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How I would sell out the Milford Model

April 2, 2009

This post is Jordan Lapp’s fault, him and Locus agazine.  The idea has been swimming through my head for years.  Locus ran an “article” about the fictitious Clarion reality show, Jordan mentioned it on his blog, now I’m posting my old article with a little poll.  Enjoy.

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I am a Clarion Dreamer. Are you?

How many are out there like me? Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? How many people out there want to write? How many out there believe themselves to be writers? How many are waiting for that one break that will make him (or her) the next great genre writer? For me, that elusive break takes the form of a writer’s workshop – Clarion.

Or Odyssey. Or Clarion West or South. Pick your poison, they’re all the same…the same in the fact that I did not attend. Same in the fact that I’m certain that if I attended, my career would take off the very next day.

I understand that I’m wrong. I realize that these workshops can provide their attendees with tools and techniques that guide the creative process. I fully appreciate that the best an attendee can expect is to replace years worth of rejection slips with a few weeks of tough criticism and sleepless nights. None of this blocks me from my delusion, this mirage of miraculous success that is the Milford-model writing workshop.

Again I pose the question: how many out there are like me? How many writers know they’re better than the bums that go to these workshops? How many are convinced they can spot the flaws in another author’s story despite a depressing inability to correct their own? How many wish they could be at least a fly on the wall at such a workshop?

Writing is an art form, no different from singing or dancing or backstabbing in a jungle or racing around the world. Have I lost you? I’m talking about television. Reality television. Ironically I’m talking about the shows that require no writers (or only concept writers) because a million-dollar prize is a lot cheaper than paying a dozen actors and writers and shooting take after take. People tune in to listen to the recording artists of tomorrow. Or to see if Reuben wins immunity. Or if that obnoxious team can make it to China before the sweet old couple. Or if the guy from Saved by the Bell can dance.

Would people tune in for a chance to see what a Milford-style workshop is really like? Would they log on to read excerpts from that funny guy’s story? Or that hippie chick’s story? Or that arrogant fat guy’s story? Would they vote for the story they liked best?

I confess that what I propose violates one of the cardinal rules of the Milford-model: no spectators. All due respect to the late Damon Knight (Milford’s founder), but maybe the time for privacy has gone. A writer who wants to sell needs name-recognition, promotion. What better way than to throw that writer on the television for seven to fifteen weeks?

Like any show it would need a title. “Who Wants To Be The Next Asimov?” or more succinctly “Sci-Fi Writer”. The latter would work especially well if the show found its most obvious home on the Sci-Fi Channel.

The conference model need not be disturbed. One professional writer would guest-lecture each week, taking part in the critique process as well as providing insight into the profession in general. One would obviously hope to attract big names to this highly public event – names that would bring an audience to the show – but any author with a career substantial enough to warrant a two-minute bio could find a niche. (After all, how many American Idol fans really remembered Peter Noone?)

Could a show this narrowly focused really bring in an audience? Could it really be entertaining enough to tune in more than once or twice? Why not? Are speculative writers any more rare than clothing designers? Chefs? Singers and dancers? Washed up celebrities? If they all get their own reality shows, we deserve one too. In fact I contend that we, the speculative writers, outnumber most of these pigeon-holed reality contestants. How many science fiction readers are there? How many fantasy readers? Horror? How many of them write (or try to write or want to write)? That’s right, most of them. Try it: meet a stranger in the sci-fi section of a bookstore and ask her if she has ever tried to write this kind of thing. Don’t be creepy about it, just strike up a polite conversation. You may want to map out the exits first just in case she insists on telling you all about Druzida, the elf-vampire and her fifteen-thousand-page battle against the evil dragon, Thhrp. Or about the Glxx-ian invasion of Kalamazoo. Bottom line, the people watching reruns of Buffy, Star Trek, Firefly, Xena, or The Twilight Zone are more than likely writers,.

But how entertaining is a Milford workshop? I guess it depends on who goes. I understand that watergun fights and superballs were staples of the Clarion experience for years. So were sleepless nights, stories eviscerated by peers and pros, rivalries, coups against instructors, and priceless tidbits of knowledge. Sounds like good television to me.

So why am I writing this article instead of pitching this show to the big-wigs and becoming the next Mark Burnett? Well, that’s not what I do. I dream big ideas share them with people who might think they’re entertaining. I write, not pitch or produce. Besides, before I could pitch a show I’d have to support the claims I’ve made: 1) people would watch this show, 2) sci-fi fans are almost all writers, and 3) a bunch of geeky writers can be entertaining. That’s where you come in. Yes, you. If you’re reading this then you are likely part of my target audience, so I want to know what you think. Would you watch this show (at least a few times) if someone made it? Would your friends? Would my friends? If you think I’ve missed the mark, I want to know. Got an idea that might make this work better? I’m all ears.

Oh, and if you work for a network that wants to start filming this tomorrow, we really need to chat.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 3, 2009 12:30 am

    If it boiled down to temper tantrums and this-one-slept-with-that-one, it would get boring, artificial or too upsetting right away. An authentic human drama that the enthusiastic viewer could learn from would be great. And no eliminations!

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