jason erik lundberg
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I never appreciated how wonderful brief writers' retreats were until going the Strange Horizons workshop this past weekend. Eight of us, plus Mary Anne Mohanraj and Jay Lake, housed together in a wonderfully rustic log cabin at Rockaway Beach, Oregon, free of distractions. No TV, radio, internet access, or telephone. Look out the front window and you see ocean; look out the back window and you see mountains. Coming from North Carolina, where those two locationary entities are very separate, produces a feeling of awe. Functioning train tracks run parallel to the back of the house, beyond which is a small lake popular with water skiers. The temperatures hovering around 65 during the day and dropping into the 40s at night. Above the fireplace is the quote "Illegitimi Non Carborundum" and bookshelves line the walls. From the two-story living room ceiling hangs a wrought-iron chandelier with naked light bulbs. The couches and chairs look as if they were upholstered in the early seventies, but nearly every seat is comfortable.

We started around ten or noon each morning, or as close to it as we could, depending on everyone's sleep schedules. I adjusted to West Coast time in going to bed, but still woke up on North Carolina time, which usually meant nights with little sleep. We would eat breakfast, drink tea or coffee, and our morning discussion would be about the craft of writing. Friday - Style, Saturday - Character and POV, Sunday - Theme. Two hours of discussing things all writers need to be reminded of occasionally, usually accompanied by brief exercises. (The ones on style and theme were particularly helpful for me. Here's the product of a Joycean punctuationless exercise:

And the kitchen witch hanging above the sink grinning now grinning down and daring you to defy her to lose your step to descend into the realm of her punishment the realm of odd spices and industrial cleaner and the woodedness of your surroundings and the row of skulls carefully strung across the beams of her ceiling and the chopping block streaked brown with sacrifice and the feeling of movement when you look out the window and see the land passing by beneath the house ambulated by two gigantic chicken legs and she tells you her true name and her long Russian middle age and her wrinkles sigh as she opens her mouth and her yellowed teeth and gaping eye socket tell you that you are next.)

Then a break for lunch, sandwiches or leftovers from the night before. Then critiques for three hours.

I expected the other writers to be intelligent, but was pleasantly surprised at the erudition and varying perspectives of everyone critiquing. Plus, having the opinions of Mary Anne and Jay was invaluable; they are two smart damn people. I got some fantastic feedback on "Last Fare" and some very encouraging comments, including nice recommendations on markets to send it to.

Dinner around 7 p.m., lasagne or Thai curry, then loose discussions until the wee hours of the morning. We covered the origins of Strange Horizons and Polyphony, polyamorous relationships, playwriting, listening to music while writing, producing a story per week, &c. It was so much fun to be in the company of such interesting and thoughtful people, to just hang out and talk about our sex lives if we wanted, or play songs from our iTunes playlists. I get a big charge from intellectual stimulation, and this past weekend had it in spades.

This workshop was absolutely perfect for me at this level in my writing. The publication histories of the other participants varied - some had sold stories, some had sold stories to pro markets, some had sold novels, some had sold nothing - but it felt like everyone was pretty much on the same page and at a similar point in their writing lives. And it was funny to see that six out of the ten of us brought Apple laptops, either iBooks or PowerBooks.

The eight hour plane ride, there and back, was worth it. Though being away from Janet for the first time since she arrived in the States was painful and a bit lonely, it was nice to take that temporary break; I've been home more lately, and I'm sure she was glad to have me out of her hair for a few days. I learned a lot and got back some great feedback on a story that's been giving me trouble. These little pockets of literary retreat are rare and precious, and always charge me up about writing. They remind me why I bother sitting in front of a computer, putting one letter after the other in an attempt to create art.

Now Reading:
Shriek: An Afterword by Jeff VanderMeer

Stories Out to Publishers:

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Zines/Graphic Novels/Fiction Mags Read This Year:

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