Five Days in Wicker Park (Part Two)

It’s really interesting what happens when a group of introverts get together. Through out the week, whenever a break occurred, we all scattered like rabbits to our perspective safe spaces.

It’s interesting and strange for two reasons. The first is that I was always an extrovert, pre-strokes. Post-stroke Rich’s personality is entirely different. The second reason is how close introverts with common interests can become in such a short amount of time.

Speaking for my own thoughts here–I was terrified at the though of traveling and meeting a bunch of people I’d never met. Yes, the “want” to meet Richard and Mercedes over-road that terror, but I felt it none-the-less.

My wife had said “you’ll be fine.”

She was right.

So before we get to Wednesday’s notes, allow me to introduce you to my fellow inmates:

Pamela Durgin  is a new writer from the west coast. Her story we workshopped —Fires 1976–was a real dark fantasy coming of age story. Obviously I don’t want to say more about these as I hope this 9and all the stories) get published some day. She is a delightful person, smart and talented. It’s interesting that Pam and I are the more…”age-seasoned”… of the writers in attendance, yet we are the newest to the craft.

Alec Ivan Fugate is a “new weird,” bizarro, dark writer with an amazing amount of talent. his story The Egg did something I’ve been trying to do for a while now–made the premise of an old (really good) episode of The Twilight Zone fresh and new. I don’t think he set out to do that–which speaks to the talent of the piece. He attended with his delightful partner and both of them made an amazing couple!

Ashleigh “Allie” Gauch is a brilliant human being. I know I’ve been (and will continue) typing that phrase, but part of the magic of this workshop is the intelligence and passion of it’s peeps. Her story, Camasado is a different perspective on a popular fairy tale/novel that I won’t divulge hear–especially since the story will be expanding to a much larger work. I don’t have an Allie pic, so here is a picture of Lair Kitty.

Rena Mason is a writer, screen writer, fellow member of the HWA, certified RN, brilliant, and funny as hell. That first night in the “Dirty, sexy Taco Place,” she made margarita’s come out of my nose. Her story, Macular Degeneration was a delightful ghost story with chills and murders galore. I don’t have a Rena picture either (photography fail, apparently), but since she adores pugs, here is a picture of a pug in a cat costume.

Sarah Read is a writer and editor-in-chief for Pantheon Magazine. A brilliant (there is that word again) storyteller, her piece, Crosswind, was a storm chaser story with a brilliant twisty plot. No more shall be said! Accept…I don’t have a picture of Sarah either, so here is a wind-swept cat…

Now that you know the players along with our Gamut hosts, let’s talk about day two.

Thursday

Right then. Spent the early morning working on MFA stuff and finishing Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (no wonder he took the 2017 Nobel prize in literature). I’m nervous–and not just because I’m staying in “murder central.” Today, we are workshopping Sex in Literature with Lindsay Hunter. And then my piece for the workshop get’s decimated in group critique.

First, the sex.

Lindsay is delightful. Go read her stuff. All of it. Then follow her on twitter. Stop short of stalking, m’kay?

I’d honestly never really wrote a sex scene I’ve been happy with–they all feel like Penthouse forum letters that are trying to be clever.

Fifteen minutes into the lecture on Sex in Literature….I understood why. I was looking at sex scenes as scenes about sex.

Real literature-sex isn’t about sex at all. It’s about character and story. It’s not 50 Shades of Porn Grey. It’s about being intimate with your characters and showing that intimacy  on the page.

Now I will do all you budding writers a favor. I received a piece of advice that changed everything I thought I knew about “sex on the page.”

Ready?

Even if you don’t use it, write a sex scene with your main character. Want to understand them on an intimate level (the answer, BTW is YES. YES YOU DO)–then write that scene.

It will change your relationship with your character(s).

Lindsay had us write a sex scene in fifteen minutes. During that time, she  threw in three curveballs (a phone keeps ringing, a loud noise is heard, and someone interrupts) to be incorporated into the story.

The FOURTH curve ball was thrown when we had to read our scenes out loud.

It was an amazing learning experience.

We were all spent (pun intended) at the end of the morning session, but they day had so much more planed. Next up would be the evisceration of a very personal short piece I wrote called Dear Dad.

How to make authors cry in three easy steps.

Dear Dad was a short story I wrote originally for one of Richard’s classes. I had two other dark fantasy stories that would have fit the Gamut mold a bit better–so why did I pick this piece? Especially knowing how difficult an epistolary piece is to pull off by experienced writers?

Because 90% of the story was true.

When my dad had a kidney removed due to cancer back in 2013, I started writing him letters. As I was in Boston and he in New York, I couldn’t get to see him as much as I would have liked–work and family.–“life stuff” got in the way. I wrote hundreds of letters over the years…they were every day musings with a bit of humor tossed in. He enjoyed them, and that made me happy.

When he passed away from cancer in 2016, it was on the same day my own cancer diagnosis was confirmed.

How about that for a kick in the goolies?

Part of my personal grieving process included sifting through the letters I wrote to him. I don’t remember when i decided to use a few of them to wrap a story around, but picked a handful of the letters, and began to write.

This is what became Dear Dad.

The problem with the story is that it’s not clicking as an actual story, and I was too close to it to see why.

So I swallowed my pride as well as my loathing of sharing deeply personal details with strangers, and submitted Dear Dad to be scrutinized and picked apart by my new colleagues and my mentors at Gamut.

The group got me past why I was stuck with the story. They made some amazing suggestions. That was what I was hoping for.

What I didn’t expect was how my story–as rough and crappy as it was–impacted a lot of people in that room. There were tears. There were moments of silence because people became too choked up to continue. Even in its current form, that’s the flood of emotions  Dear Dad brought to the surface.

Hell, my story even became the reason that Casey Frechette and I got to know each other. He and I spent until the wee hours of Friday morning talking about our fathers.

Now I know how to fix the story itself. Will it work? Will it pull the same amount of emotion while becoming a cohesive story? I’ll let you know if it is ever published.

Thursday dinner and the Disintegration walking tour, however, would happen before Casey and I bonded as brothers. More on that in tomorrow’s conclusion.

Read Part One

Read Part 3 (The Conclusion) Here