Thursday, August 21, 2008

swine loaf

Today The Secret to Love was workshopped, and I got to read the opening chapter at the Blue Parlor Reading. I'm still filtering all the info from workshop--some of it resonated, some of it just was, as is the case at these things, writerly reactions--micro edits. On the whole, I think the chapters were well-received, and the votes seem to indicate that Ursula is more sympathetic than Fifi (good), and that Grandmother's the bomb. (Very good.) I got some terrific feedback on what to tweak in the opening few pages, and I tinkered with it before the reading.

After the reading, I got to partake in the devouring of that attractive creature under the cookie tray. Now, I know the idea of a roast pig is somewhat exotic and belies a certain fanciness, but the actual set up, gutting, roasting and slicing of poor little piggy is, well, barbaric. Luckily, Bread Loaf had plenty of garden burgers and beans as substitute. And the key lime pie was fabulous.

But, back to the reading. The theme for tonight was love, and there were ten or so readers. The room was packed with supportive Loafers, and the spirit, as usual, was on the high side. There was bad wine and Chex mix for all. It was fun to read chapter one in its latest form. It's one of those passages with shock value and humor. The double whammy of fail-safe reading.

Anyone who thinks that Bread Loaf is this elite haven for mfa's and wealthy wanna-be's doesn't have the true picture. Yeah, there's a bit of money up here (4, count 'em 4 of my workshop mates knew Watch Hill--the exclusive Rhode Island backdrop of my novel--intimately), and plenty of writers from academe, but I've been impressed, and more than a bit surprised by what happens when you put this many people together in a secluded setting when the only true common denominator is a passion for writing.

After the reading, the pig roast and the key lime pie, there was a fiddler and his son in the barn. This 13-year old boy was phenominal. Think Joshua Bell phenominal. He got a standing ovation (the first at this year's Bread Loaf). It made me wonder if these writers' conferences oughtent have more inter-disciplinary arts. My roommate thinks we should have a workshop where we make a collaborative play and then perform it.

Hey, after ten days of readings, our ears are sore and our heads are full. Things begin to blend. We begin to feel like that cookie sheet, wanting to cover something--preferrably any blowhard writer that reads over his alotted time.

In the end, though, the real litmus test is on the page. At writing camp, words and the particular way they're strung together are the grail objects. We want, when we wind down the mountain to our respective ports and cities, to feel that our words will reward us. Even if just with their song--that in rereading them we feel satisfied and propelled forward.

When it works, this writers' conference thing, a writer goes home feeling like she wants to continue writing. Even if she's told that her character's voice is inauthentic, or the dialogue is contrived, or that there are too many examples of summary in her narrative. If we get feedback that a scene has erupted in that wonderful personal way that causes a reader to fully enter the story, that's worth the price of admission.

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