Archive | Writing Retreats

Weekly Round-Up: Summer’s End

Let us have peace

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Summer’s End” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

And we are back. After taking some much-needed time away from the blog, we are now ready for the final weeks of summer and the beginning of the fall season of our literary programming, with such events as Brian Castner’s workshop in Buffalo, NY and Matt Gallagher’s workshop in Brooklyn, NY scheduled to begin in September. Despite being ‘offline’ for a bit, we didn’t take any time away from producing some really amazing literary events. As many of you probably saw through our social media channels, we partnered with Marlboro College to bring more than 20 writers up to Vermont for a week of writing workshops, literary seminars, readings, and author Q&A’s.

The Summer Writing Intensive was a major success, for sure. But we could not have accomplished such an amazing week without the tremendous support of the Marlboro staff and faculty, every single one of the participants, and the generous time and knowledge of our talented guest lecturers. To everyone who made this year’s Summer Writing Intensive possible: we extend our most sincere and humble, thank you.

This summer has brought a series of tragic events around the globe. Because we are living through such turbulent times, I often feel little in the way of certainty. The only thing I know for certain is this summer – unlike the many other summers I have known before it – has served as further evidence to the increased need for those who strive to make sense of all this madness. If this summer’s global tragedies have taught me anything it is that we must continue to write. We must continue to share our stories. We must continue to observe. We must continue to search for meaning within all of this madness. Perhaps, even more than all of that, we simply must continue.

Here we go.

  1. Considering recent events, I feel compelled to share a piece that was published in May’s Vanity Fair on the disappearances of Austin Tice and James Foley.
  2. Lea Carpenter has an excellent short story in The Daily Beast, which is both magnificently structured and an intimate exploration of the untold consequences of love during wartime.
  3. For The New York Times, Rivka Galchen and Zoe Heller weigh in the somewhat exhausted debate of whether or not writing can be taught. And on the opposite side, maybe even an often-neglected side of that tired argument, writer Nick Ripatrazone published a timely article in The Millions on the need for teaching the business side of creative writing.
  4. Elliot Ackerman explained to NPR what being a man means to him: It’s protecting what you love, even though that notion is often at odds with the work of being a servicemember.
  5. For Vanity Fair, a combat veteran examines the dramatic events that took place in Ferguson, MO.
  6. Michael Pitre’s debut novel, Fives and Twenty-Fives, received a rather positive review this weekend in The New York Times. Well worth the read.
  7. For The Washington Post, Matt Gallagher reviewed Robert Timberg’s Blue-Eyed Boy: A Memoir.

Have a great week.

–Brandon

Weekly Round-Up: Summer Writing Intensive

Summer Writing Intensive

Photo Credit: Marlboro College

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Summer Writing Intensive” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

We’re happy to announce that we finalized a partnership with Marlboro College – my alma mater – to provide veterans and civilians with an opportunity to study writing for a week in a community of literary-minded folks. We are honored to co-sponsor the Summer Writing Intensive, and it means a great deal to us to have it held at Marlboro College, which had a significant influence in the founding of Words After War. Plus, for those of you who have never been, Vermont is paradise in August.

A few of us started this journey a little over a year ago, and we are now a community. This week in August will serve as validation that our literary community is both growing and also believes immensely in our mission. This will be an amazing opportunity for everyone, no matter your writing or education level. We hope to see many of you there, especially our military families.

Read our press release here, and find out more below:

Apply Now!

About the Summer Writing Intensive

Over the course of five days (Sun, Aug 3 – Fri, Aug 8, 2014), you will join a group of writers – professional writers, professors and other students interested in honing their craft – on the Marlboro Campus. You will participate in workshops during the day, and in the evenings you will write, talk and have fun with other writers. You will live in a dorm on Marlboro’s beautiful southern Vermont campus in the company of other program participants. Meals are included and served in the dormitory.

Workshops will include:

  • discussions of literature;
  • readings and workshops with professional writers of fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry;
  • workshops to develop critiques of your own work;
  • sessions on drafting and editing with college faculty and other program participants.

Cost: The cost of the program, which includes all workshops, lodging and food, is $500.

In the spirit of Marlboro’s founders, all veterans, military spouses, gold star children, as well as those currently serving on active, reserve or guard duty are eligible for a Veteran’s Writing Grant which will entitle them to attend the Intensive at no cost.

Limited scholarships for non-veterans are also available.

The Veteran’s Writing Grant form and the non-veteran financial aid form is now available.

About Marlboro College

The Summer Writing Intensive grows out of Marlboro College’s fundamental commitment to writing. Marlboro was founded in 1946 by veterans returning from World War II who wanted to create a different kind of college—one where students were not only participants but also active contributors to the academic and community life of campus. Writing is at the core of the curriculum these veterans designed: Marlboro’s Clear Writing Requirement stems from the belief that clear writing leads to clear thinking, and means that clear writing in all its forms is a constant focus in the intellectual, political and social life of the Marlboro Community.

Learn more about the Writing Intensive’s lead faculty member, John Sheehy, and the application process for veterans hoping to complete a degree at Marlboro.

About Words After War

Co-founded by Brandon Willitts, veteran, writer and Marlboro alum, Words After War is a literary organization with a mission to change the national conversation around veteran issues by including civilians in that conversation. Through high-quality literary programming, Words After War provides veterans and civilians with opportunities to examine conflict and war through the lens of literature.

Questions? Contact the Ariel Brooks, Director of Non Degree Programs at abrooks@marlboro.edu or 802-451-7118.

Here we go.

  1. Elliot Ackerman penned an excellent piece for The Daily Beast on a Marine combat veteran who went to Syria and disappeared. According to Ackerman, groups of veterans are returning to the Middle East drawn by nostalgia for war, and for some of them it has brought about significant consequences for themselves and their families.
  2. Over on The Atlantic, you can see powerful images from WWI. Please be warned, many of these photos are graphic depictions of war violence.
  3. Military Times published a rather damning article on how now-retired Army Gen. David Petraeus misplaced the file of Army Capt. William Swenson, who received the Medal of Honor last year. And according to the Army’s Inspector General, Petraeus also recommended that the honor be downgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross.
  4. The Daily Beast has an exclusive article on how the CIA is dismantling its Afghan counterterrorist forces in the southern and eastern parts of the country. The tragic part of this situation is that we already know how it’s going to end. If you haven’t read it already, I highly recommend Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars for an in-depth understanding of the CIA’s involvement in Afghanistan from the late-1970’s to the early-2000’s.
  5. For the past few weeks, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) has been embroiled in controversy, leading some VSOs to call for the resignation of VA Secretary Shinseki. Jake Siegal wrote a terrific piece on the scandal for The Daily BeastPolitico ran an op-ed of support for Shinseki; and MSNBC got a smart take on the scandal by our friend, Ann Weeby.
  6. Adam Weinstein wrote a sad post for Gawker on Facebook’s refusal to remove the grisly series of photographs a Marine veteran had taken of his suicide, despite several requests from his friends and veterans’ organizations.
  7. Barnes and Noble Review published an interesting interview between the talented literary siblings, Benjamin and Jennifer Percy.

Have a great week.

–Brandon

Weekly Round-Up: Interlochen

Peter van Agtmael

Photo Credit: Peter van Agtmael

Welcome to the Words After War Weekly Round-Up: “Interlochen” Edition. In this space we share links relevant to our mission of improving the military-civilian dialogue through high-quality literary programming.

Big news this week: I drank my first iced coffee of the year. I’m going to enjoy every bit of these warmer days, and ready myself for the endless days of summer.

Speaking of summer, we are planning some amazing programs in a few different places. In NYC, there will be a June workshop for women – both vets and civilians – taught by Jen Percy and Mariette Kalinowski. Stay tuned for more info on that. In Vermont, we are in the planning stages of our most ambitious venture yet: a weeklong writing seminar during the first week of August. Details are still being finalized, but there’s much more to come on this soon.

In Michigan, join Words After War instructor Matt Gallagher at the Interlochen Writers Retreat during the second week of June. The esteemed Interlochen Center for the Arts was founded in 1928 and is located in northwest Michigan. Spend four days writing new material, attending craft talks by award-winning faculty, and enjoying lakeside lunches and evening readings, all while making connections in the literary world that will last for years to come.

Matt will be teaching “From Blog to Book,” a course designed to help students develop their blogging voice and sense of unified narrative, expanding their writing skill-set with the long-term purpose of turning their blog entries into book-length manuscripts.

The Writers Retreat runs from Monday, June 16 to Thursday, June 19, 2014. Registration information can be found here.

Jen Percy and Katey Schultz have both previously taught at Interlochen, so there’s a nice lineage of sorts for Words After War. If you have the vacation time available, you should spend it writing with Gallagher in Michigan.

Here we go.

  1. A decade after Pat Tillman’s death, many questions still remain unanswered. In this two-part video series for ESPN’s Outside the Lines, two of the soldiers present that day speak about the friendly fire incident that led to one of the most controversial moments in the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
  2. Stars and Stripes reported this week that special ops troops are committing suicide at a record pace. Adm. William McRaven, commander U.S. Special Operations Command, has stated that he’s making this his number one priority.
  3. In The Daily Beast, you can read an excerpt from the talented Jess Ruliffson’s “Invisible Wounds,” a graphic novel of illustrated first-person accounts from wounded veterans.
  4. The last few weeks have been an exercise in restraint, as more than a few articles were published that painted veterans with rather broad and inaccurate brushstrokes. As a response, the New York Daily News did a pretty good job at trying to undo the smear campaign brought on by the opinion pages of Guernica, The Nation, New York Times, and many others.
  5. For The Daily Beast, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, marine vet and writer, examines why the PTSD media narrative after Fort Hood has only divided us as a nation.
  6. For The New Yorker’s “Page-Turner” blog, James Salter remembers Peter Matthiessen.
  7. Syria is the most dangerous place in the world for journalists. In the May edition of Vanity Fair, James Harkin reports on the disappearance of journalists – Austin Tice and Jim Foley – who went missing in 2012 while reporting in Syria.

Last word: If you are looking for a great new book to buy, check out Peter van Agtmael’s Disco Night Sept 11, a powerful book of photographs and vignettes detailing the human cost of war. And if you are in Brooklyn this Thursday, 4/24/2014, check out “Women and War: Helen Benedict, Cara Hoffman, and Katey Schultz,” a discussion at WORD bookstore.

Enjoy your week.

–Brandon

Waiting for McInerney

adelphi hotel

Photo credit: Flickr/Dougtone

Philadelphia was closing in on me. Parking tickets turned into court notices which turned into a fleet of traffic police and tow trucks looking to clamp a boot on my wheel. I came across the Writers Institute while tooling around the Internet at work. It took place through the month of July at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. The list of instructors was daunting. Intermediate Writing was led by Jay McInerney, the novelist and wine critic. I wondered if I could be considered an “Intermediate Writer.” I was young and inexperienced but I felt I had important things to say. I wrote about the groggy heat of my attic bedroom, the bottles of tonic water that littered the floor, my stack of sticky, dog-eared yearbooks.

I usually wrote on the train on my way to work. I had recently met some Penn students and they seemed like an interesting topic, but I was still mired in the research phase, staying out late at night, going to the bathroom when the bill came, helping them finish whatever was around. I had an idea for a modern re-imagining of The Decameron, taking refuge in a Gothic frat house while a plague ripped through the city, entertaining girls vetted via social media, resigned to the task of reinventing humanity after we dared to peek our heads out the heavy doors and surveyed the blasted scenery.

I had taken a writing class before. I enjoyed the way the group grew around our shared vulnerabilities. The tip-toeing around truly atrocious stuff, the refusal to indulge the cocky resident genius who already had a story published, the way we hung on the words of our teacher, even though none of us had read her books.

I packed up my car and what I couldn’t cram in the trunk I left on the sidewalk.

Skidmore is hidden from the road, surrounded by woodlands. The buildings are largely modern and low. It maintained an equine feel, a lingering delicacy that I attributed to its history as a posh women’s college. My dorm was in the tallest building on campus: The Tower. Bathrooms were unisex. There was a lounge on the top floor, offering panoramic views of the countryside and the town. I moved into my room quickly. A hand-me-down laptop, wrinkled Oxfords, a handle of Dewar’s, a sleeve of plastic cups. I cranked tunes, propped the door and searched around for an ice machine. In between colleges at the time, I tried to look casual.

Sophomore year was beginning two years behind schedule, after a disastrous freshman experience in New Orleans. Down there I followed every lead into dark corners and came up short on friends and low on credits. The muddy grime of the city was still stained on some of my clothes. I was forced back home, worked menial jobs and volunteered in hopes of buffing my tarnished resume. Jay could fix it, had fixed it, would show me how to live the life and wake up early the next morning without guilt or handcuffs. Jay was going through a transition as well. That summer he had split from his girlfriend, a South African publicist. He had supposedly just finished a book that was going to prove to the literary world his relevance as a post-9/11 novelist. I assumed that he was looking forward to a relaxing month upstate as much as I was. I imagined running into him on campus, maybe in the fitness center steam room, before relocating to a watering hole to clink glasses, exchange notes, plot and scheme.

The campus was quiet as writers reviewed their drafts. Classes started in two days. I decided to go and see the town.

Matthew was from London. He had graduated from Skidmore a month earlier. His friend Bailey was a junior and she had a summer job in a lab, dissecting the brains of fetal animals. We talked about Jay. Matt had met him once at the track. He said Jay loved Saratoga, the horse races, Caroline Street, the old hotel. They shared a few apocryphal stories–sleeping with students, doing drugs with students, breaking into the college pool with students–you know, classic McInerney.

The story I had planned to submit for workshop was slim and so I spent the night before our first class trying to punch it up, adding dialogue and a mysterious man-about-town father figure. I found a ‘80s mix CD in an old Case Logic and played it on my sister’s computer. I walked around the campus at dusk, keeping my eye out for a suave guy in a summer-weight blazer.

My class was scheduled for 3 PM and so at 2:30 the next day I found a seat on a wooden bench outside our building and tried to look busy with registration papers and cigarettes. Three o’clock came and went and there was no sign of our instructor. I walked upstairs to where our class was supposed to meet and found it empty, humming with florescent lights. I went back to my dorm room and illegally downloaded an “Enjoy the Silence” trance remix.

That night there was a reading by an African poet and afterwards there was a reception in the student center. I dressed up and walked down there, shaking my head and smiling. Jay was late, but I understood. An early morning at Elaine’s, a demanding new fashionista, a forgotten deadline. I had found a kindred spirit, a literary outlaw, the Peter Pan of American letters. I laughed to myself. Classic McInerney.

The reception had an open bar and so I met some more students. A girl from Florida, a brooding guy named Ben, a community college English professor from New Jersey named Dennis who spoke openly about how excited he was to be away from his wife. We traded more Jay stories. Ben pointed out a girl from his floor who told everyone that she and Jay were an item, that he had been delayed in Nashville and was driving up from New York that night. I eyed my competition closely. I figured soon I’d have my own hangers-on, after Jay took me under his wing and got my as-yet-unwritten novel published.

I drank fast. The reception ended and we went downtown to the grand hotel. We milled about the back patio, talking, drinking, waiting. By 2 AM I was discussing rat brains with Bailey. I told myself that I had missed Jay’s arrival somehow in the crowd. Our next class was Friday. I checked Page Six the next morning, after I woke up on the top floor of The Tower, where I guess I was keeping watch, like a love-sick light-house operator.

By Friday everyone knew. Jay had met someone special. Again. He would not be able to make it up this summer, but he wished us the best. There was a plug somewhere in the email for his upcoming book, The Good Life. Details were scarce, rumors flew. Our new teacher, a pleasant lady whose name I see from time to time in journals and magazines, struggled to get us caught up to speed. I deleted the changes I had made to my story. I finished the bottle of Dewar’s with Dennis and thought about visiting Bailey in the lab.

At the end of the summer I received a phone call from an uncle. He had heard some scuttlebutt, thought I might be interested. Jay was marrying Anne Hearst; socialite, publishing heiress, a friend from the scene. The good life had finally arrived. I thought back on my summer–horses, martinis, literary conversation–and I hoped Jay might recognize it from his own hazy memories, back in the good old days before the game changed and he got tied down.

-Mike

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A Writer Retreats to Yaddo

writing retreats and tiny homes

A Tiny Retreat on Wheels

A writer meditates on walks though Yaddo, designing a writing retreat, the overlooked beauty of tiny homes, and how seeing your literary idols drinking martinis can make one a more productive writer.

I lived in Saratoga Springs for a year after college. In between working the copy desk at the newspaper and befriending bartenders along Caroline Street, I spent a lot of time at Yaddo, a residential retreat for artists and writers. I’d walk past the horse track, through the rusty gate, and down the long driveway, glimpsing the massive stone mansion through the trees. A small chunk of the property was open to the public. There was a fountain, a bench, and the Yaddo Gardens. The place would be imposing even if you were unaware of its role in American Letters, a sort of literary Hogwarts. I was never completely comfortable there, but I was an intruder, a potential distraction, a tourist, a pilgrim.

I have no way of knowing which writers were there during the year I spent wandering the grounds, but I certainly spent a lot of time wondering and imagining chance encounters. I asked along Caroline Street, but those conversations must have been protected by writer-bartender privilege. I did once see an author I greatly admire at a local martini bar, chatting with two beautiful women, which didn’t make my approach any easier. I let them finish their drinks and watched them leave with flushed cheeks.

I resolved to go straight home and get cracking on whatever creative project was most likely to result in threesomes and prestigious residencies. Until then, though, I have to be content with insider articles and novels like Jonathan Ames’ Wake Up, Sir!.

In many ways, those walks through Yaddo were an inspiration for Words After War. A very early vision of our organization involved a cluster of cabins in the woods behind my parents’ house. That plan is on hold (for now).

The genesis of our idea remains the same: provide writers with the time, space, and support they need to tell their stories most effectively. We just call it something else. It is our hope that Words After War will become a stepping stone to places like Yaddo, a key to all the mysteries and opportunities they contain.

–Mike