Lynn Mundell attended our first Bending Genres retreat at Synergia Ranch, outside of Santa Fe last September. We asked Lynn six questions about her experience at the retreat and her writing:
What went into the decision to attend the Synergia Ranch September 2017 Writing Retreat?
I’d been wanting to go to a writing retreat for years. Decades! Friends would go, unplug at these places, get lots of work done, and often meet cool people. But I always had an excuse—work, kids, parents, carpool, car trouble, bunions, onions, onion rings, you name it. I didn’t have the time, the cash. (That’s actually true!) Two things tipped this one over into my going: It was in New Mexico, which is my favorite state after my home state of California, and I had heard good things about teachers Meg Tuite and Robert Vaughan. Plus, I’m trying to do more for myself these days since I’m not getting any younger here.
And, indeed, Meg and Robert are excellent teachers and caring people. And, for an entire week of small group workshopping and individual attention (plus some smashing healthy meals!), Synergia is an extremely good value for your money. I also enjoyed a terrific bonus session with professional flash story and manuscript editor Nancy Stohlman.
What are your favorite things about the Synergia Ranch site?
I love the rugged beauty of New Mexico. That big sky just invites you to empty out your concerns and start creating. The layout of the ranch is such that you could hole up in your room, which I typically did because it helped me to focus, or you could work outdoors. I liked the common area for eating and socializing, with its long, open porch. I really liked the trippy geodesic dome; I found that to be an inspiring sort of theatre in which to read and speak and study. I took pictures of everything because I was so charmed by the place, with its chickens and cacti, and my sons later made fun of how I even photographed an old water tank!
How did the teaching materials help or assist you with your writing?
It was confirmed that there are still a lot of flash writers and stories I had never even heard of. Plus, each student brought favorite flashes, too, so I had lots to read. I liked how each day we would study various approaches to hybrid work, which expanded my ideas of what I might try doing, whether it be a different point of view for the narrator or just freeing myself from my tidy paragraphs. Then we would have a solid block of time to write. Meg and Robert ran warm and non-judging sessions, but I also appreciated that they kept us all on track so we could get work done and give focused, productive feedback to one another.
In fact, the learning was so stimulating to me that I didn’t sleep very much at the retreat, which prompted Robert to nickname me “Sleepless from San Francisco.”
Were there any surprises or new awareness you had about your own writing process?
I am a steady and disciplined writer, but I do not always take the risks I need to take in order to do my best work. I once read the gifted flash writer Anne Elizabeth Weisgerber on Facebook refer to this as “going off the chain.” I need to go off the chain and, for whatever reason, I did that at the retreat. For example, I wrote a sort of angry song-story about women’s bodies not being appreciated when they lose their perfection, a hybrid based on a long-ago bad love affair, and a more traditional flash loosely drawing from my parents’ failed adoption of a boy when I was very young. I was very surprised to write about some things that subconsciously I realized I had always thought of as taboo. I speculate that not only calling them fiction but fashioning them into unorthodox “hybrid” forms freed me from my own censor, and being away from my usual writing spot, which is my side of a Queen bed, got me to interact differently with the page. I also responded really well to being free of so many other responsibilities and just able to focus on writing, like a “real” writer might.
Can you share what it is like to be among writers for an entire week, and the community aspect?
I am that odd bird who is both loner and socializer. I liked that I could work happily and for hours in my little Bluebird Room, which I set up with snacks, water, and lots of pens, since I write in longhand. Then I could come out and talk with all of the friendly writers and my teachers. I’ve stayed in contact with a number of folks from the retreat. I feel that the stellar work of my classmates—reading and studying it each day—was part of my education, and I thank them for that.
Another beneficial aspect of the socializing was the “shop talk” in which people swapped lit mags where they were sending their stories as well as potential publishers accepting flash manuscripts, since one day—I don’t know where or when or how—I would very much like to have my own collection out there in the world. On the last day, a bunch of us who were flying out later went to the totally awesome George R.R. Martin interactive museum called Meow Woof in Santa Fe, which was the perfect ending to a creative and magical week.
Since the workshop, you have had some success with publishing the work you produced at Synergia Ranch. Can you share the links to some of these pieces?
I have been really fortunate in placing the pieces, except for one—the hybrid about the bad love affair. I need to face rewriting that one!
“Let Our Bodies Be Returned to Us,”Booth(online and in the forthcoming print Booth 12)
“Clay,”The Lobsters Run Free, Bath Flash Fiction, Volume 2 (short-listed for prize; sorry, you have to buy the anthology to read this one!)
“Our Beds,”Literary Orphans
“The Amazing Sleepless Boy,” apt (forthcoming, May 28, 2018)
Lynn’s Photo captions from Synergia Ranch:
This lizard lived on my room’s screen door at Synergia Ranch. Sometimes if I got stuck on a story, the temperature rose, and I was hallucinating, I would talk to it. I got some pretty questionable writing advice.
I Heart my classmates! Here are just a few of my Synergia soul mates. Left to right: Jayne Martin, Ken McPherson, Levi Andrew Noe, Aaron Dietz, and me, goofing around outside Meow Woof in Santa Fe before we all headed home.
Join us at Synergia Ranch when we head back, April 27- May 3, 2018! For more information visit our Bending Genres Retreat page here: https://bendinggenres.com/workshops-and-retreats/.