Thursday, July 19, 2012

THE BEST WRITERS' WORKSHOP EVER!


Hi folks,

I’ve just returned—well, returned a few days ago and just now recovering from total exhaustion—from the week-long Antioch Writers’ Workshop in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Check it out here: http://www.antiochwritersworkshop.com/

Simply put: One of the single best experiences of my life.

I’ve been privileged to have participated in a bunch of really cool writer’s workshops and writer’s events, but this one is at the top. My favorites that I’ve taken part in include Wordburst in Phoenix for Phoenix College, the BEA, the Writer’s Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Gemini Ink in San Antonio, the First Annual Texas Book Festival, the Writer’s Retreat Workshops, and others. But, Antioch stands alone in my experience.

Lemme tell you about it.

 Audience at a reading in the auditorium at Antioch.

My group—THE BEST WORKSHOP GROUP EVER
First, I want to introduce you to the participants in my own afternoon fiction workshop. I had six writers in my merry band, which all of us refer to routinely now as “The Best Workshop Group Ever.” There was my new best friend, Rob Boley whose laugh-out-loud novel about a Snow White we’ve never experienced had the first 50 pages requested by a visiting agent with the Fine Line Agency (Rob and I hung out every single night and closed down a few bars…). Along with Rob, our family included Sarah Zettler, a teacher in Columbus with an amazing YA novel titled Breaking the Flatline, Audrey Craig who grew up and lived for years in South Africa and is writing a very original sci-fi, titled Calidis, Toni Lapp, a magazine editor from Kansas City who has a novel based on a true story that is going to sell tons of copies when finished, Kate Geiselman, who brought to our group a brilliant short story titled “Presents” which she intends to be one of a collection of linked stories—a story that haunted me long after I read it, and Sherie Cooper-Daragh, who allowed me to call her by her real name (Cheryl—don’t try it without her permission!) and who is writing a stunning novel about a relationship that’s a winner.

Every single one of the writers in my group is a winner and is writing publishable stuff. They’ve all got major talent up the yazoo. And, I mean major talent. Made my job easy!

My group of writers provided me with the single biggest moment I experienced. A couple of days before the end of the workshop, I had left a restaurant and was on my way to our daily meeting spot, the Spirited Goat Coffee Shop (never did find out the source of that name…), and passed by the Ye Olde Trail Tavern, and there my entire group, sans one (Kate, who would have been with them but as she was on the Antioch board was required to be somewhere else at the time) was sitting at a table together, hanging out. They had bonded as a family! I may have missed it, but I don’t think any other workshop group ended up together just hanging out. It just drove home to me that we’d truly become a family.

Later, at the reading where all the groups read their work, I introduced our group as “The Best Group Ever” and said that while I was sure all the other groups were good, we were going to knock it out of the park. After the event, I had half a dozen people come up to me and tell me I’d called it—there was no doubt they were the best group. They hit it into the upper deck, way out past the Budweiser sign into the cheap seats…

 The Best Group Ever!
L-R front row--Cherie, moi, Kate, Toni and Sarah.
L-R back row--Rob and Audrey
(At our meeting place, the Spirited Goat Coffee Shop)

Private consultation. We presenters were also privileged to be able to offer private consultations with writers on their manuscripts and I had the pleasure of working with Greta Holt on her Mennonite coming-of-age novel, titled Babyface. We were supposed to spend 45 minutes on each consultation, but I liked Greta’s novel so much and saw so much promise in it that I asked if she minded if we spent another hour on it and she liked the idea, so we set up another time to do so a couple of days hence. I predict she’ll get this puppy published.

One thing jumped out at me when working with Greta. I only had one such consultation, and Hallie Ephron had nine. Not to mention, she was a major presenter in the mornings and had to take a day off to fly to New York to attend and participate in a memorial service for her late sister, Nora Ephron. I can’t imagine how she got it all done. I was exhausted after the week and Hallie did everything I did, plus, and, in addition, somehow found the time and energy to take part in nine evaluations. She’s not only an amazing author and teacher, she has a work ethic that is unmatched by us mortals.

The town of Yellow Springs, Ohio
I was absolutely knocked out by this town! I understand it was a “planned town” back in the day and if so, whoever planned it, got it absolutely perfect. I’d move there in a nanosecond. It’s a town you aren’t prepared for—once you visit it, you begin to think you’re on the East or West Coast and not in the Midwest. The shops are small and comfortable and interesting. And, everywhere. It’s a Made-for-TV town—exactly the kind of place one would design for families who are interested in intellectual stimulation and the arts. The Tannenbaums would be at home here. I hung out in a bunch of places, including the Spirited Goat, the Ye Olde Trail Tavern, Peaches Grill, and even my kind of bucket o’ blood bar, which I kept calling “The Dungeon” but was actually called The Gulch Saloon. (For my Vermont College friends, think “Charlie O’s.”) For some reason it reminded me of an old hangout of mine in New Orleans called The Dungeon. What sold me on the town was passing by a souvenir shop that had work by R. Crumb in the window. Where do you see R. Crumb’s art featured in the Midwest? Yellow Springs, that’s where!

It’s a bicycle town—a mecca for those nuts who ride bikes (like my wife…). There are gorgeous bike trails everywhere and everyone seems to ride every place they go. Didn’t see many skateboarders which was a good thing… One cool thing—we were advised to cross streets in the middle of the block—the residents would always stop—and nobody local crossed at the “official” crossing places on the corners and if we did, we might surprise the residents who might run over us in surprise.

Laid-back is the most apt description for Yellow Springs. All of the locals are friendly and speak to you and are genuinely happy you’re in their town. I’ve been to plenty of other towns where the citizens loved the tourists’ money but it was clear they didn’t always like the tourists themselves, but Yellow Springs folks are genuinely glad to see and meet you.

On the night of the participants’ reading back at the campus, I was down at the Spirited Goat where an out-of-town poet was setting up for her reading later on. We reluctantly told her we couldn’t attend as we had our own event and then, when I walked outside to go back up Dayton St. to the campus, there were two middle-aged guys, dressed and looking exactly like screenwriter Buck Henry, sitting outside with scripts in front of them, trying dialog out on each other and making notations on their scripts. I asked if they were screenwriters and they said no, they were playwrights and were making last-minute corrections to their play that was opening in an hour across the street. They invited us to attend and we had to decline. But, can you imagine? We had our reading at the college, a visiting poet was having her own reading and across the street a play was opening? What other town would this be a regular occurrence in? Can’t think of any, at least in a town of this size.

And there were street people like I’ve never seen before. Now, I’ve been a street person myself and homeless, but these folks were unlike any street people I’d ever encountered. Most were musicians and were the reincarnation of the wandering minstrels of old England. Only playing contemporary and original music. And, truly beautiful, gentle people in spirit and deportment. One morning, I struck up a conversation with a homeless musician at the Goat and as it transpired, he was from Goshen, Indiana, and as we talked, it turned out his older brother was best friends with my nephew, Kevin Bowen. He borrowed the Goat’s owner’s phone—a delightful guy named Michael—and called his brother back home to tell him he’d just run into Kevin’s uncle “Butch” (that’s me). It brought home to both of us how small our world really is. This young man—sorry, I can’t recall his name—will have to ask Kevin—was barefoot and showed me his feet, which were as black as Macbeth’s heart and covered with countless cuts. He showed me not for sympathy, but to ask what I thought his “sign” should be that day—to say “WORK WANTED” or “NEED BAND-AIDS.” I recommended the Band-Aids one… I thought originality might pay off better and he agreed.

Each night—most spent going back and forth between Peaches and The Gulch—we spent outside on their patios, chinning with both locals and the homeless and it felt like Haight-Asbury without any of the negatives. We had a “core” group of me, Rob and Amanda Winfield, who is a student at Antioch and works in the library. Three Musketeers and we all just hit it off wonderfully. Amanda is a poet and a beautiful person, inside and out.

Every day for lunch, workshop participants would sign up to have lunch with the faculty at various places around town and there’d be two of us faculty people and up to ten participants. Just like everything else, Antioch is integrated into the town and you feel the town is just part of the campus. Just a truly unique and delightful place.

Most days, when we had a bit of free time, I hung out with my other new best friend, nonfiction bestselling writer, Jerry Dennis. We flat-out hit it off. Turns out we have several mutual friends like poet and nonfiction writer Sydney Lee. I’m reading Jerry’s brilliant book right now, The Living Great Lakes, an instant classic and wonderfully-writ account of the history of the Great Lakes. When we met, for me it was like meeting my long-lost twin brother. You know how there are certain people when you meet there’s an instant and deep connection? It was like that for me with Jerry, with Rob, and with Amanda. Old souls I knew well in a former life. People I just want to spend lots of time with, sipping on a brew in an outdoor patio, and talking literature and life.

Poet Jeff Gundy came down to The Gulch and had beers with Amanda, Rob and me, and we had a great conversation. Another poet, Jim Daniels, was a guy I would have liked to have spent more time with, as I would have like to with Dave Halperin whose new novel, Journal of a UFO Investigator is one of the most original coming-of-age accounts ever.

All of the faculty gave readings of our work. Since Hallie Ephron had to leave for her sister’s memorial, we switched places and I read on Monday along with Sandi Wisenberg and Chet Kelly Robinson. I read one of my personal favorites, “Toothache.” Other readers included Crystal Wilkinson, Linda Gerber, Trudy Krisher, and Carrie Bebris, every single one a winner.

The participants had their own reading night at The Emporium, a coffee and wine shop downtown and it was amazing. There were close to forty readers and I’ve never seen anything like this before in my life—there was not a single clunker in the bunch! This never happens! There wasn’t even one reading that was mediocre! They made a mistake, perhaps. They let comedian John Bunyan lead it off and he is one tough act to follow. Just laugh until your ribs crack humor.

Maureen and Richard Lynch
I stayed in a private home that I kept raving about to my wife Mary when I called home. I kept describing it as a “Frank Lloyd Wright designed-home if it were commissioned to create his dream house.” My gracious and wonderful hosts were Maureen and Richard Lynch and if I were them, I’d never leave their house!

Antioch Writers’ Workshop folks
I hesitate to begin naming names as I know I’ll leave somebody out and then I’ll feel bad as each and every person I met became my “new best friend.” It begins with Sharon Short, the guiding light of the workshop and the hardest and most tireless worker that I’ve ever met who wasn’t on drugs. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Especially when you meet Sharon and are pretty sure the only drug she’s familiar with is her amazing adrenaline. Get Sharon’s newest novel, the forthcoming “book club” novel, My One Square Inch of Alaska, or any of her previous nine mystery novels for a terrific reading experience.

The first person I met upon arrival, Cyndi Pauwels, greeted me warmly and set the tone for the entire week. One of my many “new best friends” was Dave Kunka, the bookstore manager who not only went way, way out of his way to help me, but we really hit it off as friends.

Two guys who helped run the place and who I became good friends with, were Tobin Terry and Ron. Tobin was the second-in-command working with Sharon and was everywhere I went, organizing things. Ron, I’m sorry I can’t recall your last name, dude! He and I really hit it off as we’ve lived in some of the same places in Louisiana—he’s a Cajun and a graphic artist. The reason I can’t remember Ron’s last name is that he’s one of only two Cajuns who aren’t named Boudreau…

*Late note. Tobin just emailed me and told me Ron's last name is Maynard. No wonder I couldn't remember it. What Cajun is named "Maynard?" Change it to Boudreau, dude! Ron is one of the coolest guys I've met in a long, long time. Just on top of his game.

I wish I could remember the names of all the dozens and dozens of people I got to chat with, but hope they’ll excuse me and attribute it to my Halfzeimer’s… Just so many terrific people!

If you can only go to one writer’s conferences/workshops in your lifetime, this is the one I’d recommend. I’ve been to dozens and while they were all wonderful experiences, none were like this for just a pure enjoyable experience for everyone.

Tell ‘em I sentcha!

Blue skies,
Les

Postscript. All week long, I kept telling my workshop group that when I left Yellow Springs, I was going to appear at the Indiana Romance Writer’s group in Indy on Sunday. I kept raving about what a terrific group of professional writers romance writers are—and they are! Well, the only problem was my appearance was scheduled for Saturday, not Sunday. I got back into Ft. Wayne on Saturday and went immediately to bed. I was utterly exhausted. Left over 900 emails unopened. Just too tired to even think about opening them.

My bad.

I got up early Sunday, preparing to drive down to Indy, and opened my email… to discover I was supposed to have been there the day before! I have never done anything like this in my life and I can’t begin to tell you how awful I felt! I emailed Jeana Mann the director and told her what had happened. What a gracious person she is. Not only did she forgive me, but has invited me back in October. Jeana—I’LL BE THERE! I PROMISE!

 Signing books after my reading. The tall drink of water standing in line is comedian John Bunyan.



 Next to me is my other "new best friend" Jerry Dennis
Me, Chet and Sandi (Triquarterly Review editor taking questions after our readings.
 Urging audience to "buy 10 copies of my book apiece--Christmas is just around the corner!"
 Me and my new best friend, Rob
 The rest of our class on the patio at the Ye Olde Trail Tavern. 
L-R beginning bottom left--Cherie, Kate, Audrey, Sarah and Toni. Rob and I left to have a smoke break on the other "smoking" patio.

24 comments:

Vero said...

Oh wow, what a week!
Sounds like you had a wonderful time, Les, met many great people and got to unwind in a very special town. Hope you'll enjoy many more such experiences, and get to form "Best Groups Ever" wherever you go. :)

Tiffany said...

When's the next workshop and where do I sign up? Course I'll only go if you're there. ^^;

JohnnyB said...

Les, you were one of the best parts of the workshop. My afternoon seminar group with Crystal Wilkinson was great and I wouldn't change it; but if you are back again in the future, (and if I am) I'd love to be part of your group or at least get your input on my stuff.
As I said then, your team had fantastic readings.
Thanks for the mention in the blog!
John Bunyan

Les Edgerton said...

Veronica, if you go you'll never return to Zurich... Well, maybe... but it'll be with a heavy heart!

Tiffany, I'd love for you to go and I'd love to be there at the same time. Talk to Sharon Short!

John, you are one of the funniest guys I've ever met. Glad we became pals. Our group WAS FANTASTIC, weren't they! Wish I could take credit but these folks just had talent oozing our of their pores. They made sure to give me the best writers...

Eric Blanchard said...

Ah yes! I attended last year, and it was an amazing experience. Went to the Wednesday open mic this year. There were lots of talented writers. Hopefully, I'll make it back soon ... like next year. Here's hoping.

Christine Danek said...

Sounds like a great week. I hope to sign up for a workshop in the fall in my area, but this one sounds awesome.

Les Edgerton said...

Sorry you weren't here this year, Eric, so I could have met you! Maybe in the future.

Christine, this is absolutely the best workshop experience I've ever had. If you ever can, try to make it.

Cyndi Pauwels said...

Thanks so much for the mention, Les, and for the great conversations. You're an amazing individual and I'm honored to have met you. Come back to visit anytime...drinks are on me!

Les Edgerton said...

Knock-knock... it's me, Cyndi! Surprise! The honor's all mine--I had a ball talking to you.

Les Edgerton said...

Knock-knock... it's me, Cyndi! Surprise! The honor's all mine--I had a ball talking to you.

Greta Holt said...

Les,

Thank you for your generosity and willingness to share your knowledge. I’m now thinking structure, structure, structure. It was a great pleasure working with you!

Robyn Campbell said...

Man you had a bodacious week! Sounds like a wonderful group too. Super talent, a goat tavern, family. SWEET!

Vivian Markley said...

Sounds like we were able to shock even "the Les Edgerton" with our little town of Yellow Springs. I love it that we have this jewel, all protected by the boring persona of Ohio. We sat across from each other at the Trails on Wednesday lunch. The beautiful buxom older blonde. We had met earlier, on the first day, outside in the smoking pit. You with a cigarette in hand, me scaring you with my COPD that we share. That was my old lady, scared she is in over her head, wearing the bun uptight multiple me. I am blogging (new insight from AWW) but could not find your email and am exploring all the new technology.
Good for my own practice and growth as a writer, but I have a self-gratifying motivation besides becoming a stalker. I get all of you marvelous teachers, showing up to guide and enlighten me and its free. I refuse to let the workshop to end with Friday.

Les Edgerton said...

Greta, you were a joy to work with! And, to get to know. You have a book which is going to get published and sell lots of copies. Thanks for becoming my friend.

Robyn, you should have been there! IF you ever get the chance, go! You'll love it.

Vivian, I remember you well. "Smoking pit" eh? I prefer to think of it as the place where the cool people hang out... Someone told me I made it easy for my workshop participants to find me--outside in my smoking "office." Don't you feel sorry for folks who don't smoke? They miss all the fun we have outside...

Tina Neyer from the edge said...

Hey Les, I'm an Antioch Writer's Workshop virgin too. I loved watching you hold court outside university doors, at lunch, and various after hours places in town. I hope to be back next year. Maybe I can be part of the "Best Writers Ever." However, Crystal Wilkinson might contradict your opinion.

Les Edgerton said...

Hi Tina--I remember you! Us virgins have to stick together... I hope I get invited back at any time! Crystal had a terrific group also... she had John Bunyan too, didn't she? That's not fair! But, we had the Best Group Ever...

Cyndi Pauwels said...

And just FYI - here's the story of coffee and the goats:

http://wanttoknowit.com/who-discovered-coffee/

Enjoy!

Les Edgerton said...

Thanks, Cyndi! Very interesting... but why didn't they call the place "The Dancing Goat" instead of "The Spirited Goat." Oh, wait. That works, too, doesn't it.

I kept getting the name wrong, calling it "The Slippery Goat." Whatever it's called, it's a really cool place!

@universeocean said...

Hi Les, sounds like you had a great workshop. Funny thing is I just recently moved from Ohio to Minnesota; had I any idea that they held yearly workshops so close to my prior home (Columbus) I surely would have gone. Oh well, maybe that will give me an excuse to go back and visit the area sometime.

Just one question: You will entertain homeless, blackened-feet musicians but not skateboarders? What do you have against sk8ers? ;)

Les Edgerton said...

Hi Universe--Since you're in Minnesota now, if you haven't yet, I'd check out what The Loft is doing--they're a terrific writer's group.

What do I have against skateboarders? Well... mostly jealousy! I can't skateboard a lick and they make it look easy... and it ain't!

Chelsea Meyers said...

Hi Les,
I've listened to you at the writer's group at Barnes and Noble in FW. I was checking out your blog and was thrilled to read that you went to Yellow Springs recently. I grew up very near there: Cedarville. And I worked at Young's Jersey Dairy in high school! I served icecream to Dave Chappelle! My family and I would ventue to Yellow Springs frequently, usually for the street fair. The clifton gorge is aso a great place to go hiking. I love it there. It is a unique place nestled in Ohio.
I didn't know about the workshop, though. I will have to check it out.
Also, do you have any advice for finding story inspiration? I'm struggling with that. I feel like I have good ideas, but once I start to write, the idea(s) fizzles out. Thanks.

Les Edgerton said...

Hi Chelsea,
Yellow Springs rocks! I never made it to the Gorge but will when I return (soon, I hope!). If you get a chance, go to the workshop--it's the single best I've ever experienced.

As far as story inspiration, that's a tough one. My best advice is to look for the story you'd most like to read but no one's written... and write it. Also, many story ideas are only what Blake Snyder calls "the smell of the rain on the road at dawn" and aren't yet a story. When you get one of those, take the time to outline the entire story and if you can't, it'll save you a lot of time and effort. If you can, it shows you've got a story with legs.

Les Edgerton said...

Hi Chelsea,
Yellow Springs rocks! I never made it to the Gorge but will when I return (soon, I hope!). If you get a chance, go to the workshop--it's the single best I've ever experienced.

As far as story inspiration, that's a tough one. My best advice is to look for the story you'd most like to read but no one's written... and write it. Also, many story ideas are only what Blake Snyder calls "the smell of the rain on the road at dawn" and aren't yet a story. When you get one of those, take the time to outline the entire story and if you can't, it'll save you a lot of time and effort. If you can, it shows you've got a story with legs.

Chelsea Meyers said...

Thanks for the advice! I really appreciate it.