January 23

I’m going to write this out and try not to ramble much, but rambling is what I’m known for in my writing and in person so here goes.

The Regional Anthropomorphic Writers’ Retreat (RAWR) came about through the dedicated labor of Chandra al-Alkani herding a group of assorted species, not even just cats, through the process of planning. Making an event happen is a lot of work, even for a small event like our inaugural RAWR. I knew this going in, and I still was surprised at how much work there was and how many things popped up that we hadn’t thought of during the planning.

I am humbled for many reasons over this past ten days. During the latter phases of planning for RAWR, I was encouraged to apply as a candidate, which removed me from many of the meetings during the latter part of planning, as I obviously could not be a party to the candidate selection process in any way. When I received a slot, I was, frankly, stunned, and it occurred to me for the first time that I really have some serious confidence issues with my own writing, just as I do with all of my artistic expressions.

Let’s fast forward, then, to my arrival. After hacker-fareing my flight to leave BWI and arrive at SFO, then to leave when I return home from SJC to DCA, I took off on Saturday, January 9,and arrived around midday. Then I proceeded to take BART and CalTrain to our discreet workshop location. As of that moment I was in full candidate mode and had zero to do with any sort of logistics or planning or staff duties.

Dinner was had at a lovely Bay Area pizza restaurant that served Chicago-style deep dish. The attendees were Myself, Skunkbomb, Thomas Steele, Ashe Valisca and Ianus J. Wolf, which was interesting since three of us already knew each other and that left our younger colleagues to get to know. Once dinner happened, there was hanging out and getting-to-know-you stuff, and writing. Lots, and lots, of writing.

Sunday, Day 1, the first group, of three writers, submitted their stories to be printed and handed out for critique the following morning. The second group would hand them in by 4PM the following day for the NEXT day’s critique.

Monday morning rolled around and we were treated to a guest lecture on world building by the talented Watts Martin (Chipotle Coyote), followed by splitting up and basically having an afternoon and evening of free time. “Free time” at a five day residential writing workshop, of course, being relative. I was still trying to do active revision to an old story of mine for workshopping, well into the night, as well as having to read three stories, at least one in excess of the requested wordcount, and mark them up with line edits and making notes on critique. We were furnished by the workshop with pencils, pens, highlighters, and most notably a red pen, which was liberally used throughout the workshop.

There were things dreadfully wrong with the story I would be submitting. I knew that. I hadn’t looked at this particular piece of writing in three years. It met the length criteria and had previously been published in a conbook, so I knew it wasn’t utter utter garbage, but I also realized upon rereading that there was a serious lack of “there” there.

During the evening we took a walking trip to the local Safeway to acquire various foodstuffs to sustain us each during the week, and both Ashe and I acquired ingredients for Tuesday and Wednesday night dinners that we would be cooking for the group.

We had also gotten the news about David Bowie’s passing, and so that night one of our group’s activities was to watch Labyrinth (A lovely example of setting) together, followed by a viewing of the Incredibles (fantastic character development).

Tuesday morning, we got another lecture, this time from Ryan Campbell, about setting, which touched upon similar concepts to worldbuilding in places, but also ventured into topics such as “Writing the Other.” Ryan showed us a video of a TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie regarding the danger of keeping only a single story about another group of people in your head, both in life and when writing about those cultures. (That video can be found here: https://youtu.be/D9Ihs241zeg)

The critique session that followed was incredibly similar to those of my acting classes in my M.F.A. actor training, with a few notable exceptions. In graduate school, there was no time limit, and we did not go from person to person in a circle but rather spoke up as we had thoughts, riffing off of each other’s thoughts and suggestions until we had covered everything we could, and then the instructor would give her thoughts.

In this case, each student was given three minutes to sum up their critique points, which had to include the positives as well as points of improvement. Chandra, our coordinator and facilitator, kept time, and each of us fumbled to get our ideas across succinctly, nearly all running out of time. The instructors then weighed in on each story with their own thoughts, and with no time limit.

After that was lunch and open time and time for one-on-ones with our instructors, which, due to revisions I wanted to get finished, I did not take part in.  I got to a point in revising my story for workshopping where the deadline was looming and the old “Fuck it, ship it!” had to kick in, and I dropped the story into a Google drive folder set aside for that purpose, and then proceeded to prepare and cook my modification to my boyfriend’s family recipe for spaghetti carbonara for the group for dinner. I was pleased to see that it went over well, and even got compliments from Ashe and Ianus, who had had my version before when we lived together and thought it was even better than past times when I’d made it.

The next day, it was Ashe’s and my turn to face the music of critique, and we did. Each person ran close to, but generally did not run over time this round. The thick stack of paper copies of my story, each copy with notes and edits marked all over it in red pen to the point that it might have born witness to an axe murder, gave me a jumping off point for revision.

Wednesday’s lecture was on Character, taught by Kyell as characters are, in my opinion, his strongest asset in his writing toolbox. After fighting with Scrivener to format my story the way I wanted, I got a one-on-one session with Kyell, discussing atmosphere and the best way to adapt something you’ve seen in other works to your style. For example, I mentioned how, in ‘salem’s Lot, the town itself is a character. The atmosphere is palpable but it’s done in a style that seems like it would irritate many people, because it doesn’t appear related directly to the main characters of the novel.

That night was spent on critique, playing story games, and dining on the most delicious pork tenderloin, sliced and layered atop a serving of vegetable risotto. (Ashe’s cooking was as delicious as ever and I’m reminded of exactly how sad I am that I don’t get to eat it very often since he and the others moved to Seattle.)

Thursday was the final day. We began with critique of Ashe’s and My story. From beginning to end it was a vastly different story and different critique for each of our stories. As we wrapped up that session I remember thinking how amazing it felt to have crafted something so different, and so much better, thanks to the feedback and help of my classmates.

Finally it was time for our final lecture, one on publishing within the fandom given by Brer from Sofawolf. It was nice to see behind the curtain somewhat with regards to Sofawolf, as they’d always seemed like a bit of a black box to me.

In summation, I have to say that for someone who wants to improve their craft when it comes to writing anthropomorphic fiction, especially with an eye to publication (but not exclusively), and network with other up and coming furry writers, this workshop was a tremendous success. Personally, I gained a new insight into my own work and the work of my furry colleagues, new ways of critiquing and thinking about critique, and new friends that I can trust to be honest and open about my work, just as I will be open and helpful about theirs should they require it.

RAWR plans to be at least an annual event, for now existing on the West coast of the United States, however, there is discussion about future events being held on the East coast, to better enable the widest range of authors to attend. Applications for next year’s event will open sometime around March, I believe, so keep an eye on their website at http://www.rawr.community and get those applications in. I want to hear about the next class’s experience!

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