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Russell Rowland and his Group

April 4, 2016

Back about six months ago, I got to my initial workshop session at Russ’s house earlier than most of the others so I helped myself to one of the cookies at the dining room table.

I had hoped we’d all be lounging around in overstuffed chairs.  I had a mental image.  Yes, our feet upon hassocks, admiring a variety of rugs and tapestries, and, of course, a crackling blaze in the fireplace.  Maybe sipping wine, maybe smoking a little weed?

I had fancied the sage would read aloud a sentence someone had written.  Then,  as we neophytes strained our ears, the master would divulge his secrets of writing some in-your-face prose.  I was so wrong.  About nearly everything.

Feeling a bit put out by the lack of comforts listed in paragraph one, I took a bite of the cookie, an applesauce, I think, and it yielded in a chewy manner.  I asked, half-believing I’d succeed, for a glass of milk.  To my pleasure, Russell poured me a cold one, which I drank, as the others arrived.

All of that was, I don’t know, six months ago?  Did I say that already?  Just now I was recalling what I had gained, writing-wise.

We started with ten of us.  That was session one.  We had a slightly different group in session two.

One of us, I believe, dropped out to finish up a thriller she was selling to a publisher.  I remember that she smiled at us when we criticized her work.

Two others in our group have solid plot ideas that they are using to turn out actual books.  One more is working on a novel, but hers is in an early stage.

I’m reluctant to tell the premises of these stories.  Someone might try to steal their ideas.  However,  the stories are all set in Montana.

The rest of us have memoirs or histories to finish writing, and our tales are almost incredible:  one told of being the child of a whore.  Another visited whores in Butte.  One documents his veterinary work with bison.  Another tells of owning a well-established cattle ranch, then selling it.  You get the idea.  Some of the others started in Wyoming, Nebraska, California, or Ireland, but ended up in Montana.

Only one has anything to do with the military.

So what did I get for my $300/session?  Some humility.  Not from the criticism, which I mostly disregarded.  Hmm that’s not humility, is it?  Say….

The humility came from knowing that three of the workshop writers had either sold books or were close to selling books to publishers, and they did it by working damned hard, some of it during the time of our workshop.  Well, prior to the workshop, Russell traveled all over Montana, wrote a book, sold it, and it comes out this month.  Vicki Williamson and Carina Cooper simply worked and worked on theirs, for months.  Vicki’s is ready for the publisher.

At one point, Russell looked me in the eye and told me that I had two, maybe three books, worth of stories to tell.  Trouble is he and the others always wanted more.  More.  This translates into more work, lots more work.  “Work?” I asked querulously.  Russ said nothing.

We spent all our workshop time sitting at the table.  The advice was as you might guess.  Write more.  Use the active voice.  Don’t make plurals using apostrophes, because you kill a puppy each time.  Like that.  Advice.

Russell’s advice was sound, especially with regard to creating “scenes” in fiction, and the architecture of the novels.  Of course, his advice was often to write more.

No overstuffed chairs.  No weed, no wine.  Or any of the rest of it.  Neither.


Our writing group, March 21, 2016.  Rhonda Whiteman said I could use her photograph.

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