Thursday, April 12, 2012

"I hate it! I wouldn’t represent awful trash like that if it was the only book in the solar system! Next!” -Anka Siv

A small backwards village in the Northern Woods
region, Hillbottom hosted the first and only
Hillbottom Great American Novella Retreat/Conference
some years back. It was the first and only because
the lady and gentleman couple who put it on,
Anton and Anka Siv, were arrested and sent back
to Norway for defrauding I and 11 other would-be
writers out of our money and two weeks of our lives,
plus several typewriters that we never got back
and I suspect were put into a car-grinder at a junk
yard that relatives of the Sivs operated down the
street from the conference hall.

If I wasn’t so embarrassed I wouldn’t even be able
to report this account, which I have never before
because of the confidentiality agreement I had
to sign to get my pants back, but I don’t care
anymore and have to express myself come hell nor high water.


The whole package was $1000. Cash only, no checks or
credit cards. There were cheaper packages that included
sleeping in the woods, outdoors latrine, food stamps, etc.,
but I’d saved up for a long time and went for the whole fish.

According to the brochure with pictures of dreamy
people swimming in a lake and drinking martinis by
moonlight that I found under my windshield, that $1000 covered
“two weeks of writing bliss with luxurious suites and loving
kid-glove critiques of your writing to take you to the next
higher level of writing skills and extraordinary vision and
voice, all in one stop. Don’t put off no longer the gift of
self-love and advancement in writing success and riches that
only the Hillbottom Great American Novella Retreat/Conference
can deliver. Personal attention to everything you can think
of related to both writing and having a good, fun and
wonderful time in the woods with other like-minded writers
of your personal creative type. Come with a raw box of "crud,"
leave with a finished polished novella, a top-flight agent
that only the best-sellers hope to get, all courtesy of Anton
and Anka Siv, international duo of reknown and friends to
the stars of the glorious world of unmeasured writing success,
fame and big fat contracts that will make your friends blush,
your family spit out their fake teeth, and other writers choke
with envy. Don’t wait, call today!"

As it would turn out that was just a little bit misleading
because supper and utilities turned out to be extra.


"It’s easier to write in two weeks," is all Anka and Anton
would mysteriously say. "The novella is the novel of the future,
and the future is now."


That part was actually pretty good. They locked us in the
basement with a sack of stale crullers and a vat of coffee
that was so bitter it about ate this guy Omar’s hairpiece
that fell in before he could fish it out with a cruller.
The good part is they only let us out after we turned in
10,000 words a day. And like Anka used to say as she was
running her fingernails through my hair, "It’s all about
the writing, isn't it, sonny boy."


This was set up with curtained booths and you sat there
until the "agent" pops in and you give your pitch.

It wasn’t long before I figured out that the supposive
"agents" was none other than Anka and Anton Siv who kept
changing disguises.

All they did was have different wigs and coats and glasses.
One time all Anka changed was to have a patch on her eye.
Finally I got the nerve to speak up. "You’re the same gal
that been in the other booths. All you done there now is
put that pirate patch on. In fact, I think you’re Anka Siv

"How dare you!" she says in a high fake voice. "You’ll never
get a agent with that kind of nasty attitude! Pitch!"

"What’d you call me?"

"I said ‘Pitch!’"

"Oh. OK, there’s this guy and he has a horse, see--"

"I hate it! I wouldn’t represent awful trash like that
if it was the only book in the solar system! Next!"

And she disappeared behind the curtain. I never did get a
agent out of it.


They stacked us in triple-bunk-beds in one room the
size of a laundry room. It fact, it was the laundry
room. Half of them authors snored so bad you’d think they
never slept before in their life. It was like a rusty sawmill.
I was so tired the next day I demanded a room of my own.
“You’ll never become a author with a piss-poor attitude
like that,” says Anka, tossing me a pair of earplugs
made out of damp wine cork.


This was quite fun even if a bit chaotic and pointless
overall. We basically sat in a circle and took turns
reading a couple sentences until Anton hollers,
"Stop! You’re killing me! OK, what does everybody
think about that particular load of drivel!"

At first nobody would say anything. Anton’s face crinkles
up and he sobs sort of homicidally without making any
noise, and Anka starts walking around behind us in sequin
flip flops and terry cloth sweat pants, cracking her knuckles
and hissing writing sayings under her breath like
"If I see one more misplaced comma, somebody ain't going home,"
and "So this is what we get for trying to help a pack of drooling
near-do-wells write the great American novella."

Finally one gal named Herma says, "Ahem, well, I liked the part
where the man looks out his window and sees that old horse outside."

"Oh, you did, did you?" says Anton. "You liked that, eh? Well,
well. How elucidating. That’s just terrific."

"Well, that’s all that happened so far," Herma says. "That’s all
you let him read."

"Oh, I did, did I? Have you ever heard of a little thing we like
to call 'subtext’? Have you heard of that, Herma? Somehow I bet not.
Anybody else have more Herma-type elucidating comments?"

Nobody was even breathing by then so Anka broke out a jug
of some kind of fermented fig juice and made us drink it
and before long everybody begun clamoring to holler things
they didn’t like about everything until some brawl broke out
and I woke up under the bushes outside with writing sayings
written on my body in magic marker such as" "GOAL! MOTIVATION!

Suffice to say that while we learned a lot of lessons
from the Sivs and their retreat/conference, none of those
lessons had anything to do with writing, except for
the word "HELP!" that we wrote in tar on the roof of
the conference hall in case a plane flew over when
the Sivs locked us up there when we ran out of money for
supper and utilities. They finally let us down although
we had to paint their dock to get supper that night.

Nevertheless, it was a pleasant experience all in all,
and I look forward to many more different retreats and
conferences in the future where I will surely meet many
more writers, authors, and other professional literary types,
including agents, publishers, best-sellers, interesting
celebrities, and etc., because I love the writing life and
about everything about it and I just don’t think I can ever
get enough.

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Kerri said...

I just read this out loud to my mother at the breakfast table and she laughed so hard she choked on her oatmeal.

Richard Martin.... said...

Kerri, tell your mother thank you very much. I'm moved near to tears. That is the most beautiful thing anybody has ever expressed for my writing--choking on their oatmeal.

Writer Errant said...

OK, I'm not sure how this happened but I actually choked on my wife's oatmeal. Well there was some corn stuff too.

Richard Martin.... said...

Now, was that related to what I wrote, or are you simply reporting on a strange oatmeal with corn stuff choking incident?

(Not strange oatmeal--strange incident.)