I spent 10 days in France last year. The people (with only 1 notable exception) were warm, welcoming, and happy that I was spending my money in their country and appreciating their culture. But there was never any doubt that I was in a foreign country. Different language, different culture, different food, different habits.
Yesterday I went to a workshop hosted by the West Houston Chapter of the Romance Writers of America. Like the people of France, the members were warm, welcoming, and happy that I was attending their workshop. I’ve been to a number of workshops before, as well as writers’ groups, but this is the first time I was truly in a foreign country.
I’ve been trying to articulate exactly why that was ever since. Here are some differences that possibly contributed.
MOST OF THOSE ATTENDING WERE WOMEN. There were 4 Y chromosomes in the room, 3 visitors and 1 member. Normally, gender imbalance doesn’t bother me. I take a Body Flow class where it is typically me and 2 dozen women, almost all of which are younger, better fit, and can kick my ass when it comes to Body Flow. None of that bothers me, and I would never say I was a stranger in a strange land.
THESE WOMEN WERE ALL SERIOUS WRITERS. The average number of books published per attendee was at least 3. One writer at my table had 58. Going back to the Body Flow example, almost all of them could kick my ass when it came to writing.
I generally consider myself a serious writer, for an amateur. Although “retired” from my paying job, I spend an average of 4 hours a day writing, editing, polishing, marketing, or otherwise working on my writing career. On Saturday I ran into a totally different definition of “serious.”
THEY ALL — OR ALMOST ALL — WRITE ROMANCES. To the best of my knowledge, I’ve never even read a romance.
OVERHEARING CASUAL CONVERSATIONS, these writers frequently submit “proposals” — not even completed books — and get accepted for publication, sight unseen.
One woman was a noted writer of gay romances. One of her books was reviewed at the meeting. I am a strong advocate of equal rights for the GBLT community but I have to say, it has never crossed my mind that “Hmm. What shall my next novel be about? Hey, I know. I’ll write a gay romance.” I’m not sure why that is her specialty, but my best guess is BECAUSE IT SELLS. In a moment of total honesty, I also have to say, I’ve never selected what I’ll write about because of what sells.
As I said, Stranger in a Strange Land.
Here’s an amusing event that happened during one of the workshop sessions, this one on Deep Point of View. The speaker, the delightful Lorin Oberweger, read this example from Louise Erdrich’s Plague of Doves:
The gun jammed on the last shot and the baby stood holding the crib rail, eyes wild, bawling. The man sat down in an upholstered chair and began taking his gun apart to see why it wouldn’t fire. The baby’s crying set him on edge. He put down the gun and looked around for a hammer, but saw the gramophone. He walked over to it. There was already a record on the spindle, so he cranked the mechanism and set down the needle. . . The man repaired the gun so the bullet slid nicely into its chamber. He tried it several times then rose and stood over the crib. The violin reached a crescendo of strange sweetness. He raised the gun. The odor of raw blood was all around him in the closed room.
We discussed this very rich scene at length. But all the time I’m thinking, “This writer has ruined the scene by her total lack of knowledge or understanding about how a gun works. You don’t “repair” a “jam,” you just unjam it. And once you have, if you reload the magazine, pull the slide back, and release it, it will in fact chamber a round. But if you’re going to try it several times, what happens to the round that you just chambered? It flies out. So this guy is pulling back on the slide and ejecting live rounds that are flying around the room?
I happened to be sitting beside the only man in the room who was a member. He had earlier expressed some knowledge about guns, so I whispered a comment to see how he was taking all this. He confirmed that he was holding his tongue, for reasons that he chose not to articulate.
All in all, it was a totally fascinating and educational day. I’ll never look at writing the same, which made it worth much more than my entry fee.