Last week I attended the Mendocino Coast Writers Conference. It was--in a word--glorious. Boosted by the support of a scholarship and the encouragement of my employer, I was grateful for the opportunity to be surrounded by writers and readers for four days in a beautiful place. It had been three years since I had been anywhere by myself, and just as long since I had the chance to focus wholeheartedly on fiction. I was attracted to the conference because of the support it offered, the faculty it attracted, and the community of writers it promised. It did not disappoint.
I was lucky to attend a novel writing workshop with Shanthi Sekaran, author of Lucky Boy and The Prayer Room. I read Lucky Boy last year and was completely blown open by its characters, its attention to detail, its keen observations on life in 21st century America. I was excited to have her read my work and get some constructive criticism to keep my literary brain whirring.
Another great perk of MCWC is that the organization hosts its own writing contest. On a whim I submitted "The Bridge," a short story excerpted from my manuscript-in-progress, Foreigner. I was startled to learn a few weeks later that the piece had won first prize--and that the contest had been judged by Sekaran herself. I received the following email while planning out daycare and work coverage for the days I'd be gone:
"Reading The Bridge, I found myself enthralled and then shocked by its small band of children. With deft and lively prose, the author coaxed me into the narrative, much like the stray cat at its center, only to horrify me with news of what these seemingly lovely children were going to do to said cat. After reading the excerpt, I wanted to know more of the children, to be pulled into their world. That hunger is the clearest sign of an excellent beginning."
I have since printed this out and taped it to my wall at work. A reminder that fiction matters--that no matter how ploddingly slow it is to finish a book, there is value in exploring the ideas that intrigue us.
All in all, the days blurred by in a series of workshops, faculty readings and events. I feel as if I have been given new life. When my daughter was born, writing fiction seemed like such a luxury--such an indulgence. But I am motivated to finish this book, if anything so I can talk about it with her someday, and hear what she thinks of the worlds we create and the worlds we reflect.