Archive for May 23rd, 2010

Rio Hondo workshop

I’m now at the Albuquerque airport, on the way from Taos NM to Milwaukee WI for the third leg of this three-week five-city tour. Kate’s in New York for another couple of days, then will meet up with me in Milwaukee, after which we will proceed to Wiscon by car.

This is the second time this year I’ve flown to a desert state, driven to an isolated location three hours from the nearest airport, and spent an extended period confined with a small group of smart people of debatable sanity. The first time was my trip to “Mars” (six people, two weeks); this time was the Rio Hondo writers’ workshop (twelve people, one week).

The food at Rio Hondo was much better.

The writers invited to Rio Hondo included Karen Joy Fowler, Daniel Abraham, Alex Jablakow, James Patrick Kelly, Diana Rowland, and our hosts Maureen McHugh and Walter Jon Williams. The primary purpose of the workshop is critique, but the week also included lots of schmoozing, talking about writing, hiking and touristing, and eating. Oh, how we ate. Walter and Maureen did most of the cooking, but Kristin Livdahl and I took the lead on a dinner each, and the food was both ambitious and fabulous. I was actually more intimidated by the prospect of cooking for this group than by the prospect of critiquing or being critiqued by them, but my main dish of Broccoli and Tofu in Spicy Peanut Sauce was well-received. Karen even asked for the recipe.

The workshop was held in the Snow Bear Condominiums, which boasted comfortable beds, plenty of hot water, well-equipped kitchens, and breathtaking views both down the mountain (trees, rock formations, pristine streams, deer, and marmots) and up the mountain (looming cliff down which pebbles continually rattled). On the last night a small tree fell down the cliff, coming to rest against the battered fence just above my room. With luck the Snow Bear will still be there next year.

A typical day at Rio Hondo went as follows. Morning: group critique of two stories. Afternoon: reading stories, hiking in the mountains, touristing around the area, cooking, and napping. Evening: chatting, watching episodes of Middleman, or playing Thing, all lubricated with appropriate amounts of alcohol. Kind of like Clarion but without the lecture or the pressure to produce a story a week (though many of us did spend a lot of time putting down new words, especially those facing deadlines). I didn’t do very much new writing but I did some research and a lot of thinking about my current project.

It was an honor, a privilege, and a great learning experience to have the opportunity to read these writers’ drafts with a critical eye. In many cases I got more out of the reading than I was able to give in critique, but I hope I was able to provide some useful feedback. I also learned that there’s no story that’s so good that eleven insightful writers can’t talk for an hour about how it can be improved. All of these pieces were, I think, publishable as they are, but just about all of them received at least one of those “ding!” comments that points the author in a direction that can make the story truly outstanding.

I got some excellent feedback on my own current project, which I am currently trying to assimilate. I need to keep in mind that all of the other stories, some of which were superb, got just as many comments as mine did, and I need to find a way to incorporate all of this feedback in a way that moves the story in the direction I want it to go. Once I decide what that is.

I also got some very good advice about my career, and I intend to get a lot more serious about writing and marketing my work once I get home, possibly including some difficult decisions. Though there’s lots of travel to come in June and July, and in August we head to Australia for a month. The days truly are just packed.