Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Week at Wildacres

See that picture above?  I like to think that's Inspiration pouring down on Wildacres -- the idyllic retreat just off the Blue Ridge Parkway that was the scene of a week of writing, teaching, learning, partying, and generally enjoying being in the company of about a hundred like-minded people. 

For two and a half gruelling hours a day (okay, there was one day off,) I met with a group of aspiring novelists/memoirists in the cute little building with the purple door.  My class, five men, four women, was diverse in age, experience, and genre. There were three memoirs from the guys-- one set in a North Carolina mill town during the Depression, one about the past and present of of a remote Blue Ridge Valley and the boy who grew up there, and a series of startling adventurous moments from a fella making use of his military and law enforcement background.

The other two fellas were writing novels -- one that I would characterize as a novel of manners -- kind of John Updike/Ann Tyler-ish (I mean this as high praise, by the way.)  The other (a  young man still in college) is working on a thriller/crime fiction type thing about some very bad guys and the Russian mob. This one was in the Elmore Leonard camp -- lots of good dialogue.

The four ladies (I think this was the first time ever that women have been in the minority in one of my classes) were also quite diverse in their subject. One was a well-crafted culinary cozy with a cute, zaftig protagonist who is a caterer; a second was a highly original dystopia -- I wish I could share some of the really cool details -- but I can't; the third was what I would characterize as an apocalyptic semi-cozy with a fascinating premise; and the fourth was a novel based on family history, mostly set in the past and present of a remote section of Mexico -- an area controlled by drug cartels. 

As I said -- diverse. Never a dull moment. 

How, you may ask, can folks writing such different things comment on one another's work? Very well, as a matter of fact. I was impressed at the depth and precision of the various comments, as well as the helpful, polite, and, above all, kind way in which said comments were offered. 

I make a point of warning my students that they won't learn from cheerleadering. ( Oh, I think your work is just wonderful...) and that, because of time constraints, we will probably focus far more on what's wrong with the work than what's right with it. The intent is always to help the writer improve his or her work by pointing out what isn't working and suggesting ways of fixing it. And, boy, oh boy, this group was full of terrific suggestions!  It was a real pleasure to work with them -- thank you, Alaine, Alex, David, Gale, John,  Kim, Lourdes, Leon, and Les!  Well done, all!

There were many other classes going on -- poetry, novels, short stories, creative non-fiction -- as well as student and faculty readings, a Mexican party night, and the extremely
silly Gong Show on the last night in which many extremely silly skits were performed. I was in the traditional faculty skit, typecast as a wicked witch . . . what a world, what a world!

And, best of all, I added several thousand words -- all in the right order and pretty good 
words at that -- to the work in progress.


Sam Hoffer / My Carolina Kitchen said...

Sounds like a very rewarding week for students as well as their teacher. I was part of a writing critique group several years ago, but we only met once a month and there was no teacher such as yourself as a leader. It must be wonderful to be immersed in your work for an entire week, surrounded by like-minded individuals.

And then of course there are those beautiful surroundings to calm your mind and feed your soul.

Brian Miller said...

i am glad that it went well...and that they were honest with each other....cheerleading will def get you no where....did you do anything in particular to get them comfortable with crit?

B. Rogers, Living in Black Mountain said...

Love the first photo...yes to inspiration! Great to hear about the hard work of turning inspiration (creativity)into nitty gritty availability for all.

Vicki Lane said...

Brian -- some were already used to critique groups -- but I gave my standard speech about learning fro, criticism and the usefulness of having a diverse group take a look at your work -- which is, after all, meant for as wide an audience as possible-- and how, as always, they are free to ignore any and all suggestions.

Sometimes people come to classes like this hoping, I'm afraid, that everyone will fall to their knees and acclaim them as the Great Writer. These folks have a hard time learning anything. Thank heavens there was no one like that in this class!

L. D. said...

Your descriptions sound as if a lot was to be learned, both from others and from looking at themselves as writers. It appears to be a very healthy way to inspire and also to compare.

Star said...

I,m sure the students all enjoyed your classes very much. They sound so interesting and valuable. To be in such a beautiful place could only enhance the experience too. Welcome back!

Darla said...

An honest yet kind group; sounds helpful but a bit too intimidating for me … I confess that I need equal doses of praise and constructive criticism or I wilt.

Kudos to you, though, for also making good progress on your own work during that time. Did you expect to? i.e. does that usually happen? Or were your surprised at the progress you made after teaching part of the day and then working on your own manuscript?

Vicki Lane said...

Darla -- we begin the critique by talking about the good things in each piece -- whats working, what's done really well. But we spend most of our time on problems and how they might be fixed. Writers need to learn to accept constructive criticism and not feel threatened by it. Some criticism can be toxic but I don't allow that in my classes.

Vicki Lane said...

This is the first year at Wild acres that I've gotten a good deal done almost every day. (There are a LOT of distractions.) Not sure why.

Glenda C. Beall said...

Vicki, I love Wildacres and have been there several times for their Spring Gathering and the Fall Gathering. The environment of the place creates so much energy for me that I love every minute there with all the artists and writers. I hope to go back this fall for a week's retreat. Wish I could attend one of your classes. I know that would be enjoyable.

NCmountainwoman said...

Welcome home. I love the "Inspiration pouring down."

Jim Egerton said...

First of all welcome home. You have been missed by all. I think the best and certainly the meanest critic is yourself if you are honest with yourself. That's a big "if"

katy gilmore said...

What a wonderful sounding week! I'm envious - specially the part about fruitful words on current project - well done!