Friday, June 19, 2015

Writers Retreat Workshop 2015: the "writing vacation that can change your life"


So to be honest, my initial reason for going to the Writers Retreat Workshop 2015 in San Antonio: my rather brilliant editor, Jason Sitzes, is the workshop director, and he suggested I attend. While he might disagree that I do everything he tells me to do, I always give his advice serious consideration.  There I am in the second row.

Some more honesty. This year, I've become a somewhat jaded conference/workshop attendee. I've been to a lot of them. I'm a little burned out. I've heard a lot of this stuff before, and (while I'm still not perfect -- just ask Jason) much of it just doesn't apply to me anymore. Still, my friend Ellan says any workshop/retreat/conference that offers one nugget of insight is worth its weight in gold. If so, the Writer's Retreat made me a wealthy woman.

Meeting and working with Richard Thomas author and editor of Dark House Press was an undiluted pleasure. I was skeptical when I  read his bio. After all, he's a neo-noir guy, and I write historical fantasy. How could he possibly help me? Right? OK. Wrong. Richard was one of  the most enthusiastic and helpful writers I met at this workshop and maybe anywhere. I was in his critique group and had a private critique on the new novel I've been mulling over. As with all new projects, I'm in a bit of a dither about where to start. After talking with Richard a couple of times, I think I'm straightened out or at least heading in the direction of straightened out. He was also amazingly encouraging about my new project. I liked working with him so much, we discussed him traveling downstate to do a workshop for the Quincy Writers' Guild. I'm working on finding the money to fund that. Richard was a very big nugget.

My second nugget was Carol Doughterty. Carol began in the Writer’s Retreat Workshop in the early 90’s and then changed her focus from writing fiction to writing as a Zen practice. She lived at and worked for the San Francisco Zen Center, was ordained as a Zen Buddhist priest, and earned a Master of Divinity at Naropa University. Every morning, Carol led us in a meditation and then a writing exercise somewhat akin to the morning pages in the Artist's Way. I've done morning pages before with varying degrees of success; but with Carol's direction and exercises, I came to a major realization about a character who was well on his way to becoming a stereotype. I also got the germ of a couple of scenes from those sessions. Well, worth the price of admission. She's also a marvelous editor, as I found out in my 1:1 session with her. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I became so involved in talking with her, I left my beloved jeans jacket behind. It's a work of art I've been embellishing for about 10 years now, and I rarely let it out of my sight. She was that impressive.

There were many other nugget-worthy moments. Too many to mention them all, but here's a sampling. Les Edgerton's scene by scene analysis of Thelma and Louise. The night-owl sessions where things sometimes got a little weird. (How to write a damn good sex scene comes to mind; I'll never think of asparagus in the same way.) Indulging in our workshop tradition of raiding Walgreens for mini-bottles of wine with Ellan. Watching Letterman's retirement. Stumbling to my room and agreeing with a young acolyte that yes, this is somewhat like all those conversations in college in which we discovered the meaning of life. Meeting some interesting writers and reconnecting with old writer-friends. Feeling very well taken care by Gail Provost Stockwell who worried over my "workshop rash." Soaking up the atmosphere of the Oblate Retreat Center and finding its gift shop where I discovered the Virgin of Guadalupe that I've been searching for. May she inspire many afternoons of writing on my front porch.



And last but not least, Larry Brill, a writer and videographer, documented the day and a half Donald Maass spent at the retreat.



Registration is open for 2016. So if  you want to bump your writing to the next level, now is the time.