I was fortunate to be accepted to the 2015 Vermont College of Fine Arts Novel Retreat in Montpelier and a couple of weeks ago, I attended. Montpelier is a small town, the smallest state capitol by population in the U.S. (7,855 in 2010). It’s an arty, outdoorsy town, quite similar to my home, Asheville, NC, although Asheville is much larger. The college has existed under many names over the years and is now principally a low residence college of fine arts. Very small and for the most part well managed and well kept, judging by my limited observation.
But to the retreat.
There were 29 attendees, 6 men, 23 women – typical of such gatherings -and the retreat was presided over by three prominent writers: Connie May Fowler, Clint McCown, and David Anthony Durham. This sort of retreat isn’t a teaching/learning experience as much as guidance though problems the attending writers might be having with current writing projects, in such areas as story structure, characterization, authorial intentionality, the blending of dialogue, narrative and setting, and the emotional energy of a piece of writing.
One interesting concept Clint McCown brought up was something emphasized by T.S. Eliot – the objective correlative of such a story, i.e., a device or object about which a story centers. Tomorrow I’ll publish here a short (one page) piece I wrote to implement this tool.
The retreat also offered (for a few $$$ more) to have one of the three facilitators read part of a work in progress and offer a rather professional perspective on it. I didn’t take part in this – a judgment call on my part, but it didn’t seem necessary. We also had plenty of time in both morning and evening to write, to digest the bits and pieces of advice coming forth from the facilitators and other writers. My main enjoyment, though, was in hanging out with other writers – always the most interesting of people.
Such endeavors may seem frivolous to some, but it’s as mentally exacting as medicine, law, and the sciences. Therefore (this may be a massive rationalization), it’s necessary to blow off a little steam after such intense days, and that’s why writers make good partiers (see video below).