Well, the first Pogue Family Writer’s Conference is come and gone.
My dad, my sisters and I were the participants (thus the name). A little over a month ago, we each submitted an original novel for everyone else to read. My task was made a little bit easier because, as I’ve chronicled here, I spent most of the last six months reading and reviewing their submissions. The versions they submitted in September were generally rewrites of the ones I marked up back in May, or whatever, but close enough that I’d already done all the heavy lifting.
I hadn’t actually gotten much in return, though, so I picked my least-revised and least-reviewed novel, King Jason’s War (which only T– had read, to date), and sent that one off to finally get some feedback on it.
Friday morning I had to come in for work, but I had the afternoon of my RDO off. Before I left town, I met with T– and her parents for lunch at Steve’s Rib up by K– and N–‘s house. It was fantastic.
Then I picked my little sister up right around 1:00, and we headed to Branson. She actually drove for the first leg of the trip, and I took over when we stopped in Tulsa. I’d planned to get a lot of reading done on the way, but I managed to get most of it taken care of on Wednesday and Thursday, so we spent more of the trip talking than reading.
I’d also expected it to be a 6-hour drive, and it came in right at 5, so that was a pleasant surprise. We got to the cabin in Forsythe, just outside Branson, around 6:20 Friday evening. My older sister was already there waiting for us, and she informed us Mom and Dad were about an hour out.
That gave us time to bring in all our stuff, pick our rooms in the cabin, and not call our families to let them know we’d made it safe. That last because it turned out there was no cell phone reception for any of us, anywhere near the cabin. Joy. Also, contrary to our expectations, there was no internet connection. For three days. It was like a preview of hell (in that regard, anyway).
I mean, I’m just assuming there’s no internet connection in hell. I can’t actually quote scripture or verse in support of that, but it seems logical….
As soon as Mom and Dad were moved into the cabin, Mom started putting together a chips-and-dip spread for her hungry family, while the rest of us all started talking about the materials we’d brought for the weekend. Heather kept saying, “No, wait, we’re not talking about that until tomorrow!” (she had a whole agenda scheduled for Saturday), but she needn’t have bothered.
Saturday morning I woke up last, around 9:30, and Mom greeted me with a hot ham and swiss breakfast croissant, which was damn awesome. Then I sat down at the big conference table and joined in the conversation critiqueing Dad’s book. We told him to turn it into two books (that was mostly my suggestion, but the girls got on board with it pretty much right away). Then we told him how, and I think by the end of the conversation he was actually okay with the idea. It took about an hour to get to that point, though, which had Heather pretty concerned, because her agenda only called for 90 minutes total to get through all of our books.
We segued to my little sister’s book then, and spent an hour and a half on that. We only quit because we had made arrangements to meet Mom in town for lunch, so we had to break up the discussion. We took a moment partway through that critique, though, and all agreed that really this was the main thing we’d hoped to get out of the weekend, so we took all the other discussion topics for the weekend, labeled them “As Time Becomes Available” and made critiques the sole agenda for the rest of the day.
We had a fifteen minutes drive to lunch, and I spent it making everyone name favorite aspects of the others’ books, because most of the two-and-a-half hours of critiques had been, “It’s a good book, but here’s the parts I didn’t like, and how you can improve them.” Generally the good stuff just works, and keeps you reading, so you don’t make note of it. I asked everyone to name a favorite scene in Dad’s book or a favorite character in Heather’s, stuff like that. I think that helped get everyone into a little bit better frame of mind for the rest of the day.
Anyway, lunch was at a steak place, and we sort of took a break from the writing talk. The girls talked about Mom’s morning shopping trip (and, I’m sure, other things, but I didn’t really hear much of it), and Dad and I talked about the economic crisis in a historical context, and how best to profit off of it. Oh, and OU football.
Then we drove back to the house, and Heather and I discussed my book, but the other two hadn’t really had a chance to read it all the way through. Dad spent the time writing and my little sister spent the time reading. Still, the feedback I got from Heather was amazing, and really encouraging.
We probably spent an hour on that, even though it was just the one reviewer, and then we turned to Heather’s book and all of us had read that one, so it was another shouting match (in a good way, I mean). My little sister followed that up with a brief exercise she’d concocted, in which we explored the history and background of characters within our stories — first a major one and then a minor one. While the former was probably the more useful, we all had a lot more fun with the latter.
Dinner finally interrupted us. Mom made some garlic chicken, with potatoes on the side and bruscetta as an appetizer — it was all good. While we ate, we went through another of the postponed activities, with everyone discussing two of his or her favorite story ideas. We weighed in with our opinions of them, and I think with the feedback everyone was pretty much able to pick one of those stories to focus on for NaNoWriMo this year.
Then Heather had an activity for us that turned out more like a game. We each wrote down a one-line story idea for each of the other three. The example she gave (and her story idea for Dad) was “A girl who sees doors where there are no doors.” The one she gave me was, “Trees take over the world and solve global warming in their own way.” Then we were each supposed to flesh out the three ideas we were given, building a one-paragraph synopsis of a book. Afterward we read them all out loud, with all the entertainment value of a game of Balderdash.
That was our last event for the weekend. Afterward we settled into separate conversations, many of them follow-ups on earlier critiques. Dad and I spent a while working out the plot arc of his upcoming novel, which had him stumped somewhere around the middle. It was that sort of thing.
Then around 11:00 everyone finally got to bed. I meant to get up early on Sunday, but didn’t quite manage what I’d hoped for. Still, after all the goodbyes and the final conversations, and packing the car and all, we got out around 10:00. Once again we stopped in Tulsa, but that was only a brief stop, and I dropped my little sister off at her place right at 3:00. We spent the whole drive talking, mostly about Social Constructionism (so, yeah, I had a good time).
Then I got home and watched the Cowboys game on my TiVo, and spent the rest of the evening in a deep melancholy. Ugh.
D– came over, and we had leftover pizza for dinner, and he and I spent most of the evening playing WoW. T– eventually joined us in the office, and we watched some more Get Smart, and far too soon it was an hour past my bedtime. I sent D– home, and went to bed around 11:00.
Other than that, it’s just things and stuff.