I did not make one macramé bracelet. I did not sleep in a sleeping bag. I did not, like I used to do at Girl Scout camp, make a torch out of kotex and kerosene to light the campfire with. What I did was bond, brainstorm and become a more skilled and informed writer.
Even though LIT CAMP wasn’t set to start until Thursday, April 4th, I flew into San Francisco a few days early to spend time with old friends in Napa. It was “Bud Break” and I warmed up to the west coast with a day of Pinot tasting before heading up to Calistoga and Mayacamas Ranch, the site of the first ever LIT CAMP.
Thursday, April 4th - Arrive at 3PM. The first person I meet is my workshop leader, Janis Cooke Newman, who checks me in with a smile and a hearty, “I’ve read your work!” At 4PM the 40 LIT CAMPERS, faculty and interns gather for a meet and greet and the first panel: Demystifying the World of Publishing with Jane Ciabattari, former president of the National Book Critics Circle, Nicole Dewey, Director of Publicity at Little Brown, Sam Barry, a bookseller with Book Passage, Caroline Paul, author of Fighting Fire and the upcoming Lost Cat, and Chris Colin, author of Blindsight.
MY DAY ONE POSTCARD TO MYSELF: Remember books are a retail business - publishers expect you to be a big part of selling your book. Pre-publication reviews are very important. When you write a book proposal you should answer these questions: Why this book? Why now? Why are you the best person to write it?
April 5th – Wake up to pouring rain, bowls of fresh strawberries and the first workshops. We are divided into groups of both fiction and non-fiction writers) - The Beats, The Victorians, etc., (each group had the chance to read each others work before camp began) and this morning we focus on three work samples. Day one’s workshop leader, Janis Cooke Newman’s “Elvis has left the building” workshop style is a great formula for to-the-point, savvy and insightful commenting.
DAY TWO POSTCARD: All characters should exhibit bad behavior at some point. Because we love our characters we tend to protect them but at some point we have to let them have a bit of fun. Must read, “The Art of Subtext: Beyond Plot” by Charles Baxter.
After lunch it is an authors roundtable with Lee Kravetz, author of the upcoming, Supersurvivors, the surprising link between suffering and success, Ethan Watters, author of Crazy Like Us and TJ Stiles, author of the Pulitzer prize winning, The First Tycoon.
MY DAY TWO POSTCARD (con’t): Get “Freedom”! It blocks the Internet from your computer so that you can write Internet/e-mail free for as long as you set it!
After dinner it is the auction for the naming rights for the LIT CAMP COCKTAIL (2 oz of vodka, ½ oz lime juice, and ginger beer over ice). The bidding is fierce but in the end two amazing women match each others bid. Pat Montandon and Chris Castro will be remembered at future LIT CAMPS as the mothers of the Montandon-Castro. Drink up!
April 6th Morning workshop is led by Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son (just won the Pulitzer). Adam has us all describe our writing habits, distilling them into the many ways that writers get themselves to their desks.
In the afternoon Jane Ganahl, author and co-director of LitQuake and Lit Crawl and Janis Cook Newman, author of the memoir, The Russian Word for Snow and the novel, Mary, host a roundtable.
DAY THREE POSTCARD: In memoir only include events that pertain to your emotional story. Place those events in the order where they will be the most dramatic. Also, a book proposal should look like it is going to make a ton of $$$ and I don’t mean expensive paper and gold ink – see Day One postcard re books as retail.
The roundtable is followed by a panel: Behind the Scenes at Literary Magazines. Andi Mudd from The Believer and McSweeney's, Oscar Villalon from Zyzyzzva, and Isaac Fitzgerald from The Rumpus.
Having just come from the very fun but very serious and sometimes jaded AWP conference in Boston, this panel is refreshing. Andi, Oscar and Isaac are the most positive, funny and upbeat publishers/editors I have ever heard speak. They are excited about writing and clearly love writers. I love them right back.
After dinner it is time for The LIT CAMP Talent Show - Hosted by Isaac Fitzgerald. I laugh so hard my stomach hurts.
April 7th Our last day :( Two pieces to workshop with TJ Stiles.
LAST POSTCARD TO MYSELF: Remember that plot is setting up expectations and then fulfilling those expectations.
And then suddenly it is over. Everyone piles into Chaparral Lodge, picks up box lunches and says goodbye. I am so sad as I drive down the hill as it begins to rain (again). It was too short. I met incredible writers. I heard fabulous speakers. Now something calls me back to my New York City desk.
Until we meet again, fellow LIT CAMPERS and new friends. Thanks for the incredible memories.
Lit camp is a joint venture between two of San Francisco's most respected literary organizations – Litquake and the SF Writers Grotto. For more info visit http://www.litcampwriters.org