Saturday, June 8, 2019

An Amazing April Writing Symposium

Me teaching a packed room on living a literary lifestyle
Over the winter, I was asked to teach at what was presented to me as a unique opportunity. A literary event was being organized and it would be held at Coppertoppe Retreat Center, where my writers' group spent an unforgettable Halloween weekend in 2015. Caring for a disabled spouse makes travel now both rare and difficult, but I committed to the weekend while snow was piling up and the subzero winds howled around Xanadu. I knew I couldn't say no.

Over the next few months, I made arrangements for round-the-clock nursing care, formulated the workshops I would lead, and also set goals, professional and personal, for the weekend. One of the workshops needed to be on a subject close to my heart -- "Living a Literary Lifestyle", something I both preach and practice. I was also requested to hold a lecture on writing Mysteries, as I've had some wonderful successes in recent months in that particular genre. As winter waned, the towering walls of snow around our home melted, and the date arrived, I grew anxious and excited -- the latter because of the opportunity presented, the former because I would be leaving the house, loved one, and cats for the first time in nearly two years. It turned out they were in the best of hands.

I packed lightly, as I always did when traveling, and departed a full day before the symposium was scheduled to begin with good pals Edwin Berne and Judi Calhoun. We traveled down to beautiful Newfound Lake and the retreat center, the first arrivals. Our hosts, Sheila and Bill, were as gracious and pampering as always. An incredible dinner (pork roast wrapped in bacon) greeted us, and we three hung out in the big bedroom upstairs and talked the writing life. After dinner, we gathered downstairs among the cafe tables overlooking the lake and wrote. I began a terrifying ghost story called "The Woman in the Wallpaper", one of three projects I brought to work on between sessions.

The following morning found me again downstairs by 5 a.m., belting out fresh pages at a dizzying speed. Over that first early cup of coffee, our dear friends and fellow conferees The Sisters Dent motored up the long, winding drive and joined us for a scumptious breakfast. I finished the first draft of my story, and soon the masses descended. The symposium kicked off with spirited conversations and my first workshop as, outside, the sky opened up and rain hammered our surroundings.

Among the other esteemed teachers that weekend were Tor Books senior SF editor Mosche Feder and agent Beth Marshea of Ladderbird Literary Agency. Beth held an insightful open discussion on the writer-agent relationship, and on Saturday Moshe led a Milford method-style consultation with six of us novelists on our current projects. My novel-in-progress, Grave Space, earned high marks from he and Beth, and I am presently tearing through the remainder of the novel for submission.

With Edwin Berne, Beath Marshea, Clarence Young, Roxanne Dent, and Judi
Other wonderful workshops were held formally and informally around the enormous table-for-twenty at the heart of Coppertoppe, where a gourmet feast was offered throughout the weekend. Of particular note was a roundtable held by the amazing Clarence Zig Zag Young, a writer based in Detroit. His workshop on the joy of writing filled me with inspiration, and his body of work is superb. Following the completion of my ghost story, in and amongst I also wrapped a draft of "Absolutely Murderous", a murder mystery set at a drag review. That third project brought along for the weekend didn't get touched because, simply, we ran out of time. There was no lack of passion, which infused the atmosphere. Our final treat before departing for home was a workshop led by Dan Szczesny. Following yet another gourmet lunch, we headed for home, all of us committed to writing to the next level. It was a one-of-a-kind experience, and one I'm so grateful to have experienced as part of my literary life.