I am writing this from a wing chair where I’m still rocking slightly from side to side. Sea legs and the lack thereof—it’s a real thing. But it’s a pleasant reminder of the wonderful experience I just enjoyed. Do you remember that a few months ago, I mentioned winning the Carl Brandon Out of Excuses writing retreat scholarship? That was a merit-based scholarship for writers of color, which I fully admit I never, ever even dreamed I’d win. (I remember joking to my husband that I had a .003 percent chance, so basically I applied and then forgot all about it.) I only applied because I believe you should never self-reject. Let the editors/application committees do the naysaying for you!
But I did win, and that meant I will always be incredibly grateful for the opportunity it afforded me. If you’ve talked to or followed me for ten seconds, you know how deeply passionate I am about making our world a level playing field for everyone, and for me personally, that means going at it through the medium of writing. To be invited to join this adventure because my words, my viewpoint, my voice were all not only welcome but wanted . . . well, that felt like winning the lottery.
(Some of these pictures are mine, and some are shamelessly stolen from others who were on the trip.)
This is what the scholarship got me: I spent a wonderful seven days on a cruise ship, utterly ignoring all the cruise-sponsored entertainment in favor of thinking about words and singing and laughing and reading* and eating way too much and climbing nine flights of stairs to my room a few times a day and gazing out over the ocean and disembarking for day excursions in Haiti and Jamaica and Grand Cayman Island and Mexico and chatting with friends old and new and revising my scene and and and . . .
The lineup of instructors was wonderfully inclusive and wise and talented: aside from the Writing Excuses podcast crew of Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, Howard Tayler, and Brandon Sanderson, we had Delia Sherman, Ellen Kushner, Nalo Hopkinson, and Daniel José Older. They all had such incredible lectures covering description, dialogue, revision, plotting, multiple points of view, and power dynamics and history in worldbuilding, and these sorts of talks were exactly what I’d hoped for. I’m far enough along in my career that I wanted more advanced ways of talking about craft, and that was what I got, along with some excellent insights for tackling the second draft of my starry novel. (Thanks, Dan and Plotting Q&A friends and Erin!)
The staff, including people I haven’t named here, were all very kind and caring, making sure we all had what we needed and encouraging us to reach out to them if not. When I did have to go to them, they immediately took care of the problem in ways that left me feeling even safer than before (and I’d already felt very safe and a valued part of the group).
On the meeting-fellow-writers front, I knew a few of the instructors going in, and I shared a room with one of my Viable Paradise classmates, Erin Wilcox, but I also really enjoyed talking to new people. I think we all felt we’d made some good friends before the trip was over. Like the time some of us went to Hell! (Spoiler: it was very, very hot.)
(This last one was not Hell but the Tulum ruins in Mexico, yet just as hot.)
We were a hundred and ten writers, I believe, all of whom who had different goals and reasons for being there. One thing I absolutely loved was how although there were lectures and game nights and singing circles and off-ship excursions and formal dinners and podcast-recording sessions, no one was required to take part in any of them. If you wanted to sit on deck four and stare out over the gloriously cobalt ocean while working on your novel all day long, no one would stop you. That meant we all had a chance to get what we wanted out of the trip. In my case, it was a mix of socializing, seeing other places, eating (yes, I really did eat a lot), and thinking about how to refine my craft.
I want to mention, too, that the Writing Excuses team is actively working toward diversifying the retreats. They thanked me for being there, which I thought hilarious; I should be thanking them! But they really do want to make the world a better, richer place through better literature, and that requires a variety of viewpoints. Realizing this, they’ve been seeking out instructors who fit that need and also striving to bring more writers of different backgrounds and experiences to the retreats. I say this specifically because we’ve all seen organizations that offer lip service about being inclusive but then drop the ball in practice. Nope, here it was the driving force: I’d sum it up as “make better literature with lots of different kinds of people, and have fun in the process.” And we did!†
Thanks so much, Carl Brandon Society and Writing Excuses, for having me! It was splendid.
*I read three books while sitting on planes and resting in my cabin: The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore, Serpentine by Cindy Pon, and Updraft by Fran Wilde. I highly recommend all three.
†A tiny sampling of fun moments: getting up close and personal with a coatimundi on the (wrong) way back from the Tulum ruins, then being visited by a tortoise while grabbing a quick Mexican dinner with lovely people. (It ate some of my quesadilla! So cute.) Watching Christina as Mary Shelley autograph her own book with “Keep writing.” Listening to Howard and Dan mock each other. Singing with Ellen and the group. Buying dolls straight from the maker for my nieces. Chatting with Delia and Erin while watching the moon. Going for a dip in the gorgeous Haitian ocean, which was warm as a bathtub and a light blue-green. Talking to Suzanne about beautiful prose over pizza. Nibbling on high tea on a Jamaican plantation with Mary and Erin and a bunch of other great people. Having an enchanted dinner with Peri . . .