One Time at Writer’s Camp…..

I mentioned Writer’s Camp in my last post, and I can’t help feeling like someone just went, “WHAT Camp??”  Or not.
In my Junior year of High School – I was 16 – I entered the school’s first annual “Young Author’s Competition.” I entered this dorky little short story called “The Pack.”  I think I even still have a copy of it somewhere. I suppose it was inspired by all of those ridiculous ghost stories  our semi-sadistic scoutmaster in Boy Scouts used to tell us on campouts. The story was amateurish and trite – I mean, if you had made this thing into a movie it would instantly have been featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (pardon another mega-geek reference).  It was about two dudes who go hunting in the mountains of Wyoming and get attacked by a pack of feral wolves. Wait a minute – aren’t all wild wolves feral? Crap, plot hole number one.  I gotta be honest – it was my first serious attempt at fiction, and folks, it blew chunks. As I was writing it, I realized that hunters usually have guns, which are pretty useful against feral wolf packs. Plot hole number two. Crap. I know – they’re bow hunters!!!!  Heh. Ever try to hit a running wolf with a bow and arrow? I think you get the general idea where this thing was headed. Well, crap, you gotta start somewhere, right?

I’ll be danged if it didn’t win Second Place. And here’s the sad part – my naive teenage mind actually managed to convince itself that this thing was good. And no, there weren’t just two entries, but thanks for asking. Actually there were dozens, and I shudder to think what the honorable mentions must have been like. The girl who won First Place deserved it – I had read her stuff and her talent for writing made mine look like the sequel to “Atlanta Nights.”  (If you got that reference you are either a fellow writer or a HUGE nerd.)  Anyway, they had this banquet for the top three winners at the Washakie Hotel. I felt like royalty, and somewhere in the back of my mind, I must have known that the turd I wrote that got me there was soooooooo undeserving of this attention.

Well, you know how parents are. Suddenly I was the next Hemingway. I’m like “Dude – I took Second Place in a high school writer’s competition in Crackerville. Calm the hell down.” Actually, I didn’t say that at all, but I really should have. So that’s how it came to be that I was unceremoniously signed up for Writer’s Camp near Heart Mountain, west of Powell, Wyoming. It was a really gorgeous area. I ended up driving myself up there (about an hour and a half drive) in my mom’s Chevy Chevette – the World’s Second Worst Idea For a Car (the first being the immortal Yugo, of course).

Now I had been to camps before – 4-H camp when I was younger, then 3 years of Boy Scout Summer Camp. Suddenly I was all grown up – driving myself to Writer’s Camp, thank you very much. I must have thought I was Michael Chrichton on Sabbatical. Well they put a bunch of us guys all jammed up in one bunk house and well, not a lot of writing got done for the simple reason that we were too busy acting like the teenage asses that we were. It was in this setting that I earned the nickname I mentioned in my previous post – “Long Johns.”

It was a week-long camp in pristine mountains with virtually no supervision. We had “workshops” that we could go to or not as we pleased. Everyone was supposed to turn in one finished story by the end of the week and I wrote mine in a jam session on the last night of camp. “The Water Babies” was a story about mutant dead babies with gills that swam in the river and attacked sleeping campers at night. Another scoutmaster – inspired yarn, no doubt. Are we beginning to see a pattern here? Everyone who knows me knows I am a total horror movie buff, and you know something? Writing scary horror is a lot harder than it looks. So now I had two turds to my credit. Great.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Perhaps the easiest way to relate what we filled our time with when we weren’t busy – ahem – writing at Writer’s Camp would be to relate to you the note posted in the Writer’s Camp Newsletter by the girl who had taken First Place in that Young Author’s Competition that started all of this in the first place:
“Note to the Guys in Cabin C-1 (that was us): You guys have spent the week with your cookie fights, killer bug zappers, peeping tom telescopes, and bunkbed-busting Superman flying lessons. What’s next, guys?”

I had a total blast at Writer’s Camp – I just didn’t get a lot of inspired writing done, and neither, as far as I know, did anyone else. Maybe that was the point – maybe it really should have been called Nerd Camp, because in the end, that’s what it actually was. Although to be fair, I did get an awesome sunrise trail ride on horseback in – that was probably the coolest moment of the whole week for me.

Back at camp, whoever designed the bunk houses had made a HUGE blunder – they put this cozy little private loft directly above the rows of bunk beds, about five feet above them. They even provided a ladder for easy access. We intrepid few of Cabin C-1 used this loft as a Launch Pad for our Superman Flying Lessons, using the bunk beds to slow our descent. After we turned the first bunk bed to kindling, we decided to turn on the killer bug zapper and break out the peeping tom telescope, which was how we found out what this girl named Bambi (I am not kidding) was using the loft for with her new-found boyfriend. American Pie Band Camp, eat your heart out.

When it was time to return home, I felt a little guilty – I don’t know how much my folks paid for me to go to that camp, but I spent it acting like a horse’s ass all week with a bunch of other horse’s asses and producing a piece of literature that was an embarrassment to amateur literature everywhere. As I drove home, the skies turned grey and it started to rain. I tried not to worry about my guilt or the rain, and instead cranked Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” album in the stereo system I had insisted on (hey – I cruised Main in this car, man!) that was probably equal in value to the car itself. Well not really, but close.

In the end, maybe it wasn’t really a waste, though. I had a great time that I still remember 26 years later. And maybe some small seed was planted (besides the one planted in Bambi’s loft, or so I later heard) because now, at 43, I’ve written several short stories, and a few of them are actually good. I also completed a 700 page novel that I am still trying to get published. And you know what?

It’s pretty damned good, if I do say so myself.

Hey – to whoever might be reading these posts – thanks for listening to my stream of consciousness brain farts. I’m having a lot of fun writing these posts – and I’m gonna try really hard not to get boring on you. If I do, I trust you’ll let me know……..

 

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