Tag Archives: hotel

The Tin House Winter Workshop……

Throughout the next few posts, I will share my experiences at the writing workshops I’ve attended this year. (Spoiler alert – they were all really good and if you are a writer, you’ll want to know about each one.) I started off the year at the fabulous Tin House Winter Workshop. It was held at the end of January 2014 in a small town called Sylvia Beach on the Oregon Coast.

Imagine going here…

The Sylvia Beach Hotel

The Sylvia Beach Hotel

Where each room is decorated for a different author…

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Dr. Seuss room

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Emily Dickenson room. I was worried the room might be haunted. But no ghosts appeared or disappeared.

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Mark Twain room. It had a fireplace and a terrific view. A workshop leader got this room. 😉

And this is your view every.single.day…

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And a super sweet cat roams the halls…and your room, if you let her (if cats are a no-go, you can just keep your door closed). But she is so smooshy and sweet…

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And learning the craft of writing from Whitney Otto (How to Make an American Quilt, Eight Girls Taking Pictures, Now You See Her), Vanessa Veselka (ZAZEN, The Truck Stop Killer in Best American Essays), and Jon Raymond (Rain Dragon, The Half-Life)…

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All hosted by the talented and gracious Tin House folks who also shared their insights on writing and publishing and karaoke…

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Lance welcoming us – not doing karaoke.

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You even get to see the Tin House office space where all the magic happens…

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Yes, you might just think you’ve done died and gone to writers heaven, where muses sprinkle glitter out of magic pencils and writers block has been abolished because it’s been deemed too cruel a punishment for the creative mind to endure. Ah, yes, heaven indeed.

Tin House accepted 18 writers for the workshop out of 200+ applications. (The great news is that this year there will be two workshops – one fiction, one non-fiction – so 36 spots.) Yes, lucky me. But the real message here is polish, polish, polish before you apply. And then maybe polish one more time. Then set it aside for 3 days, and polish again. Rinse, repeat. Then apply.

The workshop was three days – workshops in the morning, panels/craft lectures in the afternoon. Each workshop group had only 6 writers – yes, that is beyond fantastic! We critiqued two manuscripts in each session, so each writer got about an hour and a half of dedicated individual attention and every participant provided written feedback, as did the workshop leader. The writing was top-notch and the participants were careful readers who offered tremendous insight into each piece. (My workshop leader was Whitney Otto – she was a very wise choice.)

One of the real benefits of workshops is that you get to analyze writing that is not your own. I tend to learn at least as much from the discussion of other writers works as I do from the discussion of my own. I’m not invested in their writing the same way I am invested in my own story and can see it as it truly is, not as it was intended to be.

Because it happened to me (no one else, just me), I will share a little bitty lessons-learned with you. So, if you want, you can meet at the Tin House office (yes, please) and ride with the other workshop participants to the hotel. If I remember correctly, it’s just under 2 hours. You do not need a car while at the workshop so this is a really great option.

Unless, that is, unless, you are someone who might get a tad nauseous in a warmish van filled with excited writers journeying up a curvy mountain road.

Ahem.

Maybe that was me. Perhaps I should have sat in the front seat. Undoubtedly I should have taken dramamine or at least TUMS, before–yes before–I got nauseous.

I started feeling cruddy and rested my head on the seat in front of me and the other riders started to worry and asked repeatedly if I was ok, which was very nice but when I raised my head to answer…well, let’s just say that probably didn’t help. 😉 I thought I could make it–until I finally realized I simply.could.not.make.it.one.more.curvy.turn and asked the driver to pull over.

But he couldn’t do that immediately. What? I hear ya. Excuse me?

Well, you see, the road is narrow (and curvy) without much of a pull off shoulder because it happens to be on.the.side.of.a.mountain. and there.wasn’t.a.lot.of.room. Whatever. This is a case where poor planning on my part does happen to constitute an emergency on your part. So Sorry.

The good news is that the driver was able to pull over quickly enough and I was able to dash out to the back of the van and lighten my nauseous load. The bad news is that the editors from Tin House and the workshop coordinator were driving by us just as I got sick. So much for fabulous first impressions. Ergh.

The best part of the story is that we were about 2 miles from Sylvia Beach when I got sick. Two minutes longer and I could have totally saved face. Oh well. Luckily, we all laughed about it later. The Tin House folks are gracious people and let me live it down (relatively) quickly.

Back to the workshop. Did I mention it was fabulous? Well it was.

Here are a few tidbits from what we learned:

– Tin House is a top-tier literary magazine–wait, we knew that already–but they reinforced that belief over and over again. Even though they have every right to be literary snobs, the people who work there are approachable, talented, knowledgeable, and supportive.

– If you want to be published in a journal, get to know the magazine–support it by subscribing to it, reading it, and sharing it with your writing community. But most importantly, get to know what kind of stories they publish.

– Don’t worry about what the story is trying to mean – you’ll see that at the end. And if you are lucky it will mean different things to different people.

– Be careful that multiple POV characters aren’t just telling the same exact story over and over. Each POV must move the story forward and reveal something new.

– Writing should feel a little out of control and not too neat. You can write the life out of something and make it feel dead on the page.

– Most professional writers are very open to editing. Not being willing to edit something you’ve written might will make you look like an amateur.

– Authorative voice is what the writer takes with her from piece to piece. The story varies but the authority remains.

– Narrative voice is the charisma on the page.

– If a story feels stuck about 1/3 of the way through, the writer might be relying too heavily on voice.

– Fiction allows the writer to take something private and make it public.

– We also learned about the fabulous essay by Betty Flowers called Madman, Architect, Carpenter, Judge: Roles and the Writing Process

At these types of workshops, books are always a big topic of discussion. Some of the book recommendations that came out of this workshop are (I’ve not read all of these, so I cannot testify to how good they are but these were some smart readers, so there you go)

Of course any of the books listed above by the workshop leaders
Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (one of my favorite books ever)
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan (very good)
The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
The Moonflower Vine by Jetta Carleton
Telling by Marion Winik
Old School by Tobias Wolff
The Tenth of December by George Saunders

So there you have it – the Tin House Winter Workshop. Information about the 2015 workshop will be on the Tin House site sometime in September.  Tin House also hosts a summer workshop. Awesomesauce!

 

 

 

 

Zip it…………

Many expats will tell you that they key to surviving Delhi is occasionally leaving Delhi. And one of the first places they will tell you about is Neemrana Fort. It is about a 2-hour drive from Delhi (of course, that is depending on traffic, so that is a give or take 5 hours guesstimate.). The Fort was built in 1464 AD and it still feels pretty authentic. That sounded kind of silly, huh? How would I know if it was authentic, right? So, maybe I should say it seems like it feels like a fort might have felt a trillion years ago.

The fort boasts 10 levels of the best hide-and-go-seek land in India and is really just a lot of fun. But just so you know, ten levels means lots and lots of stairs! Comfy shoes ladies! Neemrana claims to have all the accommodations of a 5-star hotel – I am not completely sure about that. It has a absolutely different feel than a Ritz or Oberoi – but it is magnificent in its own right. It is certainly clean enough and the food is safe to eat – but it’s not really what I would call fancy schmancy. Of course, to be fair, it’s no Motel 6 either.

The rooms have a nostalgic air about them – with the added benefit of a/c and lights. But the windows are not sealed perfectly. Windows are surely not part of the authentic atmosphere of the fort – but if you are going to claim 5-star status, you might want to add a window here and there. Because the windows are not super air tight, mosquitoes do sneak in – so bring bug spray.

The rooms all have names rather than room numbers and padlocks instead of key cards. Super, super charming. Most of the rooms have patios or balconies with spectacular views of quaint “downtown” Neemrana.

There are also a few activities you can enjoy during your stay.

Every afternoon at 5p, there is a tea/biscuits serving on one of the rooftops. Immediately following the tea, they open a cash bar and this guy performs with his wife. At least, I think it was his wife, she kept her face covered the whole time so I don’t really know for sure who was under there.

You can also ride a camel down to a 9-story step well. This is a pretty cool thing to do. It takes about an hour. If it’s hot, I would recommend not doing this in the middle of the day. Two people can ride each camel and I believe they can get up to 3 camels at a time. So, if this is something you are interested in doing, definitely make reservations at the hotel office. And if remember correctly, the cost of this was 200 rupees per person. Seriously, how can you pass that up?

This guy hangs out near the camels. While he might be their BFF, you can absolutely take my word for it that he is not on the welcoming committee. He apparently had not had his cup of coffee yet and was none too happy to see us. So, if you see him near the camels – steer clear – tee hee – get it? Steer clear! Isn’t he charming? I couldn’t swear to it, but I think this guy was giving me the horn. 😉

This step well is where they dug and dug and dug some more for water. It goes down deep – nine stories – hence the very clever name – 9-story step well. And if you go down, just remember, what goes down must come up. Have a good breakfast first! You are gonna burn some calories!

Coming back up the 9 stories of steps.

You will pass by these villagers on your way to the fort. Some of the children called out for candy. If I did this again, I would definitely put a few lollipops in my pocket.

And then there is the flying fox zip line. This is uber fun and you won’t want to miss it. Kids have to be 10 years old to do it (unless your parents are willing to fib a little). And think twice about doing this if you are pregnant or really, really out of shape. I did it – so that sets the physical fitness bar pretty way down low but it is a good 20 minutes of hiking up a (very) steep hill. You get a resting break every 10 minutes or whenever you need it. But the reward is well worth the trek! And the early morning suggestion absolutely applies here too. This is not something you want to do in the middle of the day heat. They do give you (safe) drinking water to take with you.

This is me bringing up the rear making sure my kids safely make it up ahead of me and that no child gets left behind.

First you get a little training session. How to start, stop, and not fall off the zip line – all the things you’ll want to know before you jump off the side of a very big hill attached to a wire and absolutely nothing else.

And then you zip through the air like a flying fox. And you get to do it 5 times on 5 different lines. And if you anything like me, you are now thinking – “holy zip, batman, does that mean I have to hike up that hill 5 times?” Luckily, one climb up one big arse hill does equal 5 zips. You go up once and zig zag back down.

And the view is great from the top.

And, as with everywhere I go, there were gorgeous flowers every time I turned around.

And this guy jogging his donkeys round and round and round made me feel like I was walking through a National Geographic movie.

If you have been following this blog for awhile, you might remember that sometimes I add a “girlfriend’s guide” to the places we visit. Well here are some tips that might prove helpful…..

All of the meals are served as buffets (kind of expensive especially if your kids prefer plain pasta). Ask for the menu. They do not offer it to you and do not advertise the fact that there is one. But I have heard the french fries are yummy.

The rooms do not have tv, which is absolutely wonderful – unless you your kids are expecting a tv. Bring a deck of cards or a few board games. You won’t miss the tv a bit.

Bring a bathing suit – there is a pool and it’s likely to be hot.

Bring bug spray.

Bring some candles so you can experience what it would have been like at night in the rooms of the fort. Just remember to blow them out before you go to bed. If you actually want to light the candles, bring matches.

When you check out, check your bill carefully. We had a couple of charges that were not ours – that could have totally been an accidental one-time thing – but just in case.

When you check out and leave the entrance with suitcases, they will ask to see your receipt that you have paid the bill. Just have it handy.

Don’t miss the gift shop on the way out. It’s got lots of fun and different stuff in it that isn’t outrageously overpriced.

The literature tells you that you are not allowed to bring your own wine/alcohol into the property. This is where my philosophy of asking forgiveness rather than permission works very well. I didn’t find the wine list to be fantastic or reasonably priced at all – if I remember correctly, your only option is to buy the entire bottle of expensive, not yummy wine. So, do with that info what you will.

Wear comfortable shoes – there is a lot of walking up and down narrow stair cases – which is very fun – but not exactly conducive to high heeled shoes.

Have fun!

On our way…………

As I mentioned, I recently had two dear friends come visit from the United States. In true me fashion, I totally mixed up the day they planned to arrive. So, I accidentally put us on the overnight train to Amritsar on the same day that they arrived. Now it takes a full day to get to India from the U.S., so they had not seen a bed or shower in essentially two days – the overnight train is not exactly like home. But, hey, they were a captive audience – what could they do? Thank God they also have adventurous spirits and forgiving hearts.

We started off their first day by going to Dilli Haat – a craft fair that is not too overwhelming – and Khan market – a market with a more Western feel. My thought was to “ease” them in to India before throwing them on the train.

We had a lovely day of shopping and a leisurely lunch at a place I knew they would not get sick, a place where it is even safe to have a drink with ice – they took a shower – we picked up the kids at school – ate a yummy Indian meal at home and then headed out. We were running a little behind because, heck, getting three women fed, showered, packed, and out the door ain’t easy. So we asked the driver to get us there quickly (during rush hour). Welcome to India my dear friends. We weaved and bobbed  and honked our way through 45 minutes of full-on traffic. Jet lag was hitting them hard and just as my friends would drop their eyelids, a horn would blast or the car would swerve and jostle them out of any sleep they hoped to catch.

Not too far into the ride, we had this conversation…

Ann: That car is going down the wrong side of the road.
Me:  Mmm-Hmmm. Yes, it is.
Ann: But he is kind of coming towards us.
Me: Yep. That is true – he is.

And then, let the games begin, we found ourselves on the wrong side of the road.

Our train was scheduled to leave at 7p. Most people will tell you that the trains in India are never late. So when our driver pulled in front of the train station at 6:53p, I told my buddies to grab their stuff and let’s go. I was trying very hard not to let on that I was very worried we would be too late and that I was not at all confident that I could navigate through the station, find our train, and then find our seats on the train.

We went up a very crowded stair case and then thru “security” and then down more very crowded stairs and onto the platform. I was crossing my fingers pretty sure that I could figure out what to do. Luckily there were some very helpful people on the platform. And unfortunately many curious people. Ann and Julia had never really been truly stared at before – but we fixed that right away – you could stare at them for about 10 hours straight now and they probably would not even notice.

Pretty quickly we found where I prayed we thought the train was supposed to come at 6:59p and looked up to find that the train would be about 15 minutes late. We also found our names on the list with one slight hiccup. We had purchased a ticket for Angel to reserve all four seats in the cabin for just us. Angel wasn’t actually coming with us and she wasn’t listed in our cabin. Our cabin had the name of another passenger listed.

Me: That never happens. Trains in India are never late. snicker. snicker. And passenger lists never get mixed up.
Ann: That’s okay, I can wait 15 minutes. It’s really not that long.
Me: Remember, expectations low. We’ll address the extra passenger when we get on the train.

The train station isn’t exactly clean – it is very crowded – and it feels a little unsafe if you aren’t used to it. I felt safe. But I think my visitors felt a little overwhelmed and super duper tired. I would argue that their impressions had as much to do with how tired they were as they did the surroundings – but the surroundings weren’t exactly what they were used to. There were no seats and the ground was filthy slightly dirty. Trash was everywhere. There were men not too far from us using the train tracks as a restroom. There were young children selling things. There were some older men begging. There were lots and lots of stares. And, not having a scratch and sniff blog, I really cannot begin to describe the smell of train smoke, cigarette smoke, trash, urine, body odor, and the like. Let’s just say Estee Lauder won’t be marketing it as a perfume any time soon.

I set my bag on the ground but my friends held tightly onto theirs. They were trying really hard to be patient, stay awake, and hold onto their things. The only thing I could say was “aren’t you glad you came?”

I won’t bore you with how many times we were teased with what time the train would really arrive but we finally boarded at about 8:30p for a 9p departure. We had a cabin to ourselves (the mystery passenger never appeared) and I remembered to bring a bottle of wine and some very fancy plastic cups and lots of snacks. (If you ever travel with me,  you can be pretty sure you won’t starve – I am big on the bag o’snacks. I also almost  always have diaper wipes, hand sanitizer, gum, tylenol, and toilet paper. Yes, you’ll want to sit with me on your next Indian train ride.) We sat down thankful for a place to sit. The cabin, on first inspection, did not seem too bad. But you never really want to dig too deep here. We brought our own pillows and blankets and we had wine. All is well, right? Sure. We’ll go with that. Or maybe not…………

Ann: There is something moving over there.
Julia: It might just be the light reflecting in that silver thing.
Ann: I think it is a mouse.
Me: What?
Ann: Maybe it’s just the reflection.
Ann again: No, I am pretty sure it’s a mouse.
Me: Where?
Ann: Right above your bunk.
Me: Wanna switch?
Ann: I am the guest remember?
Me: Luckily they don’t charge extra for that.

So we broke out the wine and the snacks. I accidentally dropped one of the cups on the floor of the cabin and my dear, sweet friends made sure that was the cup I was served my wine in. After all,  I am more acclimated to the region.

We ate, we drank, and we tried to sleep. I have heard that the overnight train is fantastic. I guess that depends on what you mean by fantastic. I would say it was fine. But it is very difficult to sleep. The train had a slight jerking and many stops and a pretty nasty bathroom – oh, and did I mention that there was  a mouse? So, it is fine. But we didn’t sleep much.

We got to Amritsar at about 8am and went straight to the Ista Hotel. This was the perfect introduction to the reality of India because India is full of contradictions – highs and lows. And they jumped right in. From the train station to the Ista – it doesn’t get much more extreme than that. And we all took the most fabulous showers of our lives before heading out to the Golden Temple.

More to come………..