The daily workshop aspect of Squaw Valley Community of Writers is intense (to the left is a photo from the deck of the building where my daily workshop was held). Here’s how it works: each day, for six days, from 9am-12pm, you meet with your group (each group has 12 people, sometimes one or two more or less, but more often than not, exactly 12) and discuss writing (either a chapter from a novel or a short story) from two of the group members. Each piece of writing is meant to get about 1 1/2 hours (but factor in breaks and such and it works out to an hour or less) and every person in the group (except for the writer) should contribute with things they liked in the piece and possible places for improvement.
Each day, there is a new moderator for the group (either a writer, editor, or agent). This year, my group leaders were Joanne Meschery (she was enthusiastic, interesting, and gave us great handouts. I liked her a lot); Dorothy Allison (This woman is the epitome of generous. She came in and immediately became a part of our group–when we hardly even knew what to make of each other yet. And not only that, but she gave of herself and her knowledge freely. She is not only a brilliant writer but an amazing teacher as well. Here’s a quote from the day she moderated: “A writer writes a book, but a reader writes another book.”); Alan Cheuse (I had him for workshop last year as well. He’s interesting and intelligent. I loved his discussion about the books he’s reading.); Peter Steinberg (he is an agent at Regal Literary and was the leader the day my piece was up. He was extremely helpful and generous with his commentary. His suggestions not just for what I should improve in my story but for HOW I might go about doing it were spot on. He seems like a good guy.); Gregory Spatz (soft-spoken and humble, he had great insight into the writing being workshopped. On top of this, he is one hell of a fiddle player–but more on this later); Rob Spillman (he was our last day moderator. He not only gave helpful insight on the readings but also spent a good deal of time talking to us about how he came to work in publishing).
Along with the great moderators, the writers in my group were outstanding. Not only were their works interesting and varied in topic and tone, but these people were great, insightful (how many more times can I use that word in this post?) readers as well. I hope to keep in touch with many, if not all, of them. I was truly impressed with the level of discourse–though sometimes, as happens in groups, things would fall apart, but we were generally able to pull it back together. A couple of people in the group have books published already, which I hope to read in the coming months.
On top of this regular daily workshop, I also signed up for an additional hour long workshop each day called “Finding the Story”, which is a workshop run exclusively by its creator Gill Dennis. I don’t want to describe the process here because to experience is really to know it, but I will say that I formed equally special bonds with the folks in that workshop as we learned a lot about each other by hearing each other’s stories. It was intense and often folks would break down in tears during the course of hearing the stories but it was also revelatory–and for me, it doesn’t get much better than when something obscure is revealed to me. On top of this, Gill Dennis is just a fascinating and cool person and hanging with him and learning this process was a great experience.
I miss the people from both workshops. Some I felt more connected to than others, but each of them gave me something special by sharing their words, their world view, and their stories.