I'm convinced that knowing and doing are two separate things, all the more so since attending Connie May Fowler's wonderful Below Sea Level conference in St. Augustine last week. The company was excellent––what a top notch group of writers. I think Iearned something from every single person there. We chose buddies who started off the critique of our work and saw that we didn't freak out too much from the experience, then kept in touch with us. That system worked very well and is missing from many conferences, I think. Have you ever been to a writing conference where you didn't know anyone at first and felt very isolated outside of sessions, when you were mulling over what was said? Then you'll know what I mean.
And the critique sessions were the best I've ever been to, including some of our Jane's Stories critiques, which, I think, are generally very fine. What was better about the BSL sessions is that one and a half hours were spent on each piece, which is a luxury one rarely gets at this level. This will affect how we do things at JSPF in the future, I hope.
My workshop leader was Dorothy Allison, and she walks on water as far as I'm concerned. (I'm in a novel-writing seminar with Connie May Fowler, so I opted to seek out Dorothy's session for variety, but I would happily follow Connie May anywhere, as well.) Dorothy is so superb at structural analysis that she synopsized the trajectory of my story and how I had structured it to achieve its mission in two sentences better than I could have done myself. She did something similar with each work, after encouraging the group to give their opinions. Better than that, she is a fine human being who knows how to pull out the guts of a writer for analysis without agony, and put them back in a little better organized. I was impressed by her deep compassion that is totally without bullshit.
And then there were the talks with literary agent Joy Harris, Wordsmith organizer and literary analyst Kate Sullivan, and Ploughshares editor Laura van den Berg. Excellent, informative lunchtime sessions with each of these kept us focused on our goals.
Lastly, we had nightly readings that let us meet writers in the other workshop leader's group, and also allowed us to let down our hair a little by reading our coolest, most moving, and experimental work. The readings really ranged widely and so were very stimulating, sometimes tearful, and often funny beyond side-splitting.
I heartily recommend this conference to everyone. Check the next offering out at http://www.writingbelowsealevel.com.
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