Many of you know the significant health impacts that air travel has on me. There is a different cocktail of meds I have to take to fly that make me rather sick—so why go to a writer’s workshop in Chicago when I’m doing something similar with my online MFA?
Why? Because it mattered.
My wife, God bless her, understood my desire to go, and fully supported my decision.
And the trip was far more impactful and meaningful than even I imagined it would be. Totally worth it.
I know…I see you rolling your eyes. Follow me a little longer here.
I’ve been struggling with how to quantify and document my time with the wonderful folks of Gamut Magazine spent in the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago. I think the best way to start is to set the “Wayback Machine” to February, 2016.
When I was recovering from surgery, I had a Skype call (post successful Kickstarter) with two of the people behind the newly funded Gamut Magazine:
Mercedes M. Yardley, who wrote one of the first reviews of The Prodigal’s Foole back in 2011 when she was with Shock Totem, was on the call. She has been an “online friend” for nearly a decade, and is one of the fiction editors over at Gamut (oh and a Bram Stoker award-winning writer of beautiful, whimsical, horror).
Mercedes is also an inspiration to me to for her strength. She will laugh at this, of course. But it’s true.
The second person on the call was Richard Thomas, Editor-In-Chief of Gamut and someone I’d never interacted with before.
We spoke about the craft, and we spoke about a direction for me as a writer in a post-stroke world.
Richard suggested, “maybe taking an online course.” But stopped short of recommending any other sort of education.
I liked what he and Mercedes (who I hadn’t spoken with since I interviewed her) had to say throughout the call. I was recovering, but determined. I read Richard’s Disintegration novel. Then a few of the collections he edited. And more of his short stories.
Now I liked what he wrote too.
After that, I ended up taking one of Richard’s courses through LitReactor. Then a second. Then his 16-week Contemporary Dark Fiction course.
I could do this. I couldn’t be who I was before the “series of unfortunate events,” but I was beginning to see a possible new direction for my life.
I threw caution to the wind and applied to the creative writing online MFA program at Emerson College. Richard provided one of my references.
I was told it was a long shot. I was also told it would take a month or two to process my application and read over my materials (all of which were writings I had done for Richard’s classes).
Four days after submitting my full application and required writings, I was accepted to Emerson.
The point of this preamble is to explain to you how important it was to me to meet this man.
And to meet, finally, Miss Murder herself.
I hope you have a sense now as to how important this trip was. It was a personal pilgrimage, an educational field trip. Even a bit of an American Walkabout.
My five days in Wicker Park were all of these things and so much more. I’ll share some of my journal entries.
Fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck.
My favorite start to a movie, and the perfect summation for the start of this trip. Sick, cranky, and damp from a torrential downpour, I dump my bags in the room (which is completely separate from the rest of the Wicker Park Inn, down a dark foreboding alley and where Miss Murder would declare, with glee, “Ha! This is where you’re gonna die!”) after checking in and go in search of food.
Umami Burgers aren’t, but they are tasty.
I stop into a fancy burger joint with a promising name. It isn’t long before I’m chatting to a bunch of younger people—all actors—for a local company. I dry off, the burger settles my nausea, and I teach them how to make proper espresso martinis.
Laughing and with renewed excitement for this workshop, I head back to the Wicker Park Inn and spend the evening working on my MFA (reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go) and rereading workshop submissions.
Delight and Despair
I met Mercedes and Richard today. Mercedes eyes light up when she sees me and she gives me a huge hug of welcome—it’s obvious we both were looking forward to our “in real life” friendship encounter. This woman, by the way, is a saint (and she proves that over and over through-out the trip, as you will come to see). Why is it all the sweetest writers I met are dark fiction writers? It must be because they get the darkness out on the page, right?
Then Richard walked in. With a big smile, I stuck out my hand to finally shake his.
I got a bear hug instead.
Yeah. That was fucking cool. It was genuine, and heart-felt.
I’d met two people I’d been looking forward to meeting for a while now and that was pretty sweet.
What I didn’t expect was to meet new people that, by the end of this gig, I would feel just as strongly about.
We start off with some introductions and a lecture on the “horror of the unreliable narrator” by the amazing Jac Jemc which was followed by a panel discussion and talk with the team from Gamut (Richard, and Mercedes, of course, and Casey Frechette—a fiction editor at the magazine and someone I connected with on quite a few levels after we workshopped my “Dear Dad” story.
This is where the despair part of the section title comes in. One of the attendees took a dixie on the last step leading down from the Inn’s meeting place. She ended up with one sprained angle, and one that was fractured. An ambulance was called and Mercedes went with her to the hospital.
And no, I’m not telling you who fell. That’s up to her to tell.
As you can imagine, that episode put a damper on things for the rest of the day (and, indeed, tempered our activities for the rest of the retreat).
We reviewed one of the short stories for the workshop, then had dinner and drinks at Takito Kitchen–hereafter known as the “dirty-sexy taco place.” The Margarita’s were awesome, by the way…as was the tapas-style food.