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.