Friday, January 28, 2011

Reminiscing on Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp

Seems like lots of writers love posting blogs - especially in the new year - detailing all the writing projects they've got lined up, be it short stories, collections, novels, etc.  It's understandable.  I used to do the same thing.  We're all excited about the future, and we want to share that with folks (That, and along with being creative and sensitive, we writers are a bit needy, too).  AND, there's nothing wrong with doing it, so I'm not slamming people who post such blogs.

For me, though...I've stopped doing that.   Reason being, it felt like I was playing "dress up."  "Pretend."  Let's imagine that I'm a best-selling author with legions of fans DYING for my very next work.  The reality is, though there a few folks who like what I've written and occasionally tell me so...no one is rushing out to buy the newest anthology with my most recent short story in it.  Don't get me wrong - when something official happens, I'll pimp it.  I've just gotten past the stage of detailing all the "work" I've got lined up for my "legions" of "screaming fans."

Suffice it to say: every day, I'm writin' stuff.  There are some doors in my near future that may open or may remain closed.  But regardless of that, I'll still be writin' stuff.  Every day.

Instead, I want to reminisce today about an experience that LITERALLY changed my writing life.  It was the first "writing event" I ever attended, and right now I don't see anything in the near future that will ever compare.

Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp.   

A threshold experience I'll never forget.  I had just completed my first year in my Creative Writing MA.  I'd sold a few short stories.   Finished the first draft of Hiram Grange.   But then I stumbled across Borderlands through Brian Keene's blog (Brian - THANK YOU.  You will never know how much I owe you because of this) and realized this was the next logical step in my career.  

I was so pumped. Borderlands was only 4 hours away, in Maryland - when all of these "Cons" seemed thousands of miles away from Binghamton, New York.  AND...I'd read Brian's blog on the very last day they were accepting applicants.  I found a previously published story, applied - and was accepted.  Sent them a story I was still working on so they could workshop...

And away I went.

I literally can't put into works what that weekend was like.  Seriously.  Like a lot of writer-hopefuls, I'd always cloaked my writing efforts in a cautious, safe pessimism (you know, I'll never make it because I'm just a Regular Guy and things like this don't happen to Regular Guys but now it WAS happening!). 

But there I WAS.  At a beautiful hotel for the whole weekend with the following folks who had read MY WORK , had critiqued it and were now ready to offer me their advice....

F. Paul Wilson
Tom Monteleone
Mort Castle
Gary Braunbeck
Elizabeth Massie (stood in for a sick Douglas Clegg, but was still awesome)

Now, the other folks I'd never met before - Ginjer Buchanon and Doug Winter (he whose critique cuts like knife), but they were just as awesome.  I was surrounded by them, these other writer hopefuls...

Literally.  I'm not lying or being stupidly romantic.  But I'd been transported to another world that I never wanted to leave.  And the stories - the stories! - these writers told of their career and how they'd gotten started, of not giving up.  I was amazed at how different the publishing world had been back then (and a little sad, also, realizing it would never be that way ever again) but also inspired to push on.

And what can I say about the "brotherhood of the pen"?  Saturday night, after a grueling - but transformative - day of workshops, all the Bootcamp "grunts" went out for wings and some brews at a local Sports Bar.  Imagine being surrounded by folks who love what you love, also a majority of them horror/dark speculative writers.  It was like a little slice of paradise.  Plus, I wondered...how many of these folks would make it?  Was I sitting amongst the next class of the horror genre's future?

I met and spoke with Mort Castle that weekend...and HE spoke into me.  Into my life, and writing career.  I met Norman Prentiss that weekend for the first time, kicking off a good friendship.  Saw a short story literally saved from the junk heap because of Paul Wilson's advice and questions.  And literally busted a gut laughing at Tom Monteleone, who HAS to be the funniest, wittiest writer I've ever meant.  I cringed with every slash of Doug Winter's "word economy knife", grimaced and said, "I want more.  Give me more!"

I returned the following year, and while it was awesome and I learned more and picked up some more friends...it wasn't the same.  Nothing - no Con of any kind, any writing event - will ever be like my first weekend at Borderlands...

But it still kills me that I'm not going today.  It's the end of January.  For the past two years I've spent that last weekend in January at Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp...and it sorta feels wrong not to be doing that this year.  In fact, if Abby weren't working this weekend and if I had the cash for a rental, I'd go down there and just hang out.   Just because.

Because that's where and when EVERYTHING changed for me, as a writer.

Anyone going to Borderlands this weekend: you listen to EVERYTHING they tell you.  Make it gospel.  Don't blow it by getting offended, throw all your previous accomplishments and publications OUT THE WINDOW, because (not to be blasphemous, here) they are as dirty rags compared to what you are about to learn.

To all the great folks I met at Borderlands these last two years:  Nancy, Gard, Vanessa, Brittany, Erik, Mike, Yvette, Eric, Kirk, Karissa and probably a bunch of other folks I just can't remember - cheers.  Here's hoping twenty years from now, when we've become the "next generation", we can look back on our Borderlands years and say: "That's when it all began...."

(sorry I don't have more pictures...these are all I could find...)