At the 2011 workshop, I had to privilege of studying fiction with Fred Leebron, director of the program and one of the leaders of the Queens creative writing program. As with the 2012 workshop, we had almost more people than we could handle, but Fred made sure everyone was critiqued. We had so many fresh voices at many different stages of writing. Some, like Cliff Garstang, already had a book of short stories in print. Others, like me, had been writing for many years but still wanted to improve our grasp of our craft. And, lastly, we had several promising beginners who were just starting on their writing path.
Fred has such a good grasp of the fundamentals of the craft. He walked us through places where we could improve our manuscripts by employing new techniques. He gave us a lot of writing prompts to help erase writer's block. I've kept in touch with a few of the writers through e-mail and Facebook.
Dan Mueller's workshop on writing about trauma was a totally different experience. Each of us approached trauma from divergent perspectives. We wrote about genocide, child abuse, divorce, cancer. Each brought to the workshop personal traumatic experiences we wanted to render to readers in personal essay, fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry.
The first night when we received our manuscripts we were all strangers. By the end of the week, we had bonded into a supportive community. Supportive? Yes, we supported each other's writing with solid written critiques and discussion. We supported each other's personal traumas, because it immediately was obvious we couldn't separate the writer from the trauma. We laid ourselves open, exposing our warts and stretch marks, our pain, our stories of deciding to be survivors rather than victims.
We had so many new voices. I want to read the rewrites, the finished products, of each workshop member. We survived. I came away from the workshop stronger as a writer, more centered as a person, perhaps more compassionate towards those who've survived things I can't imagine.
Dan Mueller is to be commended for guiding us through the depths and emotions of a very intense week. I recommend this workshop to anyone who wants to write about the dark places with compassion and care.