Double Shot

June 29, 2010

For more than a month, the address that the post you are reading occupies has been labeled a placeholder, put up only to announce that I had been admitted to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference for 2010. Today, I update to announce that, in my tradition of naming my summers the way rock groups name their tours, this is the Double Shot Summer. On June 11, to my complete surprise and delight, I was invited off the wait list to participate in the 2010 Sewanee Writers’ Conference, to take place at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, somewhere I have never travelled.

The Sewanee Writers’ Conference began in the 1980s with a bequest from the estate of Tennessee Williams. Some say it sprang up as a reaction to the perceived lack of regional diversity at the older, well-established Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. I couldn’t speak to that. Because the two conferences take place at different times, it is possible for the energetic and the fortunate (in terms of talent, time, and treasure) to do both.

I applied to Sewanee at the urging of friends from an online forum of writers that I fell into in 2008 when I followed hits on links to the pieces I had written about my experience at Bread Loaf. When I was initially rejected by Bread Loaf in 2009, they were sympathetic and supportive, and rejoiced with me when my rejection was reversed. And they suggested that maybe I could profit from a change of scenery, an experience different from that offered at Bread Loaf.

Because I am fortunate in time and treasure — that is, I don’t have a job that presents difficulties in securing time off, and because I strive to have Bread Loaf paid for two years in advance from funds saved month by month — I undertook both applications. And as has been my experience before, the process of applying was useful in and of itself, apart from any outside recognition it might have garnered me. I did new work, I assembled my application packages earlier than usual, and I sent them off before February was over.

Sewanee operates under a system of rolling admissions. Applications are evaluated as they arrive, and decisions are made within six weeks. About six weeks after the earliest date that applications were received, we in the Conference Hopefuls community began hearing about Sewanee decisions. (Bread Loaf still offers Bite Your Nails and Pace the Floor week in late May, when everyone is notified at the same time.) Most were rejections. Six weeks after I applied, on the Saturday before Easter, I got my letter. I’d been placed on the wait list. I sighed, reported my status to my friends, and went on with my life.

Remember my analogy from last year of my involvement with Bread Loaf as a long-term relationship? Sewanee and I have no such history. I wasn’t even a blind date. I was a picture and a profile in a dating site viewbook that did not catch his fancy. I tried not to take it personally, and my chief worry was that I had sent the same application materials to Bread Loaf . If it wasn’t good enough for Sewanee . . .

Then I got my Bread Loaf acceptance, and stopped thinking about Sewanee. I was vaguely aware of their outermost date for indicating one’s acceptance of the offer and sending a deposit, or withdrawing one’s agreement and getting some money back. I kept on working on my novel, more and better, more focused work than I had ever done before. It had been my plan to develop a self-contained portion of the novel and send that as a workshop piece to one of the conferences, should I get accepted at both. Why abandon that plan just because I don’t need two separate manuscripts? I’m still only a third of the way to a complete first draft.

The offer, on a Friday afternoon at about ten minutes before five, surprised me. At first the sender and subject line didn’t even register with me. It took a few minutes for the reality to sink in — I had an opportunity to go to two of the top writers’ conferences in the country. I hesitated for a moment — next year’s Bread Loaf fees hanging on the decision. What if this never happens again? What if I fall in love at Sewanee and seek to break up with BL for good? (JK, JK, BL!!)

I called Ron. I contacted a friend I am loath to bother with anything trivial, especially on a Friday afternoon when I knew he was with friends and I suspected they were at the beach. That he responded immediately, that Ron said go for it, that my online friends seemed jubilant with joy, told me what a Big Joe-Biden Deal this was. Yes! I told Sewanee.

It does not matter that, in all likelihood, I was not their first choice off the wait list. Issues around time and treasure surely made it necessary for some with more talent to decline a last-minute offer. The novel portion I had been working on involves a young woman with a lingering interest, three years later, in the boy she went to her high school prom with. She knows she was not his first choice, and that she fractured the friendship with some ill-considered actions. But she sees an opportunity, and she moves in to make the most of it.

In the two weeks since that day I have submitted corrected and expanded material to Sewanee and been assigned a workshop. I finished the novel portion I was working on and sent that to Bread Loaf so the same materials will not go through workshop twice in so short a time. The manuscript leaves the young woman extending an invitation to the young man for some care and nurture after a stressful day. Should I ever come back to this scenario, I already know that she will not succeed in restoring their romantic relationship.

What will happen with me and Sewanee, with me and Bread Loaf, with me and this novel I have been writing for six (by some counts, eight) years remains to be seen. But I am so excited to find out. Follow me into my Double Shot Summer.


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