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Chronicles of the Garden Variety Writers -- Week #14

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My plan for this week was to have some insiders in the Garden Variety Writers keep me up to speed with the strange turn of events going on there. There's definitely something unusual happening, and I don't want to stop the blog just now when things seem to have gotten so interesting, but my plans have fallen through. The folks I was counting on to be my eyes and ears are no longer members of the group.

I have sent e-mail to several other GVW members, but they have been instructed by Larry not to reply to my email, and most of them seem to be following his orders. I want to know more about Larry. He's a pro writer, yet he seems to be running this group under circumstances that strike me as less than professional.

I have a plan. A stupid plan, but a plan. A plan I can only get away with one time. This is that time.

A half hour before the scheduled meeting time, I go to the Hemby Bridge library and park my car around the block, where it will not be spotted and recognized by anyone in the group. Inside the library, I go straight to the meeting room. In the back of the room is a supply closet, and I move a chair into the closet.

From the meeting room, I check and make sure that no one will be able to see into the closet with the door open just a crack. Inside the closet, through the small opening, I can see most of the chairs around the table. It will work, I conclude, as long as I can stay quiet for a couple of hours.

I make a quick visit to the bathroom, take a sip from the water fountain, and find my way back to the closet. I'm a bit nervous about this, but while I wait for the GVW members to assemble, I drink in the aromas of old books and binding glue. The familiar smells are somehow comforting. I settle into my hiding place for the evening.

Larry and his entourage arrive first. I'll call them Manny, Moe and Jack. Yes, there is something very odd about these new members. Larry hands out some papers to the three of them, and they study the pages.

The other members enter, and Manny, Moe and Jack quietly put away their papers. Larry gives out more paperwork to the rest of the members, and they all read it silently. There is definitely less of the camaraderie I used to see at the start of the meetings. It seems more businesslike . . . and cold.

Pamela and Peter are absent (but you already knew that if you've read Pamela's journal). Also absent are Caprice, Lewis and Wilton. Fabian, Kasim, Hachi, Nettie, and Sapphire are present.

Fabian tries to open the meeting, but Larry jumps right in and takes over. "Did everyone do their assignments?" he asks. Assignments? The GVWs have assignments now? Was that last week's homework, graded by the teacher, that Larry distributed at the start of the meeting? Does he give out gold stars for good work?

Manny, Moe and Jack all nod vigorously and hand Larry some typewritten pages. They are yes-men. Or is it Teacher's Pets?

Fabian, too, seems to have knuckled under in a big way. He produces a couple of sheets and hands them to Larry. This is apparently not some story manuscript to be critiqued, since there are not copies for the other members. Fabian is submitting his homework to the teacher.

Fabian, Nettie, and Sapphire also turn in papers to Larry. Hachi makes an excuse (the computer ate my homework? -- well, not exactly) and Larry sighs heavily. I can't believe these people are putting up with this.

Next, Larry launches into a discourse on "Point Of View." It's reasonably sound advice, touching on the various types of POV, and the advantages and disadvantages of each. This is the same sort of advice you'd find in many books about fiction writing. The thing that disturbs me is that this is not a lively discussion -- it's a lecture. Larry talks and the others listen. Some of them take notes, as if they are in a class. Well, I've already seen that they have homework, so maybe they have exams, too.

Perhaps this is a good thing for some beginning writers -- a formal class in writing taught by a professional writer. And hey, it's tuition-free, unless there's money changing hands that I haven't witnessed. But some of these writers are not really beginners. Rather, they are quite accomplished, and may not be far from breaking into the professional ranks. Is this "class" really what they came here for?

No one seems to object to the lecture format, so maybe it's just me. Perhaps the type of people who would object to this sort of arrangement are the ones who have already dropped out of the group. In a democratic peer group (if this is still a democracy) you get the sort of workshop you want, or you move on to another group. These folks are adults, and if they put up with Larry playing the role of schoolmaster, then maybe that's what they want and deserve. It just seems so, well, unexpected.

Next, the group does a couple of critiques. Sapphire and Hachi handed in stories the previous week, and the group discusses them. In both cases, Larry goes last, and his critiques seem to concentrate more on what the others have said, rather than his own observations about the stories. He agrees with some comments. He argues against others. He's not critiquing the stories, he's critiquing the critiquers. No matter what he says, Manny, Moe, Jack and Fabian concur. They look like a collection of bobble-head dolls, nodding in agreement. Even when Larry is right, this process just seems terribly wrong.

Moe hands out copies of a new story to be critiqued for next week.

The final group business of the evening is the assignment of some homework. Larry hands out copies of the assignment to the group and instructs them: "This is one of my unsold stories from a few years ago. I want you to analyze the point of view and the POV character and tell me how it works or doesn't. If it works, why? If it doesn't work, how would you fix it?"

So now the GVW have their assignment, presumably to reinforce today's lecture. If this were a class or seminar, I might think this was a good thing, but under the circumstances, it looks like Larry has enlisted the group specifically to help with his failed (um, I mean "unsold") work. This is not a class. This is supposed to be a peer writing group. Yes, some writers are more advanced than others, but for the purposes of a group like this, everyone is assumed to be equal. You submit stories to be critiqued, not as an "assignment."

The members take their stuff and leave. Larry asks Fabian to stay, and the two of them remain in the room after the others are gone. My heart leaps into my throat for a moment, as Larry gets up and walks toward the closet where I'm hiding, but he turns away at the last second and sits across the table from Fabian. Fabian says he wants to use some of Larry's ideas in the Continuing Ed class he is leading at the community college. Larry asks if Fabian would like him to be a guest lecturer at the class. It sounds like a sincere offer, but then they start talking money, like, how much Larry will be paid for his appearance. I suppose it's not really that wrong a thing -- Fabian's being paid by the college for his time, so why not an "honorarium" for Larry? It just seems funny, sitting in the closet listening to all this. I can imagine Larry getting into the classroom and taking that over from Fabian, just as he's done with the Garden Variety Writers. I should probably be horrified, but it's likely to be a better deal for the students of that class. As full of himself as Larry seems to be, most of his writing advice is sound, and probably better than anything Fabian's been teaching.

Finally, Fabian hands a sheaf of paper to Larry, saying, "Here's the first draft." Larry asks, "Did you have any trouble with it?" and Fabian replies, "No, your outline was very good." Larry says he'll take a look at it and let him know if Fabian's on the right track next week.

My mind instantly flashes back to the bizarre exchange I had with Larry, where he asked me to write his stories for him in exchange for keeping quiet about this blog. Is Fabian writing Larry's stories now? Has Larry found his patsy?

I want to throw open the closet door and tell both of them what jerks they are -- Larry for foisting his story ideas on other writers to finish, and Fabian for agreeing to do it. Larry's a better writer than Fabian. Does he really need Fabian's help? Can Fabian even offer any help? I don't get it.

The two of them leave, and I sneak out shortly after, before they lock me in the library. Of course, the GVW members will all read this when I post it on my web page (even though Larry has probably forbidden them to look at it) so I can't get away with this trick ever again. They'll look in the closet from now on. Unless something changes, this is my last look, then, into the Garden Variety Writers.

Are the Garden Variety Writers still a true writing group anymore? A class? A collective? Perhaps it's the beginning of a new personality cult. Yes, Larry is a charismatic figure, and the remaining members do seem to be firmly in his grip. The cult of Larryology? I'll keep an eye on this group, if from a distance, and watch with curiosity to see what develops. And if I see a story by Larry in the magazines, I'll always wonder if Fabian really wrote it. Or Manny, Moe, or Jack.

I'll have something final to say next week. Right now, I just need to digest all that I've seen tonight.

Copyright © 2002 Brian Plante Count=6670

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