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Taos Toolbox 2011, Part 2

Jim And Nan Coffee 500 Wide.jpg

(Part 1 here.) The Snow Bear Inn is really a set of ski condos only a quarter mile from one of the Taos Ski Valley lifts. The units are complete apartments including kitchens, some with single bedrooms, some with two. Jim Strickland and I shared a two-bedroom suite. The kitchen was well-equipped; indeed, far better equipped than we needed. It had a separate wine refrigerator, coffee grinder, four-slot toaster, blender, crockpot, and probably a few other things on the high shelf that we never poked at. Food was provided in the common room for tinker-it-up breakfasts and lunches. Four dinners a week were catered in by a local woman who really knew her stuff.

Jim and I quickly fell into a daily routine: I’d be up at 6, showered by 6:15, and shoveling grounds into the coffee maker by 6:30. Jim got up about then, and I’d scramble two eggs for each of us. By 7:30 we were already hard at work unless someone stopped by for coffee, as Nancy Kress did more than once. (See above.) But even with morning visitors, by 8:30 both of us were reading mail and hammering out notes on the manuscripts up for critique later that day.

By 10:00 we were gathered around the conference table in the common area downstairs, and if anybody wasn’t there by precisely 10, Walter would lean out the door and give a blast on the Air Horn of Summoning. This happened rarely; mostly we were all present and ready to roar by 9:45. On most days work began with a lecture by Nancy, followed by a short break and then either two or three stories for critique. Lunch happened as time allowed, often before the third critique but always limited to thirty minutes. The class day wrapped up with a lecture from Walter. At that point, typically between two and three PM, we would shift into edit mode, and begin work on the following day’s critiques and our own second-week submissions. Some worked in the common room. Most of us went back to our own rooms. (Alan Smale preferred to sit with his laptop on a folding chair between the buildings.)

I quickly fell back into college-student mode, taking notes on a quad pad in my frenetic block printing, precisely as I did at DePaul in 1974. By Tuesday July 12 we were definitely into drink-from-the-firehose mode, critiquing first-wave submissions (distributed via email before the workshop began) that ran as long as 11,000 words. Toward midweek we were also working hard on our second-week submissions, which nominally demonstrated what we’d learned in the first few days.

Peter Ed After Dinner.jpg

Dinner was catered in at 6PM every day but Friday. While not exotic, the fare was beautifully prepared, and included barbecued ribs, coconut shrimp, broiled tilapia, grilled steaks, baked chicken breast, home-made potato & egg salad, and lots of other things I may have been too tapped-out mentally to recall. There was always good conversation over dinner (see above: Peter Charron and Ed Rosick) but by 6:45 most of us to our scattered laptops went, continuing work for the following day. I sometimes kept hammering until 8 or 8:30. At that point I was toast and generally gave Carol a call before falling exhausted into bed. There was a little late-night fellowship over bottles of wine down in the common room, but it all happened long after my bedtime.

Some people managed to get the 20-odd miles down the valley to Taos for occasional shopping or touristing, but my old bones preferred to stay put and rest while rest was possible. The impression I want to give here is that this was boggling hard work, and unlike my Clarion experience back in 1973, there was almost no clowning around.

My camera doesn’t do a great job with indoor shots. For a good collection of captured moments from the workshop, see Christie Yant’s Flicker album.

Next: How critiquing worked.


  1. Tom says:

    Jeff, Thanks for the inside look at how it was at this workshop!

    Although different, it makes me think of something I read back in the early 1970’s by John Steinbeck. That’s when I became at least somewhat aware of how HARD a writer has to work! I have not seen the book since, but it is still available on Amazon, The title is “Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters.”

    However, the cover I remember is this one:

    Finally the Flicker Albums by Christie Yant were really a nice addition to this post and THIS reader appreciates her sharing them.

  2. […] taking applications for his Taos Toolbox SF/fantasy writers’ workshop. I attended in 2011 and it was spectacular . (I didn’t finish the Contra series because my house almost blew up. However, I wrote a […]

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