Tinker Mountain – Days 4 and 5

The last two days of the Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop were chock full of things to do and probably the best two days of learning I’ve had in a long time.

Thursday started with a craft seminar by Fred Leebron entitled “From Page to Screen,” a primer on adapting your or others’ works for a movie script. Leebron used clips from the film version of his book Six Figures and excerpts from the book itself to show how the screenwriter altered his book for the movie. To adapt successfully a script from a book, Leebron says, “You can’t be too loyal to the book,” but you have to distill the story down to who (protagonist) wants what (goal) and who opposes that (antagonist) then cut everything else.

There were lots of good tips on how to accomplish this, but perhaps I’ll blog on that at a later date.

The workshop session on Day 4 started with our reading aloud our homework from the night before: 1) a real dream and a fake dream, 2) a real event and a made-up event, 3) an author bio where one thing is fake, and 4) the worst opening to a novel or story ever.

The key for exercises 1, 2, and 3 was for your fellow workshoppers to find either dream or either event equally believable, i.e., that the fake one of either wasn’t obvious. The fake item in our bios–that’s the writer we want to be, according to Pinckney. The worst openings were a lot of fun, but we all may have learned too much–Pinckney loved them and said we all needed to continue with the stories we started! Well, I’ll leave it up to you. Here’s my “worst opening ever”–

She stood on the windy promentory, the incessant breeze lifting her long, soft, blond tresses of hair, which surrounded her heart-shaped face like an ethereal halo. The waves crashed against the rocks in time with her pounding pulse. If Roderigo was no more, then she could be no more. To live without his well-formed arms around her, without his perfect pecs hers to caress, was as impossible as ceasing to breathe. She jumped.

A tip from Pinckney: If you’re stuck in a scene in a story or novel, open a new file and write a bad version of it. That’ll clear your writer’s block in no time!

Then, it was hard to believe, but Day 5, the final day, rolled around. I was still dreading my critique, but I was at peace with it, despite a lot of tossing and turning during the night. I’d gotten to know the people in my workshop very well, and there wasn’t a mean person in the bunch. Their comments, I knew, would be worthwhile.

Day 5 started with a powerful craft seminar entitled “Turning to Literature for Writing Prompts: An Exercise in Reading as a Writer,” given by Dan Mueller. Mueller picked an unforgettable short story, “The Girl on the Plane,” by Mary Gaitskill and developed fifteen writing prompts from it. The story itself is about a man who boards a plane and ends up sitting next to a woman who reminds him of a girl he knew in college, a girl he rejected in a particularly horrific way.

A story, says Mueller, becomes unforgettable when there is an image in it, a powerful enough image that if you remove it, you have no story. The fifteen prompts from Gaitskill’s story illustrate what Mueller calls “the power of imagery.” I’m looking forward to writing fifteen stories from those prompts.

The final workshop session of the week started with an unusual exercise, one I’m not going to describe here because if anyone reading this takes a workshop from Pinckney Benedict (and you should), I don’t want to spoil it. The point of the exercise was for us as writers to understand the “allegory of self”–the place in your work where you find yourself, the place where you reveal yourself–and suffer the risk–as a writer.

And the dreaded hour arrived. Time for the critique. My stomach had been upset all morning. I knew I was being silly because I know I’m a good writer, but it’s that overwhelming insecurity you have when others read what you’ve written. I’d submitted the beginning to last year’s NaNoWriMo work, which was an apocalyptic piece about America after a right-wing takeover–not everybody’s cup of tea (no pun intended).

There were no negatives–even the few suggestions were logical, the things your writer’s blinders keep you from seeing. I did become emotional, but not for the reason I feared. I was so moved and uplifted by my fellow writers’ comments and raves I was almost overcome. I’m not going to describe the critique any further either, because I hold it in my heart with gratitude for a wonderful group of people I was privileged to meet and work with for five days–and that was not long enough.

My personal conference with Pinckney left me with a lot of thinking to do. I asked him what my next steps should be, and he indicated I was ready for a low-residency MFA. Wow.

A final panel, consisting of all the instructors, discussed the current state of publishing and how to break into it. Contests are one way, but every panelist emphasized you don’t get published unless you submit. None of the panelists were averse to self-publishing–at least, if they were, they didn’t speak up–but they also emphasized that anyone who self-publishes has to keep quality in mind at all times. Two of the instructors–Leebron and Benedict–have started their own, small publishing houses. They both are interested in new authors, and Benedict, in particular, indicated he prefers to deal directly with authors and not agents. A very thought-provoking and helpful final talk.

And then it was over. That was hard believe. We all felt as if we’d just arrived. We’d learned a lot, but we needed more. Next year seems so far away.

The week for me began on a low note of intimidation and insecurity, and it ended with seven new writer friends and a boost of confidence that will last me a lifetime. Tinker Mountain Writers Workshop is worth the time, the money, and the angst.

I live for your constructive comments.

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