trends in the fanzines from Soviet satellite countries--he criticizes most of them for being sercon--but it is not until the third night that Maggie Roberson, who does not feel totally comfortable at this gathering of hopeful fanzine writers, gives up typing on her knees in her stockroom and carries her old Royal to the boutique.
Most of the display cases have already been taken, so she puts her typewriter next to Ike's MacIntosh and busies herself laying out pages of several false starts she's made. Ike, while his mouse is eating a paragraph of criticism of Kropotkin that he should not have written late last night, notices that Maggie's pages are typed double-spaced, which puzzles him.
"Excuse me," he says very politely, "but may I ask why you write everything that way? With spaces between the lines, I mean. It makes it harder for faneditors to figure out how much space your stuff will fill in their fanzines, so that's one strike against you before they even start reading it."
Maggie sighs, though she realizes that Ike's comment was made in a helpful spirit. "I'm not using a word processor, as you see; this way I have room to write in corrections," she says. "I type my final drafts double-spaced too, in case the editor wants to make changes."
Ike scratches his chin. "But who ever heard of a faneditor changing your material? Either they reject it or publish it exactly the way it is. Except single-spaced, of course." He frowns uncertainly. "You're not an apahack, are you? I mean, if you publish your stuff double-spaced the OE won't count your pages the way you do, he'll divide them in half."
"I thought they counted the words," says Maggie. "You know--250 a page, or whatever."
"In fanzines? No, that's just what they do in--hey, are you sure you're at the right Clarion workshop?"
So Maggie tells him she really wants to become a science fiction writer but Clarion Pro kept turning her down and she decided to come here hoping for some good advice from the professionals among the instructors. Besides, writing is writing, isn't it? Most of the techniques for fanzine writing ought to apply to writing for the professional magazines too.
Ike says, "Well, sure, a lot of them do. But for instance Ted White is teaching us how to write locs--uh, letters of comment--and the pro magazines don't pay for letters, you know."
Maggie grins. "I've noticed that a lot of the stories in Analog are told in the form of letters--pretty corny ones, too. They wouldn't have been published in any of the fanzines I've seen."
Ike likes the way she smiled. In fact, he thinks she is very pretty even when she is not smiling. So he keeps the conversation going, telling her everything he can think of about the differences between fan and pro writing. The truth is that he has not read any science fiction since Philip K. Dick died, but he does not mention that; he just keeps talking, and Maggie is so happy about finding someone here with whom she can discuss her real writing that the conversation goes on long into the night. By the time they finally decide to quit and get some sleep, Ike and Maggie have become close friends.
So it goes for the next several weeks. Ike finishes his article about Soviet-bloc fanzines, spicing it up by considering the Soviet fans as aliens with a lack of fannish psi power in their beanies (which was Maggie's suggestion), and it gets a good response from Harry Warner and the class. Maggie writes a fannish story, with some suggestions from Ike, about a secret race on Earth that believes the world was created for the sake of humor, which is where fans came from, especially Claude Degler; the class thinks it is funny but Mike Glicksohn says she shouldn't have underlined so many paragraphs because there still aren't enough faneditors with the equipment to make them into italics.
Ike makes a new start on the article about his best friend but this time he makes him an immortal and titles it "The Wandering Klutz"; he tells anecdotes about the silly things he has seen his friend do and follows each with a brief tale about how his friend did the same thing during a critical point in history and caused the Trojan War, the destruction of the Library of Alexandria, and so forth.
Maggie begins a new fannish story that supposes Ghu, Foofoo, Roscoe, and all the other fannish ghods are clones of the gods in Nordic lore, and that Final Fandom is coming soon and when it does, it will be known as Ragnarok. She and Ike discuss their pieces every night, and somehow while they are talking they tell each other the stories of their lives, and all the mortifying things that have happened to them, and their deepest wishes and dreams. This is not unusual at Clarion Conferences; what is unusual is that they have both gone through the same sorts of experiences and their hopes for the future are so similar (although Ike still wants to become a BNF and Maggie wants to become the new C. J. Cherryh). They are soulmates, they discover, and by the time Bob Tucker is teaching the class they have become bedmates too. They are in love.
When Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden arrive to teach the final week of the Conference, it is not difficult for them to realize this, for Maggie and Ike are always together, holding hands or, during the less interesting portions of the workshops, exchanging not very secret smiles and playing with the buttons on each other's clothes. The Nielsen Haydens do not say anything about this, but it does help Teresa stay awake.
By now Ike has lent Maggie copies of some of the best recent fanzines, and she has gotten him so curious about the current sf magazines that he has gone to a newsstand and bought the most recent issues of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. Maggie thinks the articles in the fanzines are better than Stanley Schmidt's editorials; Ike is impressed by most of the science fiction stories because they are as literate as the writings of Joseph Nicholas but the sentences are shorter. Both of these reactions have caused Maggie and Ike to fall even more in love with each other.
The night before the final day of the Clarion Fanwriters' Conference, they stay up writing until 3:00 a.m. Maggie manages to finish the story she began last night about fandom after a plague has caused everyone to sleep for a month at a time and be awake for only a week between; she has figured out how someone could publish a monthly fanzine in those circumstances (her experience at the workshop helped). Ike writes one about a fan who made a deal with the Devil that sent him into space in a faster-than-light starship, thus making him immortal to creatures back on Earth. Naturally they are both exhausted, but they are looking forward to the final day of the Conference, when the final choices for CLARIFAN 1989 will be announced.
"I think your critique of Soviet-bloc fanzines will be chosen for it," Maggie says. "It's better than anything Darrell Schweitzer's written--better than most of the 'Viewpoint' articles in Asimov's, too."
Ike wraps his arms around her. "Personally, I think they'll have to include the plague story you finished tonight--it's really ingenious. I loved that bit where the fans put out their zines on dormiphone recordings so everyone can get their fanzine reading during the months they're asleep." He pauses. "I kind of wondered, though: how do they manage to read any science fiction?"
Maggie smiles the way he loves so much. "Oh, fans don't read science fiction anyway; you know that."
And it occurs to Ike how ironic it is that during the six weeks at Clarion Fannish he has begun to read science fiction again.
The workshop on the final day is loose and fun-filled as the students and the Nielsen Haydens comment on pieces that were written even more quickly than usual in order to get them into this final session. (Commenting on someone's very short article, Ike says, "Two hundred and fifty words--that's not too many.") The manuscripts by Ike and Maggie get mixed comments, but mostly they are well received. When the workshop is over, the Nielsen Haydens ask everyone to stick around while they confer outside about the contents page for CLARIFAN 1989.
So the students stay in their folding chairs, most of them talking nervously. Maggie and Ike are holding hands as usual, and they notice that there are several other couples doing the same. Do that many people fall in love at Clarion Conferences, they wonder, or is it just that nervousness has brought a lot of them together today?
The Nielsen Haydens return and Patrick reads out the list of pieces he and Teresa have chosen as the best after going over the notes left by the previous instructors, reading their recommendations and the manuscripts written this week. There are few surprises--all the articles and stories on the final list got very good comments when they were critiqued during the workshops--but Maggie and Ike are each surprised.
The piece by Maggie that will be in CLARIFAN 1989 is not her plague story, but the one about fannish ghods and Ragnarok. "That's on the condition," says Teresa, "that you take out all the underlining. That sort of thing makes me snort coffee up my nose." Maggie happily agrees to remove the underlining--she has noticed during the past six weeks that only the poorest writers in the class use such gimmicks. She looks at Ike with a grin as Patrick announces the rest of the contents page.
She is so happy she has finally had a story accepted for publication that she almost does not notice when Patrick finishes and Ike looks crestfallen. Then she realizes that not a single piece by him was chosen. For a moment she cannot believe it--Ike is so wonderful, and he knows so much about fandom!--but his expression tells her unmistakably that it is true.
"Oh my poor love," she says. She hugs him and he holds her tight, but then he pulls away and she sees that he is almost smiling.
"Well, everybody told me the course was dangerous when I signed up for it," he says. "I learned a lot of things I couldn't have expected...and I found you. You're the most important thing of all. I'm okay."
That night there is a big party, and everyone is dancing to the tapes that Ted White brought for the occasion. The dancing is a bit ragged, because everyone is very tired, but there is a lot of laughter and camaraderie; students who were bitterly contentious in their workshop comments end up hugging and promising never to review each other's fanzines.
As the party is finally drawing to a close, Ike and Maggie turn off the music and clap for attention. The room quiets, and Ike says, "Sorry to interrupt, but we have an announcement to make."
Maggie says, "We're going to get married next month. And you're all invited."
And so the party and the Clarion Fanwriters' Conference end amid warm applause.
Writing is something that is in the blood of all fans, so even though Ike and Maggie's lives are very different now that they are married--both of them are working overtime as much as they can so that they can furnish their new apartment just as they want it--they still spend time almost every evening at the Royal and the MacIntosh.
Of course there are different kinds of writers. Maggie has submitted the manuscripts she wrote at Clarion Fannish to various fanzines and they have all been accepted; faneditors love her strange sense of humor and always ask for more. Ted White has told her she is a shoo-in to be voted Best New Fan in next year's Pong poll.
Ike has sent "The Wandering Klutz" to Omni and received an immediate acceptance. His check for $2,000 has already helped their apartment a lot, and Ike is now revising his story about the man (he is not a fan in this version) who foiled the Devil in a faster-than-light starship.
But Maggie still wants to write her novel about the gods from space who built Stonehenge and the statues on Easter Island as pieces for a chess game. She has decided to leave the pyramids out of it; the Sphinx looks more like a chess piece anyway, and its move will be to pounce three spaces forward and flatten any piece there.