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A novel by Len Joy

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley

I’m home again and despite my best intentions only one blog while I was at the conference. Obviously I’m not one of those world-class bloggers who can key in their stories from their cellphones. It’s too hard for me to do revisions on a cellphone screen and I like to revise a lot.

The Community of Writers at Squaw Valley conducts workshops for poetry, screenwriters and fiction writers each summer. This was their 40th anniversary. There were 122 participants in the fiction workshop and we were divided into ten groups of twelve or thirteen. Each day the workshop groups would read and critique two submitted manuscripts so over the six days everyone’s manuscript was workshopped.

I enjoyed the experience. My workshop had a good mix – six women, seven men; a few fulltime MFAs, several with jobs in writing fields like literature or creative writing teachers or film and music critics. One retired lawyer and a handful of other folks with interesting backgrounds. The ages ranged from mid-twenties to late fifties.

Everyone took the process seriously and gave the manuscripts thorough critiques. I thought the quality of commentary was excellent throughout the week. It's probably not a good idea to workshop something that you think is perfect, because people get tired of praising the work after about ten minutes – and most of the focus is on the problems that readers encountered. I was pleased with the feedback, even though in my case, the manuscript really was perfect. Now I know how to make it even more perfect.

A typical day:

5:00 am- Read the two manuscripts that were going to be workshopped that day because I usually fell asleep reading them the night before. They always looked better in the morning.

6:00 am - Ran along the bike trail for forty minutes. (This was an optional activity. They didn't make us run.)

8:30 am - Walked a mile to the Lodge where the workshops were held (the writers were housed at spacious ski lodge housing throughout the valley.) On a couple of the days I walked in with one of my housemates who had this terrible dilemma of having to decide between two high-powered agents who wanted to represent her.(I would have hated her, but she was really attractive, a genuinely nice person, and obviously extremely talented. Still, two agents, that really does suck. I'd be thrilled to just get a personal rejection from either one of those agents.)

9:00 to Noon - Workshop sessions;

1:00 pm to 4:00 pm – lectures and panel discussions on craft of writing, the role of agents and publishers and other aspects of the Writing business. Interesting stuff, especially when the panelists didn't all agree with each other. Those were the best. We all love conflict, especially in the middle of the afternoon.

4:00 pm – open workshop where some lucky participants (like me) got to read three minutes worth of their writing and then get instant feedback from the group;

5:30 & 8:00 pm – staff readings by a variety of the workshop instructors including Leslie Daniels, Carol Edgarian, Sands Hall, Gregory Spatz, Dorthy Allison, Jason Roberts, Sandra Scofield, Al Young, Alan Cheuse, Lynn Freed, Dagoberto Gilb, Jane Vanderburgh, Lisa Alvarez, Mark Childress, Michale Jaime-Becerra, Ron Carlson, Karen Joy Fowler, Glen David Gold, Rick Wartzman and others that I’m sure I missed.

After that some of the participants would congregate at those houses that had really nice views of the valley and hot tubs so that they could continue to talk about writing stuff. Very dedicated folks.

It was a great experience. This was the second year that I’ve attended. I plan to come back when I can be invited as an distinguished alumni – or maybe as an instructor. That would be cool. Hope I’m not too old for the hot tub by then.

Workout: Last week I ran about 40 minutes every day; Hamstring felt better each day; Today I ran about six miles in 56 minutes. An 85% effort, and no problems. It was almost 90 degrees - so a good simulation of Tuscaloosa weather.

Weight: 186.9 - I broke through the 187 barrier. Probably because I had to pay for my drinks one at a time - that always slows me down. NO cheese and crackers either. Probably a diet lesson here someplace.

1 comment:

Michele said...

Sounds like you had a good week, I'm jealous.