This post will be a summary of my experience at the third annual Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference. A more detailed account of what I gained and left Brevard College with will be found on the page with the conference namesake. Come here to read more.
When I applied to this conference, I knew this could be of great help to my career as an author. It mostly had to do with the theme of the gathering: a sense of place. I knew, too, exactly which piece I should enter because I had just written it a week or so before I learned about the conference. It was the opening scene of Project Stripes. I had (again) changed the beginning to better avoid the hazardous clichés new writers fall into when starting their novel. This new introduction to Arthur took place somewhere very important to him, a place he once was able to connect to his father. I applied and was accepted. I was taken aback because nobody else had read this piece beside me; I received no approval or suggestions by any outside source. That was a pretty good indicator this version of Arthur’s opening might be the right one.
So I went and immersed myself among people who were passionate about the craft not to mention as warm and hospitable. By the second evening, we all regarded each other like we have been friends for years. I’ve never seen such a social bunch of introverts. As my most recent experience dealing with large group-critiques was not so great (back at university), this was a breath of fresh air and an opportunity to nurture writing with adults who were serious about their careers. There was no competing for the best story, no hubris clouding conversation. I was reminded of the miraculous phenomenon of speaking more freely about yourself to strangers than you might to people you’ve known for years. Indeed, Brevard has become a place for me to remember how we all disconnected from the outside world and dug ourselves into writing.
We learned how place can inform a story, or a story can come from love of a place. We talked about the importance of knowing a place, of sometimes going there to truly be able to write about it. We acknowledged, too, the possibility that if we could not go to where we wanted, the Internet and thorough research from people who know it can help us vicariously understand it. Empathy was brought up too. For it’s important to remember to write not just about what we are familiar with but put ourselves in the shoes of those who are not like us. Empathy is a writer’s first and most important tool. If we cannot create a diverse cast of characters with different wants and preferences, our stories won’t reach that many readers.
The importance of place in story is crucial to its success. So much of the character of the story itself is personified in setting. When I think of Harry, more often than not my mind goes right to Hogwarts almost more than it goes to the characters (who are also VERY important). A thought-provoking idea was brought up by our Fiction group leader, Craig Johnson. He mentioned a book called American Nomads about groups of people across the US who don’t linger in one place for long. I found it fascinating that even in our Euro-esc culture of settling land and “taming” it, there are people in this country who are not satisfied to stay. After all, aren’t cars the symbol of freedom and mobility for Americans? Yet we are expected by society to settle down in one home and find meaning in that singular place.
I offered the idea of Euro and Afro-Americans never truly belonging to this land because we came upon it already inhabited. Our presence here is still very much in its infancy when compared to the Indian nations. I wondered if we will ever know the land, this place as they do. We may organize and build our cities and expect Nature to obey us. Yet floods, tornadoes, fires, earthquakes wreck our homes, and we still see fit to rebuild. Should we learn from the habits of Nature and anticipate them? Perhaps we are attached to places despite the dangers of living there. It’s a question I will continue to have because place is subject to the perspective of those who inhabit it, from the ant hill to the pyramids. Whatever the case, I hope this demonstrated to you what we learned about the importance of place at the conference and encourage you to reflect on these for your own life.
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