clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Conference Experience

This is it, ladies and gentlemen. In the nutshell, at left is the conference experience.

Ice cream from a continuous churn industrial machine.

Oh - it's ice cream. Yes - it's tasty. It isn't the product you expect (Aunt Phyllis' homemade churned by a fleet of willing cousins) but you're still pretty happy when a bowl of it finds its way to your table. There is also the post-conference guilt (for those of to whom ice cream is on the "forbidden food" list yet new trousers are in order, ice cream brings guilt. You slender marathoners reading this...imagine. Use it as a fictive device).

Bear River is lovely. The setting is delightful. Please allow me one dusk-setting image of the lake.

Hardly justice. You'll have to take my word for the beauty of the water at sundown. As it is the water of Hemingway's boyhood, Walloon Lake has a special place for me now.

My workshop was fine. I learned several things. I experienced validation of some of my technique and sources. I was surprised in revisiting a couple of things. It was a good surprise.

I was in a workshop with very nice people. Very nice. Yes - you understand. They were nice.

I'm not nice. Rape, murder, extortion, emotional exploitation, molestation, abandonment, unfaithful partners and uncaring deities. These are the themes and flavors of my characters and their worlds.

Hard-boiled? Not at all. I'd love to be but I can't hold hard-boiled for more than a dozen paragraphs.

I prefer the Sunday service church bulletin style of writing where the bad stuff just sneaks in along with the litany of attendees to Thursday's potluck (Harriet Bowles is listed individually instead of Mr. and Mrs.  and we know that Jim Bowles didn't accompany her because he was in bed with Patti Miller. We ALL know it now thanks to Lizzy Miller getting a little tipsy Saturday night and calling her sister a slut-cunt at the Paradise Cafe and Dance Hall because Lizzy had a crush on Jim Bowles since high school. That, and Jenny Martin talking about the Lizzy incident while in the parking lot with all the lady smokers before service while the kids are in Sunday school).

My partners weren't literary murderers who have their characters vomit bile after their first killing. Oh, it's a bit of a shocker ... your first. It is an adrenaline thing. Sane people often get violently unwell. Hell, trained killers from Paris Island often get violently unwell. Crazy bastards are unmoved emotionally. Watch those guys. That, or give 'em your extra ammo.

Joker: How can you kill innocent women and children? 
Door Gunner: Easy. You just don't lead 'em as much.
   _Apocalypse Now_ 

SO, I'm in a room for twelve hours with nice people. 

You should consider this consequence if you attend a fiction workshop.

Now, confessional. I didn't read. I didn't read one word. Say it. I know you're thinking it. I'm thinking it.  CHICKENSHIT.

We had two full assignments. My workshop was a little soft that way. So ... two assignments in twelve hours of sessions.

The first overnight assignment and reading was an outline. It was a good drill for planners (me) and hell for the pantsers (many of whom had never heard the term).  We went around with volunteers reading some of their outlines for input on mechanics of the short-story plot. I'm not making this up.

Story, story, story. We have a college professor DUI event in which she escapes any consequences. We have  a Mark and Mindy young 20's break-up story (no one in bed with anyone's sister). We have a funny piece about a delusional mother at a wedding whose ends up estranged from the daughter-bride whose pet name she transfers to the daughter's dog dropped on her doorstep before the wedding. They are all delightful stories with merit and concern and technique and craft. Lovely.

I have a failing rancher dry-gulch his banker who bedded the rancher's wife ruining everyone's lives (wife now fled). When rancher returns home in the middle of the night, he clarifies for his younger female cousin the end of the ranch (money - not murder consequence here)  in a dark-stairway exchange. She then she makes herself available of which he obliges himself thus sinking a little lower into the depths of  ill-considered actions only to end in the office of the county sheriff (brother) held for the murder and confronted with the fact the cousin whose care could have been his last illusion of propriety confessed to the sheriff-brother that our murderer had in-fact bedded her and so - she left for parts unknown. In the end, it's a conversation by two brothers on the fine-kettle-of-fish this shit soup has become...

Now, that didn't seem like the sort of thing I wanted to share - so I didn't.

It got worse.

Now, we had for a second assignment : a scene. Mine became a 1900 word chapter-in-a-single-scene.

Blah Blah Blah. Around we go. Story Story Story including a lovely tale about a small dog and vicious pigs chasing him in a pasture. Lovely tale, actually. I liked the craft elements in it I could recognize and I think the writer did a fine job. Workman-like, even.

I have a story in which a genocidal dictator and a psychopathic head of the secret policy joke in front of the representative from The Hague here for extradition transfer under charges of crimes against humanity (which I can almost say with a straight face myself).   Naturally, my protagonist (who is not significant to the discussion here)  buys the dictator's way to freedom from the secret police chief while managing to insult the polite socialist from Canada serving as the representative for the Tribunal in The Hague.

Genocidal humor is not entirely appropriate in certain circles, literary or not. This was one of those circles.

Now, if I write a story about the sodomizing of infants in a hospital by a male nurse upset at the wage rate his newly approved union contract, that would be a story which would have a limited social appeal. I wouldn't expect it to be in polite discussion for a Pushcart.  I certainly wouldn't expect my few "influence readers" would push it to their friends saying "oh, you have to read THIS!"

That same flavor was the conference for me.

Should I have shared ? Sure. Should have.

Could my colleagues embrace my rougher topics of betrayal ? Sure. They're all serious writers.

I didn't. I felt out of place and out of type. My instinct was to plow ahead and blind the priest. I did the opposite because from my experience, following my first instinct is a bad thing to do.

Next time, a conference with murderers. Lots of them. Crime writers. My kind of people.


Susan Flett Swiderski said...

Bummer. Doesn't sound like this was the ideal conference for you. Good luck finding a better "fit" next tinme.

jack welling said...

Oh - lovely conference. Workshop, really.

Just not perfect for me.

I'm more of a "they had it commin' " type of fellow.