Laptop theft at Clarion West sf workshop -- donations needed -- UPDATED

Update: We've raised enough to replace all the laptops and then some! See this post for more.

Clarion West, the famed Seattle science fiction workshop, has suffered a terrible theft: four student laptops were stolen yesterday. Clarion West (like Clarion in San Diego) is a grueling, six-week intensive boot-camp for science fiction writers. Students often quit their jobs and save for years to attend and it goes without saying that they can hardly absorb the cost of a new laptop in the middle of the workshop.

I'm flying to Seattle tomorrow to teach the third week of the workshop and I'm keenly aware of the chaos this will have wrought on the students. The workshop's organizers are soliciting donations -- either hardware or cash -- to get the students up and running. The workshop is incorporated as a 501(c)3 charity, so any donations are tax deductible.

I am donating all of my teaching fee to the fund. I hope that some of you will be moved to chip in whatever you can afford, to help fund the instruction of the next generation of great science fiction writers.

Here's the note that organizer Leslie Howle has sent around:

Four laptops were stolen July 4 from student rooms at the CW residence, and people in the SF community are responding swiftly and generously to help replace the stolen student computers.

If you'd like to donate to help the students replace the stolen laptops, please visit our Donate page and use the PayPal button, noting in the "Purpose" field that the donation is for "Computers."

This is the first time in our more than 25 years of workshops that something like this has happened, and we're doing all we can to get computers for students so they won't lose any writing time. The theft occurred while students were in class, and was discovered immediately afterwards. I called the Seattle Police Department to file a report, and we've taken steps to increase residence security.

News of the students' loss has spread quickly, and I deeply appreciate that friends, alumni, and writers in the community at large are offering donations to help students replace their computers. We'd especially like to thank Jay Lake for his generosity and for alerting others who might donate money or laptops.

This community is amazing and wonderful. Thanks for helping this year's CW writers, and for all your support. It means a lot to me, Neile, and all the rest of the CW volunteers and students. You guys are the best.



  1. Is something being done about investing in bolt-down safes for the rooms, or something of that sort, to prevent a recurrence?

    Or other security upgrades?

    (I don’t know anything about the facilities, but it sounds like some investment on that front is in order.)

  2. If I had any dough I’d contribute it, but I’m in the 7th month of unemployment.

    I think that if I were fortunate to be in the CW situation but at such a large campus, I’d likely carry my Mac iBook with me.

    I’m not sure a lockbox is practical in a dorm room, but it seems like a good idea. And dorm rooms aren’t usually serviced by random cleaning personnel like a hotel room. I distrust hotel in-room lock boxes extremely because I have a feeling all of housekeeping has keys. Ido not use them when I’m a dealer and making money for that reason.

  3. I really really do feel for these students. That being said, whenever I go on a trip with my laptop, it never leaves my side. Ever.

  4. ‘v hd thngs stln frm m, t. Tht’s hw ‘v lrnd t dscrn sf plcs frm nsf plcs. nfrtntly, ddn’t hv ptrn wth mgphn.

    Cm n, nw- thr r ltrlly dzns f wrthr css thn ths. Cry wrkng pr bn ght t b ngh t cvr, sy, $8,000 fr fr lptps.

    bt tngntl: ‘m lwys skptcl f ths srt f wrtr. cn’t rcll ny f my fvrt wrtrs ctng wrkshps s bng crcl t thr crft.

  5. Have they considered AlphaSmart Neos?

    I think too much emphasis may be placed on the tools and not the craft. Wasn’t the first Harry Potter book written in pencil?

  6. I’ve been arguing with myself about commenting here. The people who have had their laptops stolen have my greatest sympathy. But… they are writers. Shouldn’t they be able to write just as well with a pen and paper?

    Sometimes learning stuff is just letting what you’re told sink into your head. Maybe a break from tapping on keys is a good thing once in a while?

  7. ‘d lk t scnd th thght tht thr r thsnds f wrthr css t thr. Scks fr th flks wh lst thr lptps, bt ll thngs cnsdrd ths s nt th knd f thng ‘d cnsdr gd s f chrtbl dllrs. And to the poster who thought that 4 laptops would cost $8,000 – yikes! I’m thinking $1600 – you can run a word processor on an Eee PC, after all.

  8. Yes, writers can write by catching a swan and dipping its feathers in their own blood. This does not mean that it’s *ideal*. Yes, the affected writers can cope– but ‘coping’ isn’t necessarily going to be enough.

    It’s one thing to write a story longhand. It’s quite another to edit it, cut a thousand words, add another thousand, cut five hundred of those, change a character’s name and pronoun, and have copies ready for your critiquers the next morning.

    The Clarion West laptop help posts I’ve seen have mostly come from writers, with an implied audience of writers/supporters of writers. Most of them have been less, “Here is a thing the entire world should be upset about,” than, “Hey, these are our people and a sucky thing happened. Let’s help fix it and get them through the life-changing experience they’ve made major sacrifices for, because that is what we do for our people.”

  9. Still… I think being a writer (full disclosure: I am not one, obviously), has to do more with what’s in your brain, than the hardware on the table in front of you.

    Again, I’m not unsympathetic, really. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if my laptop suddenly disappeared.

  10. Yes, ‘being a writer’ doesn’t require a laptop. However, what I know of Clarions, though I haven’t gone, strongly suggests that this kind of workshop *does*. This isn’t about ‘being a writer’, it’s about ‘being at Clarion’– the latter is a much more intense and demanding version of the former.

  11. “This isn’t about ‘being a writer’, it’s about ‘being at Clarion’– the latter is a much more intense and demanding version of the former”.

    Please Diatryma, explain how. I’m sincerely asking, not trying to pick an argument. How long has this Clarion workshop been going on? What did they do there before there were laptops?

  12. How horrible, yet somehow The Scottish Play, Faust, Paradise Lost, The Canterbury Tales and The Aeneid managed to all be written without a computer. Perhaps writing by hand produces better books. Perhaps it was a gift, not a theft.

  13. There has to be a Clarion grad out there. Please help me out!

    My understanding of Clarion, be it Clarion Classic, West, or South: twenty or so writers of a big group of applicants get to go. Some take out loans to pay for it. Some get scholarships. Some quit their jobs. Some get time off. Three thousand dollars and six weeks is one hell of a commitment– like I said, I’ve never applied.
    Six weeks later, and here I must restate that I am not a Clarion grad and am speaking second- and third-hand, things have happened. There’s been a lot of writing but not much sleep. Everyone’s work has been shredded repeatedly. My understanding of the pace is that it’s a story a week for six weeks, from idea to potentially publishable, plus critting all the other stories produced.
    I have heard the statistic that a third of each year’s Clarion grads go on to sell stories pretty much immediately after the workshop, and a third never write again (haven’t confirmed this, though, and again, not a Clarion grad). I have heard that marriages dissolve, midlife crises are had, relationships form and reform, all in part due to the intensity of the workshop (disclaimer!).

    It is, I have been told, a wonderful experience, and a great thing for a writer to do if it all possible.

    I have no idea how this type of workshop worked before laptops. Presumably, they had different ways of developing and/or distributing the stories. If the way they do it now relies on computers, though, that’s the way it is.

  14. Diatryma – Good answer, and I for one, am sorry if it seems I’m picking on you. I fully admit that I’d never heard of this workshop and am ignorant of its workings. Maybe Cory could enlighten us with further details and history, or at least provide a link.

  15. Oh crap! As soon as I sent my last comment I realized that there was already a link to the Clarion workshop in the original post.

    Really, I’m not as dumb as I look. :)

  16. sympathy and support are in order. Science fiction has been and is lifeblood to BB’s creators and readership. Perhaps one of these students will write the novel that inspires the way you were inspired. Cavils about pencil and paper are just that. Today virtually all professionals depend on word processing to work, there is nothing remarkable about serious students also relying on laptops. If these were aspiring sculptors that just had their prized chisels stolen, perhaps while distracted by the heady hopes and fears of a famous, coveted workshop slot, wouldn’t you have pity on them? At least don’t obstruct those who otherwise might be motivated to help.

  17. New laptops?!? Ridiculous! Heck, in my day we managed just fine with a stylus and a good slab of clay. Copyright infringement took years…

  18. Wow. The displays of asshattery in this thread are rivaled only by the sad event that prompted them.

    If you don’t have something constructive to contribute, this’d be an excellent thread to skip, I’m thinking.

  19. @21 – Which comments here do you consider asshattery? I see a lot of sympathy (granted, some of it qualified) and some questions. A few giving reasons for not donating. Nothing especially non-constuctive.

  20. Clarion West graduate here.

    Yes, there are people who write longhand (even in this day and age) and even more who would be well served by writing things once in longhand. I’ve written using legal pads, a manual typewriter and several different word processors. For the record, word processors are better.

    But that’s not really the issue. Because this isn’t about your writing process outside a serious, intense workshop.

    Clarion West is six weeks of writing at least one story every week that’s good enough to put in front of a dozen other people. And one of those people is the week’s professor who you’ve probably been reading since you were a kid, and no matter how brave a face you put on it, it’s going to *kill* you if they hate it. Plus which, you’re reading everyone else’s stories and trying to find things that are true and useful about every one of them. So, ballpark, let’s say you’re reading, analyzing, and editing 90 pages a day. Plus writing.

    And yes, you’ve taken six weeks out of your life and job, away from you sweetheart and your apartment and all the things that distract you from writing and keep you sane. If you do this right, it could make our career as a writer. If you make an ass of yourself, it will do you long-lasting professional damage. You’ve sacrificed thousands of dollars.

    And then someone steals the tools you use to do the work?

    I got the brass ring. When I went, I had published two short stories in semi-pro markets. After I went, I started publishing regularly in pro magazines. I’ve sold over two dozen short stories, have seven novels either published or under contract (including a collaboration with two of my Clarion West professors). I’ve been nominated for the Nebula and the Hugo, and maybe all that would have happened anyway. But I doubt it.

    If I had been trying to write everything out in longhand, then find someone to type it up so I could get it to the folks to make copies, I wouldn’t have gotten as much work done, I wouldn’t have gotten the feedback that I did, and my sacrifices would have been for a whole lot less.

    Those folks are doing hard work with high stakes. I sent in my donation.

    (gets off soapbox)

  21. DIAMATRY @ 16 covers the basics for the Clarion workshops pretty well. I attended the 2004 Clarion in East Lansing MI.

    (1) Clarion isn’t just about writing, it’s about reading. We had 18 writers and since we averaged over 1 story a week each, that means that each week not only were we writing our own story, we were reading some 17 other stories. Having the stories printed in Standard Manuscript Format makes it a lot easier to wade through all this.

    Yes, you can write a story longhand and some people did. But at some point it needs to be typed up and printed. I typically printed out one or two drafts per story for hand editing.

    Then there are the research notes, web access for research, etc. Changing gears in the middle of a grinder like Clarion would NOT be fun.

    (2) As I understand it, in the typewriter days, the writers would take their typed stories and tape it to the walls in the hallways — and the others would walk up and down the halls, often writing notes.

    (3) Clarion has been described as a six-week bootcamp for writers. Or a massive experiment in sleep deprivation. It’s the hardest single thing I’ve ever done — and easily trumps writing and defending my doctoral dissertation in applied physics.

    Most attendees take months to recover from Clarion — some never write again. You don’t always know who is a Clarion grad because it concentrates on short story writing. By the time you’re publishing novels, you aren’t necessarily listing short story writing workshops in your bio. (grin)

    Poking at Clarion West attendees for not having full backups, not having their laptops on their bodies at all time or being too coddled to “write like real writers used to write” — is singularly not productive. By the time you get through the first week, you’re too tired to think straight. It’s that tough.

    Dr. Phil

  22. Another thought:

    Computers are remarkably reliable when you think about it. We had problems with printers at the 2004 Clarion and setting up WiFi connections to the sorority house net access, but I don’t recall anyone having a significant computer hard- or software failure that someone in the group couldn’t resolve in a short time.

    Had one person have a computer fail during Clarion, we had people with a spare computer or laptop.

    But four stolen laptops? If they have 20 attendees, that’s one-fifth of the whole group. It’s not only devastating to those four people, but disruptive to the whole workshop.

    Not fun.

    Dr. Phil

  23. “The Powerbook trackpad doesn’t work right when you cry on it, did you know that?” — C.J. Silverio’s journal, on her last day at Clarion West

    I made a donation in memory of that. What’s the internet good for, if not to support people chasing their dreams? Best wishes to all this year’s students!

  24. Seth, #5, I can’t recall any of my favorite writers citing workshops as being crucial to their craft.

    I’m on the wrong side of the pond, but I’d like to cite the UK’s Milford workshops as having been critical to developing my skills. Will ten Hugo nominations and thirteen novels so far satisfy you? If not, I’d just like to note that I started going to them around the time Neil Gaiman dropped out; I overlapped with Pete Hamilton and Mary Gentle and others.

    There’s a slight difference between the Clarion workshops (which follow a teacher/pupil model) and the Milford workshops (which are peer-to-peer), but in any given year about two-thirds of the folks on the Campbell shortlist (for best new novelist) have been through Clarion or Viable Paradise.

    Clarion is the nursery ground for the SF/F authors of the future. Not all the seedlings survive, but of those that go, probably 30-50% make it big.

    — Charlie Stross (in case it isn’t obvious)

  25. As an addendum to my previous post, I donated fifty bucks towards the cost of buying new laptops. (And no, as a non-USAn I can’t claim it as a tax deduction.)

    You may carp, but I consider it an urgent matter of paying forward for the kind of help I received.

    Finally, I’d like to note that the folks spreading FUD about the value of Clarion, workshopping, and helping out the students who’ve had their laptops stolen don’t seem to be writers. Draw your conclusions accordingly.

  26. I must be getting soft in my middle age; I just donated $100. I’m not a writer but I really, really wanted to be one for most of my youth (until a kindly soul commented on some of my writing that “you’d be a good writer if you had something to write about”. Thanks Caroline… )

    Note to Cory / Clarion organisers — it’d be great to see an update here on BB about how much was raised & how the writers who lost their machines did, at a later date?

  27. Clarion West ’91 here — I was one of the few students who had a computer my year (one of the original blocky little Macs!) and would have been devastated had it been lost, since it would have held rough drafts and notes.

    (I believe I was backing everything up to floppy disk as I went, but even just the loss of my primary writing instrument would have been a solid financial blow on my shoestring budget.)

    When I have time, I like to compose in longhand, and find that the process of typing it makes for good revision. But time is not plentiful in a workshop environment, where a quick turnaround is your key to getting the most out of the workshop environment. (You are also writing up critiques of the other submitted stories, for which longhand isn’t adequate.)

    I think it says tons that the people most appalled by the theft are the grads of this and other workshops, who can so immediately recognize the disaster this could be for the student writers.

  28. I’m sympathetic, but crazy broke.

    About all these crabby there-are-worthier causes posts, there is always a worthier cause. If you are asked for a donation to feed abandoned pets, someone will say why not donate to support local schools. If someone is asking for donations to support local schools, some will say, why not donate to feed hungry children. One might argue that a donation to remove landmines is more important.

    Just do good people. Not all good has to be great good, just do good. And giving benefits the giver as well, you know. I know a strange prickly little old lady who has no relatives or close friends, but who loves her cats. When she dies, she is planning on leaving over a million dollars to a cat charity. Well hey, not what I’d do with it, not when there are hungry children and abused women and injustice and war and environmental disasters and what all else. But she’s doing good. This woman has some damage. She cannot relate to other human beings. She connects emotionally with her cats. They provide a safe outlet, but a way she can experience emotions like love and compassion.

    Bill Gates himself hasn’t enough money to donate to every cause. When you donate money, you might do it for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes you think long and hard and decide where your donation will do the most good. Sometimes it is a spur of the moment thing.

    Last week I gave money to a street person, twenty bucks I could scarcely afford. There was a moment of eye contact, a moment of empathy. I wondered about it after I did it. Wouldn’t it have made sense to have given it to an organized charity? I mean, what if this person used the money for drugs or alcohol? But, for me, that moment was about recognizing myself in this ragged woman. Life is hard. Circumstances change. Not all decisions are wise. But it is truly tragic when we constantly keep walls around ourselves to protect us from the plight of others. You feel it when you experience hard times and see how many walls people have to protect them from you and your pain.

    I can’t do the maximum good, whatever that is, every moment. I haven’t the resources or the strength, the stamina or the emotional bandwidth.

    That twenty bucks, that twenty bucks. Did it buy this woman food? Ultimately it didn’t matter, not for me. It is out of my hands. But what did matter to me was that moment when I let down my guard and saw her pain and fear and desperation. I didn’t drop everything, I didn’t make her welfare my mission. I just had a moment, just gave her what I could. That was for me.

    Giving a few bucks to these students would just be a moment of open-heartedness. It is not an investment in the future science fiction writers of tomorrow. Someone up the thread questioned how many good known writers had come through Clarion. You wouldn’t be giving your twenty bucks, or whatever, to hedge against the day you were stuck in an airport and you could find a terrific book at the newsstand tucked between some annoying espionage paperback and the latest installment of the Left Behind Series (in which the damned are stuck on Earth with nothing decent to read) What are you going to say, Oh thank goodness I donated to the Clarion Lost Laptop Fund because now I have this terrific book by one of those four writers!

    If charity must be seen as an investment, how about as an investment in yourself and in your capacity to be open hearted.

    If you don’t like a given cause, don’t bitch, just make your donations elsewhere. Don’t take potshots at the good that Cory is attempting to do. Just go do your good somewhere else.

    And to the posters who crabbed that writers can use a pencil, well hey, some of us do writer better on a keyboard. Some of us have brains that seem to be wired directly to a keyboard. Yep, I can write with a pencil, but not as fast, not as well. On a keyboard I edit as I go, sliding sentences and paragraphs around on the page. And damn it all, I can’t even read my own writing, especially when I am writing at speed. And when you are in the flow, you are writing at speed!

    If a person scrimps and saves to go to cooking school, they will want to bring knives of the highest quality, and they will want to keep those knives sharp.

    For some writers, a pencil is a dull knife. You want a keyboard to maximize your time, especially at a workshop like this. You want a laptop, not a desktop model, because you want the thing accessible in the classroom, in the middle of the night when you are your room. You want do be able to write in the coffee shop, on the lawn, on the goddamn toilet if that’s where the muse hits you.

    And pencils don’t have spellcheckers, which is important for those folks who proofread. Not that I’ve done it, proofread, but I’ve heard about people who do.

  29. perhaps some Clarion participant might even now take something from this thread to help their writing. Real people, real reactions, real thought to their real world misfortune. Though I suspect they may be too damn busy to be keeping up on Boing Boing. Good luck to you all! I hope I may one day buy your book.

  30. I too am startled and dismayed by the asshattery (and yes, that’s just what it is) on display prior to post #24. I’m a writer. I haven’t attended Clarion but I have attended other workshops. I can well imagine how much the theft of your laptop would affect your participation in a workshop as intense and demanding as this. If this notion is foreign to you, I don’t know why you would even bother to read the post, never mind respond to it. I too am donating $100.

  31. The best analogy I came up with– last night, in bed, withstanding the urge to post because something is wrong on the internet– is a major marathon. Say the Olympics. A bunch of people work really, really hard to qualify, they train, they possibly strain their relationships, they make it to the Olympics.

    The morning of the race, someone breaks in and steals their shoes.

    No, running isn’t about shoes. Anyone can run barefoot. The original marathon runner didn’t have specially-designed footwear. They can still compete.

    But it’s going to be a lot harder to beat their best times, and this is a situation where that matters.

  32. *blink* wow. Someone was actually a schmuck enough to not only criticize the authors for getting ripped off, but boing-boing for posting a request for help!?!

    Dude, I feel sorry for you when the karma on that action bites you in the ass.

    And yes, we donated.

  33. Clarion is a fast-moving six-week intensive workshop. The students never stop working. They get a new instructor every week. They write at least one story a week, and are strongly encouraged to write more. They’re doing serious work.

    The students have committed a big chunk of their time and money to do it. Some of them have been planning and saving for years. Many of them will have made real sacrifices in order to come. At the end of their six weeks, they’ll be exhausted. Clarion is known for being tough.

    It’s also known for producing writers who go on to make professional sales. I’m not talking about a few writers placing poems with little magazines that pay in copies. I mean that a substantial fraction of each class goes on to make sales to venues that pay real money and have real readers.

    On writing by hand: If you don’t normally compose in pencil on paper, switching over to it is a huge and discombobulating change. Writing isn’t a single skill; it’s a suite of skills, and that change would affect all of them. Switching over in the middle of Clarion would be like having to stop using the Qwertyuiop keyboard and learn Dvorak when you’re writing multipart documentation to meet a deadline.

    Clarion students do a lot of writing. Many people can’t write by hand at the required speed. More to the point, many writers don’t write their final finished text as their first draft.

    Then there’s the problem of reproducing their work so their fellow students can read it for critique sessions. Ever had to read someone’s rushed, hand-cramped handwriting? Do you think they’ll get critiqued as thoroughly and well as the students whose stories are legible?

    Clarion students are already writing as fast as they can.

    Zipster @15:

    How horrible, yet somehow The Scottish Play, Faust, Paradise Lost, The Canterbury Tales and The Aeneid managed to all be written without a computer. Perhaps writing by hand produces better books. Perhaps it was a gift, not a theft.

    That’s an astounding piece of condescension. Homer was blind. Perhaps you’d write better if you lost your sight? Think of it as a gift.

    Or maybe you’d just like to pursue your normal line of work (whatever it is) without recourse to computers. Programmers can write out code for later transcription. CAD designers can go back to the drafting board. Document publishers can copyfit by counting characters, and write all their type specs on the manuscript. Publicists can type letters and send them out via surface mail. Et cetera. And all of them can switch over when they’re in the middle of a rush.

    One other thing: all those works you mention took far more time to compose than Clarion students have to write their stories.

    Jake @22, some readers might see your comments as suggesting that the ripped-off students didn’t actually need replacement computers.

    Hey, Daniel. Hey, Connie. Pipenta, well said.

    Mother @38, plenty of Clarion students wouldn’t be able to afford a new computer because they’re attending Clarion. The accommodations aren’t posh, but it’s still a big chunk of change. It’s also six weeks or longer in which they’re not doing any paying work. As I mentioned earlier, some of them will have saved up for years. As I didn’t mention earlier, some of them will have quit their jobs because there’s no other way to get that much time off.

    Besides, resenting other writers is a snare and a delusion.

  34. > Besides, resenting other writers is a snare and a delusion.

    Ww. Mxd mtphr NE1?

    S, s t dlsl snr?

  35. Mumsy @40, are you self-disemvowelling, or have you ticked off one of the Boingers? I certainly didn’t do that.

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