Even though I spent some time in San Antonio and Dallas working with my late co-author, Bob Stewart on The Yellow Rose,
I still anticipated a hint of the exotic when I committed myself to a week in the Lone Star State.
I didn’t go straight to the writers retreat in San Antonio, but landed first in Houston where I spent a wonderful, though very brief, 24 hours or so with Bob’s son and his family. Here I am with Bob III in front of pictures of his parents. Note the copy of The Yellow Rose. Also on the right, me with super daughter Coco. Not pictured, wife Kim and son Bobby.
We also trod the very ground of the site of the San Jacinto memorial and park where the the battle of San Jacinto, the centerpiece of our novel and of the Texas Revolution took place. The tower is as high as the Washington Monument, and then some, because a Texas star (not visible) is mounted on the top. In true Texan style, they could get permission to build an obelisk only as tall as the one on the Washington Mall. But no one mentioned they couldn’t add the star. You have to get up early to keep ahead of a Texan.
It was a great time in Houston, but San Antonio and the main event awaited. I’ve been to quite a number of writers’ conferences, from the more prestigious (Sewanee, Squaw Valley, Tin House) to the less heralded (Napa, DFW), so I’m a bit jaded. Shouldn’t have bothered with that attitude.
Most conferences focus on the short story, giving you a group workshop and a single one-one-one conference with a staff member. I found them all valuable in their own way except that I was a bit frustrated with the process of discussing a chapter or two of my novel as if it, too, were a short story. Hard to explain the difference, but it’s pronounced. Tin House (on the campus of Reed College in Portland, OR) had a section on the novel, which showed me that my frustration was justified. It made all the difference to talk to people about novels as novels, especially under the superb leadership of Luis Alberto Urrea (The Hummingbird’s Daughter and many other titles). So I was looking forward to WRW because we were supposedly going to be in the company of other novelists. And boy, were we.
Plus, our manuscripts got not only a group going-over, but a number of sessions with different accomplished staff members. You could get feedback, revise, then get feedback on the revision. There is time in the schedule set aside for–get this–writing. That’s in addition to the normal menu of workshops, group instruction, and so on. Director Jason Sitzes and wife Lisa Willars-Pic have put together a superb staff. Good teachers as well as good writers, and those two don’t always together, believe me.
Among that cast are my old friend/mentor/nemesis, multiple novelist (The Bomb and The Rapist are his latest gems.) Les Edgerton, without whom my count would zero published novels instead of four; literary agent Michelle Johnson of Inklings, who had the good taste to request a copy of my manuscript of the sequel to Bonita when it’s finished; Reavis Z. (for “Zane”) Wortham (Dark Places, Vengeance is Mine), who is a retired educator (me too) and a Texas cattle rancher (definitely NOT me too) Not pictured are Carol Dougherty, Arianne “Tex” Thompson, and David Corbett. All of these also made significant contributions to my superb experience at the Oblate (an Catholic order of priests, like the Franciscans, I’d not heard of. They are missionaries.) Center. This is beginning to sound a little bit like a testimonial, but what the hell. I transformed my beginning chapter in a way that launched the sequel Bonita like a power boat instead of row boat, yes, I will testify that Writers Retreat Workshop is at the top of the novelist writers workshops in the USA. Thanks to all.