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My Clarion West Application Essay

March 5, 2009

Jordan Lapp (first applicant accepted for this year’s CW, congratz to him) posted his application essay on his blog. I thought this was a great idea, so here’s mine. I haven’t been accepted yet, but my phone is still connected.

Clarion West Application Essay

Scott W. Baker

Howdy, I’m Scott. Yes, I said it: howdy. I’m not quite sure why I say it. I was born near Rochester, NY – not exactly a “howdy” place. I moved to Tennessee when I was four, grew up surrounded by other displaced Yankees, none of whom said howdy. So why do I say it? It’s just another part of me that defies explanation.

I can’t explain why I wear Hawaiian shirts to work in the winter. Nor my (platonic) obsession with penguins. Nor why I have a Spanish nickname (Oso) but can’t speak the language. I certainly can’t explain why I have to quote Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles every time I teach an algebra class about radicals.

Oops, busted. By day, I masquerade as a high school math teacher.

Believe me when I tell you I am a good math teacher. Some of my students love me. Some despise me. Most regard me with the passing amusement owed a grown man imitating an applauding Tyrannosaurus. Do they remember that I was teaching them the triangle inequality when I did that? I blissfully choose to believe they do.

So why is a happily employed math teacher applying for a speculative fiction workshop? Why do amputees develop itches in their missing limbs? Whether it’s real or not, I feel there is a part of me missing, a part that can entertain, inspire, engross, or at least awaken something in people that wasn’t there before. I teach for a living; what I am is a writer. That’s an itch I have to scratch.

My favorite distraction.

My favorite distraction.

Everyone that writes knows it is impossible to find time to write. If you want to have time, you must make time. Making time is one of the hardest things I have tried to do in my life. It has become even harder in the past two years since the most beautiful little distraction entered my life – Abigail. That two-year-old is the sweetest little migraine ever born. How do I tell her, “Not now, Abby, Daddy’s writing a story about energy-eating people in outer space?” So I try to work around her: losing sleep, postponing test grades, writing on the toilet, losing more sleep…and still occasionally saying “Not now, Abby, Daddy’s writing a story about the moral dilemmas of using clones to serve in the military.”

Six weeks of “no Abby, Daddy’s in Seattle” will be very tough for me, as will being apart from my equally beautiful wife, Christi. I will miss them both every minute. But a day will come when Abby is proud of her daddy for the sacrifices he made the summer of 2009 in order to fulfill his dream. Maybe it will give her the strength to sacrifice for a dream of her own one day.

Money will be the least of the sacrifices I make to attend Clarion West. If you know anything about teacher salaries in Tennessee, that’s saying a lot. Nonetheless, I understand and accept each of those sacrifices in pursuit of my calling.

The first time writing called to me, I was an undergrad education major. An idea crawled into my head and took up residence until I finally grabbed the keyboard and wrote a novel. I shopped it around long enough to learn how bad it was.

Next I wrote a quaint time travel story that actually sold to the first market I submitted to. It was a small story sold to a small market for small money. Still, the instant acceptance was not exactly a taste of the reality of writing – that reality check was coming for my next story. And the next few. I have made a (small) number of semi-pro sales in my career, but mostly just more rejection slips.

I have no formal training to write. The things I know have been wrenched out of “how to” books, imitated from other authors, acquired through online groups (like, gleaned from experience, or found inside my soul. I fear these ponds are running dry. I need new resources if my writing is to continue to grow.

My small town in Tennessee has a genre-savvy population comparable to the clientele of a dry cleaner in a nudist colony. I need to immerse myself in a community of…well, people like me. Dreamers, cynics, wordsmiths, worldsmiths…writers.

I have been writing for ten years and have no intention of stopping any time soon, come workshop or high water. What I want is to write better – to write well. CW can accelerate that process, cram a decade into a few weeks. I need to understand my mistakes so I can learn from them. I need the criticism. I need the focus. I need the environment. I need Clarion West.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. March 6, 2009 12:45 am

    Oh wow, the comments box was WAY Down here. I just assumed the article stopped above. Colour me an idiot!! 🙂 Great essay!

  2. March 6, 2009 3:03 am

    I love this essay, Scott. Especially this bit:

    “Most regard me with the passing amusement owed a grown man imitating an applauding Tyrannosaurus. Do they remember that I was teaching them the triangle inequality when I did that? I blissfully choose to believe they do.”

    Best of luck to you!

  3. March 6, 2009 1:39 pm

    I enjoyed reading your essay, and in particular I loved the same line Jamie mentions. Good luck with the application.


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