A year ago, I attended Wordcrafters' Science Fiction/Fantasy Story Weekend. The instructor was Nina Kiriki Hoffman. We belong to the same critique group and get together to write semi-regularly. She was kind enough to let me ride along with her on the hour long drive, deep into the beautiful forests of Blue River, Oregon. I have two children (they were nine and three years old at the time) and it was a blessed sanctuary to escape to a quiet cabin for a whole weekend with a dozen other writers. Over the two days, I pot-lucked with the other writers, went on a long solitary walk along the river, stayed up late into the night chatting, and wrote a story. Because that's the point of the weekend -- show up Friday, write a story before dinner time on Saturday, and then everyone reads their brand new story aloud.
I'd gone to one similar retreat before -- Wordcrafters' Ghost Story Weekend with Eric Witchey, another incredible instructor. Eric's teaching style is far more analytical than Nina's. For the ghost story retreat, I'd been nervous -- trying something entirely new -- so I had come prepared with a detailed outline for my ghost story, even though I don't generally write outlines. (Seriously, I've started trying to write outlines for longer projects, and they mostly look like a couple of thought bubbles scrawled on a piece of lined paper.) For the sci-fi/fantasy weekend, I showed up at the retreat with absolutely no plans for what I would write.
See, I'd been watching Nina design roll-up sheets at our writing dates. Since then, she's put a bunch of them together into Stone Story Soup: A Story Cookbook. On every page, there are lists of possible character attributes or story tropes, and you roll dice to pick which ones you're supposed to write about. So I rolled the dice, and I filled out a sheet with a bewildering array of ingredients that didn't seem to go together at all. This doesn't usually happen with Nina's sheets, but I'd decided to roll my way through ALL of the sheets, instead of just picking one.
I stared at those ingredients for a long time, trying to scry how they could fit together, and then I just started writing. What poured out of me was a blend of science-fiction and fantasy worlds, inhabited by a character who I filled with some of the fears I'd been experiencing myself. Remember those children I mentioned in the first paragraph? The younger one is a boy, and while any toddler can be a fiercely entitled little creature, there was something especially terrifying about watching a white male stomp his way through the terrible twos. I felt a burden of responsibility as his parent that I hadn't felt with his older sister at the same age. When she threw tantrums, it was horrible, but I knew she'd grow out of it. She'd have to. Society would require it. But watching the news... And thinking of my own father (who terrifies me and has been asked not to contact me)... I could picture all too easily that my charmingly sweet little boy could somehow walk all the way into adulthood with the horrifying sense of entitlement that toddlers naturally feel intact.
The story I read aloud that Saturday evening was "The Blood Portal."
A little over a year later, I'm happy to report that my son, now almost five, is already much more respectful of other people and their boundaries than he was during his terrible twos. And when I went to this year's sci-fi/fantasy retreat with Nina a few weeks ago, I let my emotions pour into a story again. This time, I ended up with a lightweight comedy.