So, I spent last week in L.A. with these awesome people at the Lambda Literary Foundation’s emerging writers retreat.
For the past few days I have been struggling to figure out how to put the experience into the right words, and failing. So instead I will just say that it was not what I was expecting, and that it was an amazing experience that I can’t imagine ever forgetting. (And now I will ramble for a bit.)
When I hear the word “retreat,” I think “sitting and writing for hours and hours,” which is not what this was. I mean, it could have been in theory, because in between the workshops, the readings, and the panel sessions, we had a fair amount of unscheduled time. But that unscheduled time tended to be spent having long conversations about what it means to be queer and to write about queer stuff, and otherwise doing things that were not sitting and typing alone. (That being said my fantabulous roommate Anna-Maria McLemore did manage to, like, finish a book while we were there, so what do I know. Maybe everyone else did that too and I was just a big slacker.)
Instead of sitting and writing for hours, I sat and talked and listened and thought for hours, which is basically paradise for me, when the stuff I’m talking and listening and thinking about is as interesting as it was over the course of this week.
Because it was very much about owning my identity as a queer writer. Which, I’ll admit, isn’t something I’ve thought about much before now. Yes, I write, yes, I’m queer, yes, my characters generally are too, but that was sort of as in-depth as I’ve ever gone with it, my tendency to wax on about queer YA trends in #GayYA chats and in ranty blog posts aside. But with the level of discussion we had over dining hall tables and meeting rooms and dorm corridors over the past week… man. One of my workshop-mates, Allison Moon, tweeted, “There are times when young queers like me understand when our elders refer to ‘family.’ This week was such a time.” And that basically summed it up for me too.
We spent every morning having really detailed discussions of craft with our workshop instructor, the amazing and legendary writer and editor Katherine V. Forrest, and then reading and critiquing the openings of each others’ novels. And man, people wrote some seriously awesome stuff in this group. Just in our 10-person workshop, which was on genre fiction, we had 3 YA novels, 2 mysteries, 1 new adult, 1 women’s fiction, 1 sci-fi, 1 paranormal, and 1 lesbian werewolf series (a-rooo!). And 10 freaking brilliant writers and critiquers. I got so much fantastic feedback on the opening of my Shiny New Idea that it is still rather boggling my mind. (Fortunately I recorded my entire 30-minute crit session on my iPhone so I can revisit it whenever I feel like being boggled all over again.)
Everyone had to do a Fellows’ Reading in front of the whole group, which was great because I got to hear everyone’s amazing work (and by the way, I have never written poetry in my life but hearing all those awesome poets read their awesome stuff made me want to go pick up a quill pen and a notebook and start scribbling then and there), and which was awful because it meant I had to get up and read from my own writing in front of a bunch of people and a video camera, which is basically my greatest fear ever in the world. But the environment was so incredibly supportive that I was able to get through it without becoming a shriveling mess. And that in itself is an amazing victory.
(And another awesome thing to come of that? We had to make sure our readings were no more than 4 minutes long, which meant I had to find a scene and trim off every inch of fat from it to get it to 4 minutes, which was actually a really useful exercise to have done.)
As a side note, aside from the fact that I am apparently allergic to the L.A. area (seriously, I got sun poisoning after 10 minutes outside, I got hung over after 2 beers, I kept stubbing my toes on things, I experienced a variety of mild yet annoying maladies that I haven’t been victim to for years, etc), PLUS there are things about California that are simply inappropriate (I get that it’s a desert but the whole having to wear a hoodie after 6pm thing does not work for me, especially in AUGUST; also, why the hell are all the outlets upside down?), I could happily spend more time in that part of the country. The whole no-precipitation-no-humidity thing is quite novel to me. Also there were a lot of hella hot people out there. We have hot people in DC but they tend to wear more clothes here. Also, Diddy Riese? Um, YEAH.
I’m still processing everything from the experience, but man, what an EXPERIENCE. I really consider myself blessed to have been a part of it. So please forgive me if I seem a little blissed out this week. I’m just blissfully thinking about writerly queerness, most likely.
Well, that or lesbian werewolves.