Tag Archives: winter

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!

 

 

 

 

Freezing but still warm…………………

One of the hardest thing about living in India is that we really don’t have a neighborhood. Let me correct that – we live in a neighborhood – but we don’t have a neighborhood feeling. There are no sidewalks, really nowhere to ride bikes, kids don’t play outside, and worst of all, really we don’t have any friends in the hood – especially not life-long friends. That means not many play dates and no spontaneous happy hours in the driveway.  No ordering pizza at the last minute and staying out way past sundown. No running through the sprinkler and chalking the driveway. No basketball in the court where dads can school their kids in just exactly how to play the game. We don’t even run into each other when taking out the trash (the trash wala comes in the gate and collects our garbage) or when checking the mail (it’s all delivered to hubby’s office). We don’t bump into friends at the gas station (our driver fills up the car) or at the grocery store (they really don’t exist).

So, yesterday was pure heaven. Each of the kids had a friend spend the night. The house was loud and a mess – think play dough meets paint meets cheese puffs meets hot chocolate with marshmallows. We ordered pizza and made waffles and eggs and bacon. My kids are still young enough that they will sometimes still play in groups of various ages of kids. Yesterday was full of that awesome synchronicity. Eight year olds and twelve year olds (with every age in between) played and danced and laughed together for the entire day with thankfully very little fighting.

Then they got an idea. As they called it – a great idea.

Yeah – uh oh.

They decided that it would be a lot of fun to have a bake sale. Excuse me?

Me: You do realize it is below freezing outside right?
Bear: Yeah – so
Me: Please say yes and not yeah. And enlighten me, who do you think is going to buy things? Bake sales are usually in the warm weather.
Bear: If we go to the pool, people will be running by there.
Me: With their wallets? If they are running, they may not want sweets.
Bear: Oh – but cars go by too. Lots of cars. It’s a busy street.
Me: What are you going to sell?
Bear: Can we make cookies?
Me: Honey, we don’t have flour – remember we haven’t lived here in 6 months. Your options are what we might call limited.
Bear: I’ll be right back.
Me: (to myself) good heavens.
Bear: We have brownie mix.
Me: Okay – you know they will get cold – possibly frozen right?
Bear: That’s fine, we’ll wrap them in foil.
Flower: We want to make something.
Me: What do you want to?
Flower: What is there?
Me: Yeah – I am not getting that involved in this – you go look and find out. Report back to me when you figure something out.
Angel: Do we have lemonade? We want to sell something too.
Me: (no longer to myself) oh good heavens. Sweetie – we don’t have lemonade. That is really a summertime drink. There is ice on the ground here. It’s cold.
Bear: We are going to make hot chocolate too. (Nice that he fed off his sister’s idea and stole the thunder right out from under her.)
Angel: Hey.
Me: What are you going to put that in?
Bear: The lemonade pitcher.
Angel: No fair. We need the pitcher for lemonade.
Me: Bear, that isn’t going to keep it warm – you cannot call it hot chocolate.
Angel, we don’t have lemonade -why don’t you and your friend make art work.
Bear: fine
Angel: fine
Flower: chocolate covered pretzels
Me: I really want to see a marketing plan before I decide if this is a go.
Bear: You always tell us to try new things. That there is no sense in not trying. Why is this any different?
Me: You are confusing me with a mother who encourages her children. Are you sure that was me?
Bear: Yes.
Flower: Pretty sure.
Me: Dang.

So they made brownies, chocolate covered pretzels, hot chocolate, and artwork. They carried the table and chairs and blankets and goodies up to the pool. They made signs. And they had customers (not all of them relatives). One of my friends bought a play dough eyeball from Angel – and she paid $10 for it and insisted they all split the profits. Yes, she has forever cemented her place in my heart.

They actually lasted about an hour and a half before they realized that 22 degrees is really pretty cold.

They walked away with red noses, about $20 (to be split 7 ways), and memories that will warm their hearts on even the coldest of days.

Tonight we are hosting a New Years Eve party for the families of many of our friends. Pray for me.

Happy 2010.