Sunday, March 23, 2014

In Your Own Words: Rob E. Boley

It's hard to explain the magic that happens at the Antioch Writers Workshop, so we let AWW alumni do it! If you're anything like us, we know you're looking forward to this summer's workshop. In anticipation, here's a piece by AWW alumnus, Rob E. Boley titled "Your Perfect Offering."

           For fifty-one weeks each year, the beast slumbers.
            Each July, we – the participants of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop (AWW) – gather to make our offerings to it. With its otherworldly body encased in a shell forged from Antioch Midwest’s brick, concrete, glass, and tile, the beast rises. It stretches its tentacles throughout the nearby village of Yellow Springs, possessing the WYSO building, the Emporium, many restaurants and bars, and even the Springs Motel. For seven days and six nights, we sacrifice unto the beast our sleep, our creativity, our money, our time, our sweat, and perhaps a bit of our sanity.
            So, why do we do it?
Why do we keep coming back and giving so much to the beast? Because it gives so much in return. However, the depth of its giving depends greatly on the quality of our offerings. Don’t think that you can return year after year to the beast’s stony embrace and reap boundless blessings. The beast does not give freely. It has high expectations.
There are some simple rules you can follow to please the beast and get the most out of your time at the Antioch Writers’ Workshop – whether you’re new to AWW or a devout follower. Believe me. I speak from experience. On three separate occasions, I’ve encountered the beast. I have offered it plenty, and it has given me far greater rewards.
            In 2007, I met the beast for the first time. I stupidly thought I was attending a mere workshop. Sometime during those seven blissful days and six mostly-sleepless nights immersed in the wonders of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop, I realized that AWW was actually more of a force of nature (for a brilliant account of what makes AWW so special, read Les Edgerton’s blog entitled The Best Writers’ Workshop Ever - than a mere event. It was a scribe’s fantasyland, a rare opportunity to learn about craft, meet fellow writers, and thrive in this passion we all share. I spent my afternoons in Katrina Kittle’s fiction seminar, where she emphasized the need for scene and explained how to engage the reader through tension, tension, tension. After that first year, I began successfully submitting stories.
            In 2012, the beast pulled me once again into its grasp. I was fortunate enough to win the Dayton Daily News/Antioch Writers’ Workshop Short Story Contest. That year, I attended crime noir novelist Les Edgerton’s afternoon seminar. Les gave us a crash course in hooking the reader, barebones outlining, and tightening up loose writing. I workshopped the opening pages of my dark fantasy novel, That Wicked Apple: A Scary Tale of Snow White and Zombies. With the valuable feedback I received, I set to work on some much-needed rewrites. Months later, I received a call from Les, who was at a writing conference in Idaho. He introduced me to his publisher, Aaron Patterson from Stonehouse Ink. I soon signed a deal with Stonehouse to publish That Wicked Apple and two sequels.
            Around that same time, I learned that I’d won another scholarship to AWW 2013 from Sinclair Community College’s Creative Writing Contest. I signed up for Jeffrey Ford’s fiction seminar and spent my afternoons with a true master of the craft. Jeffrey instructed us in pacing, structure, and the metaphysics of writing. I spent the mornings sharing in the beauty of Cathy Smith Bowers’ abiding image, wading happily in Dinty W. Moore’s invisible magnetic river, and embracing the idea of Lee Martin’s lifelong apprenticeship. In between educational sessions and Jeffrey’s afternoon seminar, I worked frantically to apply the faculty’s teachings into the final draft of That Wicked Apple.
Over the course of three summers, I have offered much time, effort, sleep, and energy to the beast, but it has given me worlds more. I’ve learned a great deal about the craft of writing from a diverse faculty of writers representing all manner of genres. I’ve landed a publisher and a book contract. Happily, I’ve also gained the companionship of several wonderful new friends, be it in the form of mentors, writing partners, enthusiastic readers, or drinking buddies.
And this latter benefit – these writing companions – is first and foremost upon the list of ways to please the beast:

1) Make friends. Endure the beast’s absence.
At the end of the week when the beast slides back into its slumber, you will be left with sadness – a hole in your heart. The beast takes a piece of you with it. The only thing that will fill this hole – the only way to keep the dream of the AWW alive for 51 long weeks – is to maintain the friendships forged during that week of delirium. So, during the AWW, be open. Be friendly. Engage your fellow writers. Exchange numbers. Make plans. Laugh often. Buy rounds of drinks (especially if I’m there). Together, you and your new companions can fill the hole left behind by the beast.
2) Stay in Yellow Springs. Embrace the beast.
The beast does not appreciate you leaving its clutches. Even if you’re a local like me living a mere 20 minutes away, I’d strongly encourage you to set up camp in Yellow Springs for the duration of the workshop. You’ll be glad you did. Those few precious minutes of driving time can be devoted to writing or – gasp – sleeping. What’s more, if you stay the night, you can freely engage in one of the greater benefits of the week: hanging out with fellow writers.
3) Apply for scholarships. Submit to the beast.
I’ve won two of these damn things, so it can’t be that hard. Believe me. I work in fundraising. And one of the strange truths about educational fundraising is that it’s almost as hard to get students to apply for scholarships as it is to get donors to fund them. So, research all the many scholarship opportunities. Work hard to tighten up your best story or poem. Worst case scenario, you still walk away with a much better piece of writing.
4) Break free of your genre. Do not annoy the beast.
For the duration of the AWW, you are not a journalist, novelist, poet, essayist, or biographer. Nor are you a reader of crime, mystery, horror, comics, romance, literary fiction, non-fiction, poems, sci-fi, or fortune cookies. You are a writer, plain and simple. The beast despises distinctions of genre. So whether you read/write fiction, non-fiction, or poetry, attend all the morning educational sessions. You’ll be surprised at how fluidly the different voices weave together. I discussed this phenomenon recently with Joy Levett, an unreasonably gifted writer who was also in Jeffrey’s seminar. We talked about how each year at AWW, the collection of faculty make a unique recipe of various ideas – sometimes clashing, sometimes agreeing, but always complimenting each other in some thematic way. This is the beast’s soup. If you do not taste it in its entirety, the beast will be angry.
Above all else, when commenting on a fellow writer’s work, do not preface your statement with, “Well, I don’t really read this sort of thing, but…” The beast does not care what you read.
5) Forget about sleep. Keep up with the beast.      
            Be it morning, afternoon, evening, or night, there’s far too much happening during the AWW to bother with sleeping. Forget sleep. You’ll have plenty of time for that later. Come Saturday, you and the beast can both enjoy much deserved rest.
            6) Be thankful. Acknowledge the beast’s keepers.
            It is no easy task to subdue a beast of this magnitude. So, if ever you have the chance, be sure to thank executive director Sharon Short for her efforts to tame the beast. Planning an event is hard work, but orchestrating an experience like the AWW takes such work to an almost mythical level. And while you’re at it, be sure to give props, hugs, smiles, gratitude, and/or drinks to communications coordinator Tobin Terry, the AWW crew of workfellows, and the devoted board of trustees.

So, that’s my advice, for whatever it’s worth. Right now, the beast lurks in the depths of some dark hole. Next summer, it will rise again. I urge you meet the beast. Make the most of this week. Offer it what you can.
Follow the rules and reap the beast’s rewards. But of course, rules are like those little clips on the caps of pens – they are made to be fidgeted with and eventually broken. So, please don’t feel too anxious about getting it just right. The beast appreciates in the effort. In the words of Leonard Cohen, “Ring the bell that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
            And that’s how the beast gets out.

Rob E. Boley grew up in Enon, Ohio, a little town with a big Indian mound. He later earned a B.A. and M.A. in English from Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. His fiction has appeared in several markets, including A cappella Zoo, Pseudopod, Necrotic Tissue, and Best New Werewolf Tales. He lives with his daughter in Dayton, where he works for his alma mater. His debut trilogy of YA dark fantasy novels will soon be published by Stonehouse Ink.

You can get to know him better online by visiting his website at, liking his Facebook author page at, or following him on Twitter @robboley.

Did you write about your experience at the Antioch Writers' Workshop on your blog?  Send us an email to let us know, and we'll link to it on ours.

1 comment:

  1. What an awesome summary of a week-that-shall-not-be-explained! Thanks, Rob -


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