Liars Club

No Freds Allowed

by Gregory Frost on May 25, 2010

in Advice for Writers,The Writing Life

Many years ago (and I refuse to say how many) I was a student for 6 weeks at the Clarion Writing Workshop, an intensive, immersive 6-week program for those who want to write science fiction and/or fantasy.  At the time I attended, it was held at Michigan State University.  Nowadays there are two and half Clarions: the MSU one (dubbed “Clarion East”) has moved to UC San Diego, so about the only thing it’s east of these days is the Pacific; the second one, Clarion West, is held in Seattle; the remaining half, Clarion South, is a less regular version of the workshop held in Australia.  I want desperately to teach at Clarion South, so if anyone from there is listening, please consider me for it. I’ll even bribe you.  But I digress.

The year I attended Clarion, the stellar lineup included Samuel R. Delany (sort of like having God come down from the mountain to spend a week with you in a basement dormitory), Roger Zelazny, Damon Knight and Kate Wilhelm, who tag-teamed us, and Joe Haldeman.

And Gene Wolfe.

At the end of his week with us, Gene provided the workshop with a full page of sage advice he’d culled from many years of writing.  The very first item on the list was “Never name your character ‘Fred.’”

If you’re staring at that rule and scratching your head, try this sentence.

“I think rock and roll is dead,” said Fred.
“Eat lead,” Fred said.

Actually, just “Fred said” oughta do it.

While I absorbed a metric ton of information at Clarion, that particular bit of wisdom from the august Mr. Wolfe stands out.  So to all my friends named Fred: I love ya, pal, but you’re never ever going to turn up in one of my stories.  But given that I usually kill my friends in my stories…maybe that’s not a bad thing.


GREGORY FROST is a writer of best-selling fantasy, science fiction, and thrillers who decided to write fiction many years ago as the result of an apartment fire.  He has been a finalist for every major award in sf and fantasy. His latest work is the duology Shadowbridge and Lord Tophet, voted one of the best fantasy novels of the year by the American Library Association, was a finalist for the James Tiptree Jr. Award in 2009. His latest short fiction appears in Full Moon City, an anthology of werewolf tales; the YA anthology The Beastly Bride edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and in the Lovecraftian anthology Chtulhu Reigns.


{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Give to Youth May 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm

That program sounds really amazing! I would love to have the opportunity to learn from Samuel R. Delany or Damon Knight. It’s great when they give to youth the opportunity to learn how to write. Especially when you’re learning from amazing artists such as the ones who taught you.

frost May 25, 2010 at 1:57 pm

It is an amazing program. Certainly the most intensive writing program I’ve ever been involved in both as student and as an instructor. And the teacher lineups are always interesting if not downright exciting.


keyan May 26, 2010 at 1:47 am

Greg’s right. Clarion’s double-distilled awesome. I should mention that Greg is also double-distilled awesome as an instructor… I went to Clarion 2007, where he was the Opener.

Lynn E. Cohen Koehler May 27, 2010 at 11:29 pm

Don’t forget the ALPHA writer’s workshop for teen writers (ages 14-19)

(too late for this summer, though)

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