Stranger in a Strange Land

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.

 

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7 thoughts on “Stranger in a Strange Land

      • Well, I guess my take on your blog was that you weren’t coming back? I’m hoping to expose you to the Northwest chapter of RWA. The same parent, but this may be the fun-loving wild sister. Yet, these ladies are successful as well. A different atmosphere, if you will. I find myself drawn to both.

        And there is another group or two… I’ll stop before I scare you away.

        I’ll say this though. I’ve never regretted walking through the RWA doors. What I thought I knew about writing paled compared to what I learned through the RWA chapters. Which is why I’m trying to bring it to the rest of the world. The knowledge, not necessarily the romance. 🙂

  1. Rusty, I wasn’t at the workshop but when reading the excerpt, I had the same thought…and I’m no expert on guns. Sure, I was raised on a ranch and learned to shoot at a young age with all the safety lessons first. Apparently everyone else held their tongue on this beside the two of you. This is Texas, after all. LOL! Love your blog. Looking forward to more.

  2. Rusty, it was great to meet you! I had the same questions you did, but the piece was about scene and tension – not guns – so I kept my mouth shut. Look at the bright side: at least it wasn’t a silencer on a revolver…:)

  3. Hello everyone, what a terrific website and blog!!
    I owe all my professional growth in this industry to RWA and local chapters. I don’t believe there is any other enormous group, made up primarily of females, that is as supportive and giving back to others without it turning into a competitive free-for-all.

    I know very little about guns, but I also questioned the loading and unloading a chamber 3 times. I was so distracted by the chilling horror of the scene though that I didn’t pause long enough to have THAT detail bother me!

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