July is coming up and I’m noticing a lot of traffic on my blog centering around the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop.
I imagine that people attending the workshop have questions about what the week is like (and my last post about it focused mainly on my literary agent anxiety), so I thought it would be a good idea to give a brief overview of my experience that week. And if anyone has any questions about what the week was like you can contact me directly at email@example.com.
So without further adieu….
I went to the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop not knowing what to expect. All I really knew was that my friend Stacy had been telling me for years that I should go, and that my mother was worried about me being around “all those mountains.” I knew that I would have a novel excerpt critiqued in a group of 12, and that I would have a one on one with one of the faculty (either an agent, editor, or published writer) where they would give me feedback on a manuscript excerpt, but other than that, I didn’t know what the week would entail.
So I drove there from San Jose, the whole time wondering if my GPS (I call her Bettina) was leading me astray because at one point, I looked to the right of me and saw no guard rail and what appeared to be a very precarious cliff. I put the petal to the metal and rechecked Bettina, and it turns out she was confused about whether the workshop was in Nevada or California. I turned her off and used the directions given by the workshop organizer (and was relieved that she didn’t get so confused that she thought the workshop was somewhere over that cliff).
When I got to the Olympic Lodge people were lined up inside, so I followed suit, and when I was next, told the lady with the notepad my name. She wrote my name down and told me that they would be with me in just a second. After about fifteen minutes they called me up (I felt like a contestant on the Price is Right, but refrained from running up there while waving my hands in the air). I handed someone my manuscripts and received a groovy black folder with my name written on it in a silver marker. Très chic, I thought. Inside of it was a schedule of events, the workshop schedule that told me which workshop group I would be in (it was group 8), where we’d be meeting, and which manuscripts I should read the next day. (There was also a map in the folder, but since I am sort of map impaired, I squinted at it for at least twenty minutes before deciding that I would probably just use it to draw squiggly lines.)
After that I checked into my room at the hotel (which was right across the street), and took a picture of it (it has a kitchen! I yelled when I called my husband), and piddled around until the opening talk started at 5. I felt really intimidated. These other writers looked like they meant business. Like they’d read James Joyce and survived, or understood Tristram Shandy the first time around. I, on the other hand, had tried to read Joyce and gave up when I got to the moo cow, and banged my head against the wall the first time I tried my hand at Stern. Would I make any friends? What if they didn’t like me? Well, that actually turned out to be a non issue. As soon as everyone gathered the questioning began; which group are you in? Are you fiction? I found a couple of other eighters and we banded together; I was not alone.
The workshop schedule was jam packed; 8 am sharp the next day, workshop from 9 until noon, panels from 1 pm until 5:30 pm, dinner at 6, and then another talk at 8 pm, and then I had to go back to my hotel and read my assigned manuscripts for the next morning! Whoo! But, as Mark Childress told us the next morning; you can sleep when you get home.
Duly noted. I survived on coffee, let me tell you. Every morning our workshops were facilitated by industry professionals. For our group we had Mark Childress, John Glusman and Michael Carlisle, Victoria Patterson, Sands Hall, B.J. Robbins, and Glen David Gold. These people knew their stuff! (I told a friend when I returned home that the workshops were like an M.F.A program on speed.)
My one on one was with Dana Johnson. I had about 20 minutes with her where she went through my piece page by page and gave me some very insightful feedback. The daily panels included people like Al Young, Alan Rinzler, and Amy Tan (and many other, really great people whose names didn’t start with an A). Topics included “Making Workshops Work,” “The Truth of the Story,” “Beginnings: Getting Their Attention,” a discussion of E-book publishing, and more. There was also a fantastic Invitational Follies the last night. By the time Saturday came I was actually sad that I had to leave! For starters, I met some really fantastic writers (you’d be surprised at how quickly people can bond in just a week) and realized that all of those industry professionals really aren’t so intimidating—especially during the follies when some of the agents got up there and got down with their bad selves.
The experience really took away the whole industry professionals as “otherworldly beings” notion that I had somehow built up over the years and allowed me to make genuine connections with some really great and encouraging writers. A lot of writers that I met had actually been to Squaw before and plan to return. I think that says a lot about the atmosphere there; it’s really relaxed with an emphasis on craft and building a community among the participants. When I got home I was teeming with all sorts of new ideas about how to make my novel better and am so glad that I went! So for anyone considering going, do it. The experience is just great.