Though Writer Camp was billed as a mini-retreat, I will admit, I signed up assuming I wouldn’t get much work done. I’m a realist, as well as a veteran of conferences and graduate programs, and I suspected camp would be an excuse for writers to gather and not write together. And although I knew that I really needed to get a good jump on final revisions to my novel manuscript so that I could go agent hunting in the fall, I also knew that, if need be, I could write again when I got back home to Utah. I signed up for the things I couldn’t get at home: a chance to make new friends, the companionship of like-minded writers, a creek to wade in, and an evening fire.
Looking back a month afterwards, I’m struck most by how much I underestimated. I could talk about a lot of things here, but mostly, what happens at Writer Camp stays at Writer Camp, so I’ll restrain myself to two:
What? Holy cow!! Every morning as the breakfast dishes were cleared, the main room transformed into a hotbed of clicking keyboards. Along the creek, writers found quiet niches to scribble in journals or talk notes into their phones. Some of us were parents escaping the needs of our children for a long weekend. Some of us were letting job stress go. All of us had some demand or other that could be let go for the long weekend. For once, when time’s winged chariot started its relentless flap-flap-flapping, it was a source of motivation rather than stress. We had a few short days, and damn it, we were going to use them.
What’s better? Writer Camp started a writing streak that has kept going. I went with a handful of pages started on my novel rewrite, a project that I had dragged myself into with mixed feelings. Writer Camp gave my project a shot of adrenaline to the heart. Not quite a month later, I’m about to hit the halfway point of the book manuscript. I’d love to tell you that those results are atypical and that I am a rockstar-genius-badass of a writer, but I keep seeing similar results from my co-campers: essays unstuck, multiple poems drafted and revised, stories outlined. Living in a hive of creativity created that buzz.
I don’t know how it happened that so many awesome people ended up in one place. Perhaps Dave Housley sacrificed a couple of goats. Perhaps Matt Perez danced to the gods of amity and goodwill on a cloudless, moonlit night. Perhaps Aaron Burch promised his first born to a small man he found spinning straw into gold. However it was that they gathered us, the camaraderie was as ubiquitous as it was heartfelt. Sure, there might have been an initial awkward conversation or two, but they didn’t last past the first cup of foamy keg beer. Soon, we found ourselves engaged in midnight tarot readings, impromptu afternoon games of catch, pocket Manhattans, and other hilarity.
Bonfires call forth primitive conversation, the kind of talk that gets to the human center of a person. Or maybe it was simply that all the campers came with the same sense of just wanting to know each other without any of the ego measuring nonsense. No one asked me where I had published or how often. They asked, instead, about who I was and what I cared about. Editor Erin Fitzgerald’s sister came along, and afterward she wrote what I think is the truest sense of the attitude: “I was telling Erin this morning that it was great that this weekend I could be like HI I DON'T KNOW YOU BUT CAN I GLOM ONTO YOUR CONVERSATION and everyone was like SURE HI PULL UP A CHAIR. Y’all have a very roller derby vibe, which is a great thing.”
We knew each other only for days. We’ll know each other for a lifetime. We’re bound by having hiked Mt. Nittany, survived the mosquitos, waded the creek, witnessed a campfire started nightly by blowtorch, and, perhaps most magically of all, having our spirits lifted along with Becky Barnard as she soared into Mike Ingram’s arms to re-enact The Lift from Dirty Dancing as “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” played on a portable speaker.
The worst part of Writer Camp was having to leave at the end. I returned home after a few short days both happy to see my family and heartsick that I wouldn’t have more time to spend with the friends I had made. Yet I am certain that we will cross paths again. After all, I’m already blocking time to be there next year. Yeah, it’s a long way from my house in Utah. Yeah, it’s only a few too short days. But I already know how much can be packed into that small window, and I can’t wait to do it again.
Siân Griffiths lives in Ogden, Utah, where she directs the Creative Writing Program at Weber State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Georgia Review, Redivider, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Quarterly West, Ninth Letter, and The Rumpus, among other publications. Her short fiction has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, once by Versal and once by The Georgia Review, and her debut novel, Borrowed Horses (New Rivers Press), was a semi-finalist for the 2014 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. Currently, she reads fiction as part of the editorial team at Barrelhouse. For more information, please visit sbgriffiths.com.