While I contemplate the pros and cons of getting an MFA, I want to learn as much as possible from the writers I admire most. John Dufresne is one of them. I first met John at the Sanibel Island Writers Conference (SIWC) in 2012. At that point, I hadn’t read any of his work. I showed up for his 7:30 a.m. writing practices each morning and just loved his style. Naturally, I immediately downloaded/ordered all of his work. If you haven’t read his stories, you’re in for a real treat. Same with his novels. Go to the library, Powell’s, or Amazon and order some of his books right now. You’ll thank me later.
One of his books is The Lie That Tells a Truth, which is a how-to for fiction writers. And it’s one of the best. For me, it ranks up there with The Art of Fiction (John Gardner). I devoured it when I returned from Sanibel, and decided that I would find out if he was planning to do any other conferences or workshops. I got on his mailing list and found out about his conference in Sante Fe, which I couldn’t attend, and the one in Seaside, Florida, at the Seaside Institute’s Academic Village (SIAV). Because I’m a Floridian, this was a much more feasible option.
For my first workshop this past February, I was an observer; I did not bring a story. Before you ask why, I’ll just tell you: because I was chicken shit. There are a lot of reasons, and I’ll probably write about them in the future. Not now. The important thing is that I just overcame that fear and decided to submit a story this time. John and Kim made that easy, because they really want all participants to have a rewarding experience.
I learned so much from both of them and from my peers. John’s one of those guys who is not pretentious or pedantic. While he’ll educate you on the repeat offenses (um…em vs. en dash, anyone?), he doesn’t get lost in the minutiae.
He facilitates an organic discussion of the story at hand. (Ew…who’s been writing too much corporate nonsense lately? Don’t do what I just did. Save yourself. Write more fiction.) The point is that John believes every person can write, and every writer can learn how to do it better. He believes in his students. If you are fortunate enough to have him as a teacher—either in the MFA program at FIU, or through the workshops he conducts outside of school—you will definitely learn skills that will help your fiction. And it’s just fun to be around someone who is such a good storyteller. And funny. I am going to take my time revising, but I think my story will become better, thanks to the input I received in workshop and during our one-on-one discussion.
The Village is a great place to take a class or participate in a workshop. They have four basic room configurations in seven cottages (enough for 12-18 people). Six of them have front porches and two are complete tiny houses with kitchens. These cottages were specifically designed to be sufficient, comfortable accommodations without also being distracting. The walls are white, with no artwork or beach themed knickknacks, and there is no TV or radio. They do, however, provide wi-fi, which I found a little slower than what I have at home, but better than what I am used to at most hotels. Here is the bedroom (full bed) I had in February:
I didn’t take a picture of the bedroom last week, but you get the idea. Here’s the desk, which was the same both visits:
While I sat at that desk, scribbling away, this was my view, which became the wallpaper for my iPad (it reminds me of what I should be doing, but in a friendly way):
There are more pics at the Institute’s site, if you’re interested. The classroom is in a building right behind the cottages, so there’s no commute to the workshop. There’s also a great communal area with plenty of tables, chairs, and umbrellas.
Also, it’s in Seaside. You don’t have to get in a car the entire time you’re there if you don’t want to. Everything you need is within walking distance. Including the coffee shop, Amavida, which has seating inside and out:
As you can see from the menu board, they have some great food options. I didn’t sample anything myself, so I can’t offer a review of the food. But my latte was hot and coffee was not bitter.
Of course, sometimes I just didn’t want to have to go anywhere first thing in the morning, before workshop. That’s where the Aero Press and pre-ground coffee came in. They don’t provide a pot at the SIAV, so I had to bring my own works:
While swilling that morning coffee, I took walks. Nice, tranquil sunrise walks. I know some folks plunk themselves right in their desk chair first thing, but I prefer to walk while the world wakes up. And not on the beach; everyone’s at the beach for sunrise and sunset. I do love the Gulf, but I prefer the solitude of walking through the neighborhood.
The Next Step
Revision. Isn’t it always revision? I’ll be working on that story we workshopped for a bit before starting the next project. Perhaps I’ll use it as a jumping off point for the NaNoWriMo? The idea of writing a novel is so absolutely absurd for someone like me, in the nascent stages of this fiction thing, that I might just do it.
What About You?
What was the last workshop you attended? Was it what you expected? Can you recommend it? Please share in the comments below. And, if literary fiction is your thing, you might want to consider joining us for the next workshop at Seaside, tentatively planned for February 2015. I’ll definitely be there, eager to improve the next story, hang out with some great writers and teachers, and enjoy a few days at the Gulf. I’ll update this site with information as the details are finalized.