A Walk on the Beach

Sunday afternoon, before we left, Lisa Silverthorne and I walked on the beach along the Cost of Lincoln City, Oregon. It was a sunny day, but cold. I was wearing layers, as was Lisa, but the wind can still somehow manage to get through. It didn’t matter, though. It was, at that moment, the perfect place to be.

The previous four days had been spent at a workshop with 25 other writers and four editors in what Kris Rusch and Dean Smith call their Anthology Workshop, but might just as well have been labeled A Crash Course in Blowing Ron’s Mind.

We said almost nothing. For the 30 minutes or so we were out there we probably exchanged 15 words apiece. I took pictures. I toed rocks that had been rounded from the pounding surf. Lisa walked with her head down and her back bent, looking for sea glass, I’m sure. All the while the waves played out in the open ocean. For what it’s worth, the smell of the ocean is different in Oregon than it is in other areas I’ve been–mostly Florida, and the Carolinas. It’s a lighter aroma, more salt, perhaps less organic. What do I know, though? We were only there for a little while.

I can’t say everything that was going through Lisa’s mind.

For me, though, I was reflecting on these previous four days and trying to put them into some context. I’ve been to workshops before, of course. And writers groups. And I’ve been doing this writing gig for a while (checking the record books, yeah, “The Spearhead” came out in 1994). I can’t do it, though. It was a small thing, only four days in a twenty+ year journey, but it felt huge. It was 65 hours built of probably a hundred different pieces, few of which maybe make a dent standing by themselves, but each magnifying the whole. Moments such as:

  • A discussion with Matt Buchman that was enlightening and inspiring, but was made complete merely by the expression on his face at one crystal-clear moment.
  • Lisa selling a story, and then me following along in her footsteps. I’m happy for all the others’ success, too, including Angie Penrose’s first sale … which was pretty danged cool. But Lisa, man, she’s my bud. [grin]
  • Listening to John Helfers argue with himself over a story and get so spun up about something that almost, but didn’t quite work. And realizing just how much he was rooting for that writer, how much that editor wanted the writer to succeed even though he was rejecting the work.
  • High-fiving Lisa after Kris pointed out our long and winding road of submissions to F&SF during her tenure.
  • The set on Carrie’s jaw as she argued with Dean for more words. And Dean’s tight-lipped shaking of the head. The way these two actions define the business so deeply.
  • Going to dinner and having an already full table of writers scooch around to make room for me at the table.
  • Sitting at the Anchor Inn and being tempted by two more pancakes.
  • Writers being happy for others’ success.
  • Breakfast with Irette and DeAnna.
  • Going to bed at 2:00AM for only a 1-hour nap because I was so damned tired, but the story wasn’t done, and then 30 seconds after hitting the pillow feeling the next line rise out of my brain like a whale breaching.
  • Finishing the damned thing at 5:30AM and feeling so close to my young, black, female protagonists that I could hear her blues harp in my brain as I finally drifted to sleep.
  • Dean describing for me the WMG war room of white boards that contained their work schedules. I freaking love war rooms.
  • Lisa.selling.two.stories!
  • Lunch on Saturday with Lisa.
  • The writing dare Lisa and I took on Thursday afternoon that yielded a short story titled “Survivors”
  • Reading 26 stories in a day. After having written two in the two days prior. And between sitting in three workshop session. The workload was intense.
  • Doing a quick audio cut-over, and hearing little Nola’s work before mine.
  • Sharing pizza at the end.

Yeah, I’m dwelling. But it’s really, really hard not to dwell right now. This was a remarkable four days. I have to thank Kris and Dean, and Kerrie and John, and the 26 other writers who were there, and the rest of the folks at WMG, and the Anchor (a hotel and the people of which, believe me, are every bit as important to this thing as any other part of it).

So we walked on the beach. I stopped every so often and stared out over the water, wishing I could peer out farther and farther and maybe even see Japan. But the world doesn’t work that way, of course. A mist hung over the cresting waves to obscure the horizon, and even if it hadn’t the geometry of the earth itself would put a crimp to my fancy for the Far East. There is a bend on the beach, too, a cliff with a rocky outcropping that protects the area behind it from prying eyes. I ran up there, though, and I looked at the rest of the beach that ran out to the north.

The world hides what it can, you know? If I’ve learned anything in my twenty years or so of figuring out this field it’s that the world will hide everything it can. But every now and again, you can run up on a ridge and small bits will be revealed to you.

When we returned to the car Lisa and I talked about the session, and about writing, and about how these things define certain things in ways that are impossible to really describe.

Then I turned the key, backed out of the parking area, and we drove onward. Onward, as the world will always have it.

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