An annual event for almost half a century, this weeklong gathering of writers is one of the best and most distinctive. Shunning the elitism that mars others with their clear demarcation of supplicants from gurus and gatekeepers, Squaw Valley mixes and mingles “staff” (everyone who comes to provide insight and guidance) and participants in one big melting pot of about 130 people, most of whom are fiction writers but with an appreciable number of non-fiction/memoir writers too.
I was invited to participate this year based on a sample drawn from a novel I’m writing. Every morning for a solid week I joined 11 other participants and a workshop leader, who rotated every day and included four well-known authors, an agent and an editor to discuss two of the groups’ 5000 word submissions for 60-90 minutes each. Every story had considerable strength; the discussions focused on possible ways to make each work better. It was a take it or leave it, say what you feel, format with authors listening, not commenting, until the end of the discussion when we learned how close our responses and thoughts were to the goals of the author.
The rest of the day consisted of panels and readings that ran from 1pm until 9 or later at night with an outdoor communal dinner for all thown in where you might sit next to another beginning novelist or Amy Tan, a new memoir writer or Alice Munro’s editor, Ann Close. The panels also involved writers, agents and editors, all of whom were familiar names and faces and they all had great things to say on everything from whether every novel is a mystery novel to how to write about sex. It felt as if I were strolling along inside the mind of a collective genius, especially as someone making the difficult transition from academic to creative writing.
Anyone in love with words, as, I confess, I am, would find themselves in heaven. Discussions of point of view, voice, the uses of past and present tense, reliable and unreliable narrators, rhetorical figures, narrative structure and stylistic effect–in workshops, panels, over coffee, at dinner and in the bars–were the staples of the week. And gradually, as the days passed, a true sense of community grew and grew. Before going, I told people I was going to a writer’s conference or workshop but not to the Community of Writers. It seemed too corny. But after having attended, and feeliing now a part of that group, I will ONLY say that I was part of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers in 2015.
You can find more about the Community on its Facebook page.