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The Plot Thickens at Iowa Summer Writing Festival

IowaPictureI enjoyed a great week in Iowa city at the Summer Writing Festival. This is the second year I’ve indulged myself in this floating literary community, where writers of all genres, abilities and experience wade into the waters as deeply as they please. Personally, I wanted to dive into the deep end and participate as fully as I could. But getting the most out of it takes a lot of energy.

I had signed up for Kelly Dwyer’s class on “Plotting the Novel.” To start with, Kelly took it easy on us, not requiring any reading or writing before the class met. But from our first session Sunday night, it was work work work the rest of the week. Our ultimate goal was for each of us to produce a working plot outline for our fiction projects, but additional assignments had us writing every day.

Possible distractions from writing  are the social activities of the week-long sessions. I wouldn’t want to miss these bits that make the Summer Writing Festival special. Every day the “11th Hour” lectures feature presentations from the talented faculty. A Monday night reception (with open bar) at the most excellent Prairie Lights book store is followed by readings. The Beadology store offers an open mic for the participants to share their works in progress. Throughout the week there are dinners, dancing, and lunches with classmates. All day every day participants are hanging out writing, drinking coffee, and socializing at the Bread Garden.

Arriving in Iowa City I had only the vaguest idea for a book. By the end of the week I had somehow put together a fairly detailed outline for my next novel. Thanks to Kelly Dwyer and the helpful and astute comments from classmates, I have enough of a plan to start work immediately, plus an opening scene and lots of good ideas. Beyond that, I also feel refreshed , energized and motivated to begin the new project.

I won the award, but I couldn’t take it home.

The Naperville Writers’ Group awards the “Enwigger” each year to a member for Outstanding Contributions to the organization. This year I was honored to share the lovely object with likewise attractive Loretta Morris. In a fit of chivalry, I insisted that she take the award home to cherish — for the first six months, that is. I will claim the Enwigger for the last  half of the year, until the next popular vote, when it will be bestowed on another deserving writer. Meanwhile, I enjoy the warmth and fuzziness of my peers’ appreciation.

Last year I was recognized with “The Foot” Award, ostensibly for Most Improved Writer. Although also a prestigious honor, the Foot is not quite so pretty and shiny as the Enwigger. In fact, the Foot spent the previous year in an obscure corner of my library, where I could see it and enjoy its significance; but where the somewhat disturbing thing would be unlikely to invite awkward questions from visitors. Nevertheless, it’s the thought that counts.

The Path to the Spiders’ Nests

The Path to the Spiders' NestsThe Path to the Spiders’ Nests by Italo Calvino

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Hard to judge a novel like this, knowing it’s in translation, not being familiar with Calvino at all. The tone is stark, matter-of-fact. He tells the story of young Pip, an orphan in a devastated Italian town during WWII. His sister is the dark whore of the Long Alley, who consorts and collaborates with the occupying Germans, while Pip ends up tagging along with resistance fighters up in the hills. Taking the child’s point of view is an opportunity for Calvino to write some really terse but telling descriptions of the various characters. They run the scale from dedicated communists to self-serving opportunists, and in the middle of it is Pim, who isn’t sure what he really wants. All we know is he can never return to anything like a normal life as his world has been turned upside down.

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