Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lit Camping

Earlier this month, I had the honor of participating in the first ever Lit Camp workshop. A joint venture between Litquake (that amazing festival of words and writing and writers that takes place every October in San Francisco) and the SF Writers' Grotto, Lit Camp brought together 40 writers and several excellent editors and published writers and one very patient and generous agent, for four days of workshops, panel discussions, and general mayhem at the incredibly beautiful Mayacamas Ranch in Calistoga, CA.

Writer and Grotto co-founder Ethan Watters
in a pensive moment during a panel discussion. 
Like the Squaw Valley workshop I attended last summer, I went into Lit Camp with a lot of trepidation, mostly because I'm such an extreme introvert and being with a lot of new people is stressful. I needn't have worried. The weekend was wonderful, invigorating, and just the boost I needed to get back to work on the novel. I also got to play impromptu official photographer for the first two days when Lit Camp's official photographer came down with pneumonia. I had an absolute blast with it and discovered that being able to observe people through my camera lens made it easier to talk to them later. So not only did I get some great shots that will be used by Lit Camp on their website, I found a way to counter my introversion as well. Wins all the way around, I think. I was actually comfortable enough at the end of Lit Camp that I sang this song at the end-of-workshop talent show: Born to Be Blue and dedicated it to all the writers out there looking for an agent.

Newly-anointed Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Johnson
leading a workshop at Lit Camp.
One of the best things about Lit Camp was the chance to try out the new first chapter of my novel. Having completely revamped the premise and redefined the novel's focus since Squaw, I was interested in knowing how the new first chapter worked. The chance to put it in front of a bunch of readers who knew nothing about me, the novel or what it had been up to this point, was one of my primary reasons for applying to Lit Camp.

The chapter has undergone some serious revision including eliminating what has been the opening sequence since the novel was a short story. Gone was the dramatic moment of the older brother's death. Now the chapter turns on the narrator's discovery that his perfect, eidetic memory has failed him for the first time, that it has something to do with his older brother's death (although he doesn't know what), and his realization that, for the first time in his seventeen-year old life, he has a choice about remembering or not remembering. I had questions about whether I was telling too much or not enough, if the clues were annoying or intriguing, and if the forward momentum of the chapter was compelling. My workshop-mates completely dispelled my fears and my workshop leader, the amazing Janis Cooke Newman who founded Lit Camp, pronounced it a "near-perfect first chapter," something that very nearly reduced me to tears. I am not kidding. I don't think I realized until that moment how much I have been writing with my heart in my mouth.

Happy Lit Campers Holly Payne (faculty), Matthew DeCoster (Lit
Camp Staff), Thea Sullivan and the incomparable Pat Montandon
celebrate the creation of the Montandon-Castro cocktail. The auction
for naming-rights raised $900 for 826 Valencia.

All in all, it was a good weekend. I wish I could say I was able to get back to work with a renewed vigor the following Monday, but I had to get ready to take my 17 year-old to Scotland so he could check out the University of Aberdeen and decide if he wants to go there in the fall. I know, tough life. But now I'm back home and ready to get back to work because I have given myself a September deadline for having this draft of the novel completed. 

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