Monday, April 19, 2010
A Great Writers' Conference Outside Seattle: Cats and Coyotes Are Welcome
I lost my virginity in the state of Washington.
After almost forty readings and book signings in the US for The Tsar's Dwarf, I was invited to a writers' conference to do two workshops.
This happened last weekend outside Seattle at Kiana Lodge in Poulsbo overlooking Bainbridge Island. What a gorgeous place. It reminded me of Scandinavia before it was buried in volcanic ash. 128 people and a cat met up to listen to a bunch of professional writers sharing their wisdom about everything from self publishing to writing through grief.
I was hired to do a workshop on tragicomedy, an apt choice since I think I'm funny and nobody else does. Thirty-five people showed up in a cabin with stuffed moose. No, I'm not referring to the nice folks in the audience but to the aura of beautiful native Indian kitsch.
But don't get me wrong. I loved it all. The local writers were great and laughed in all the right places, except for the time when I read a piece equating writing to masturbation. People looked at me as if they were shell shocked.
Most writer conferences are great, but sometimes they can be frustrating as well. You feel as if you're standing in front of a huge buffet where you want to taste everything, not just the cauliflower.
Field End's Writer Conference was loaded with talent. There were so many writers I wanted to talk to, among them Bruce Barcott who was the delightful keynote speaker, and Gloria Burgess who did the opening address. But the conference only lasted a day, then we all went back to our semi colons.
Before that happened I appeared in another workshop with Dickey Nesenger, a Seattle playwright. The workshop was called Page One. Participants were supposed to leave page one of their manuscripts, and we were forced to say something brilliant about them after they were read aloud to us.
When I teach writing, I always try to stay away from the American mode of "I Looooved It So Much But ..." I try to be honest and supportive, knowing that beginning writers don't need bland praise, just a loving headbutt.
In the evening I walked a last round at Kiana Lodge, admiring the tribal art work and the beautiful view of the sound. They do weddings here, and sometimes the odd coyote jogs through looking for a haiku poet to munch on.
Going back to Portland, I got a ride with Puerto Rican writer Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. Riding two in the same car is called car pooling in the US, so don't say the Yankees don't have a social conscious.
And hey, they read historical novels, too. The book store at the conference ran out of their pile of The Tsar's Dwarf.
God bless the state of Washington!