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by Anca Szilagyi

Upon turning in to Hedgebrook, we (a poet, a playwright, and a fiction writer carpooling from Seattle) crowed at its green loveliness. A scent of wood smoke wafted out of the longhouse. And, inside, an abundance of welcome, and bagels so good I almost cried.  Outside, I met with my first workshop, “The Funny Bone is an Erogenous Zone,” with Jennifer D. Munro. On the walk to the cottage, Jennifer pointed out a bench with a view of Mt. Rainier, and my poet-car-sharer Elissa pointed out a heap of lavender in a rusting wheel barrow. It was almost too perfect.

Inside the cottage, Jennifer offered us mimosas. “I don’t drink and write,” she cautioned. “But given the topic, I thought it might help.” She gauged our experience with writing humor and with writing erotica, whether we wanted to focus on one more than the other and whether we wanted to get lots of writing prompts or more information about the field. We agreed to some writing and more talking. We talked about the current culture, and Jennifer assured me that my novel (which I worry about, because who doesn’t worry about a novel they’d written?) is a story that needs to be told. And, sitting there among five wonderful, accomplished writers, I felt incredibly heartened and encouraged. The workshop wasn’t all serious, of course.  Jennifer gave tips on getting to the humor (find a character flaw, play with simile and metaphor), and we left with a two-page list of calls for submissions and a packet full of erotic texts, ancient and contemporary, gorgeous and terrible.

After lunch (salad, chili, a deep-dark-chocolate gluten-free brownie), the workshop leaders held a panel discussion. Amy Wheeler introduced a participant-submitted question, in the context of the VIDA statistics: Can you talk about the kind of writing that is difficult for women to publish? Is a name change (A.M. Homes, J.K. Rowling, etc) still the only way to go? At first, the discussion went wildly in the direction of accepting blame (“women buy more books than men, after all”) vs. sharing responsibility, a “heated brouhaha” as Patricia Duff said elsewhere. But after patiently waiting her turn for too long, a woman stood and hollered: “write with your true voice and your writing will find a home.” Indeed, she had hollered, most urgently, and we listened. The brouhaha simmered down. There was talk of small presses, talk of talking directly to book clubs (rather than to editors and sales folk who say what book clubs want), talk of helping each other and paying it forward.

In the afternoon I took Amy’s workshop, “Revving Your Play’s Engine: Action-Driven Characters,” with a sense of urgency about my fiction moving, in all senses of the word. She asked us to describe ourselves using two verbs only, a warm up exercise that was surprisingly difficult and wonderfully focused. I loved, also, an interactive exercise which prompted us to list specific words (“something from nature”, “a repetitive sound”, “a beautiful word”) which we exchanged and used in our writing.

In both Jennifer and Amy’s workshops we were asked of our freewriting, “Was there anything that surprised you?”  What surprised me about Hedgebrook is how much I loved it. I did expect to love it, you see, but I didn’t leave feeling exhausted (even exhausted in a good way, which is what I did expect), but energized. I left with two stories to work on (one already submitted, from the list Jennifer gave us), new friends, and a geyser of motivation.



Anca L. Szilágyi’s fiction has appeared in Washington City Paper, The Massachusetts Review, Western Humanities Review, and elsewhere. Recently, she was awarded a Made at Hugo House fellowship to complete her story collection, More Like Home Than Home. She earned an MFA from the University of Washington and lives in Seattle. More at ancawrites.com.




Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.


Anca Szilagyi
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