Sunday, August 10, 2014

Writing in Alpine

I spent last week in Alpine at a summer writing retreat, sponsored by the Writers League of Texas. Writers swooped down on the tiny town from all corners of Texas and parts of Louisiana and Oklahoma. They were writers of fiction, non-fiction, memoir, and poetry, and like me, they came to explore their craft--with each other and with the pros who make up the WLT faculty.

This is my third year at the retreat. My sweeties comes with me every year and hangs out while I'm in class. At night we go out and do fun things... for me anyway.

The first evening we gathered at a writing instructor's rented casita and watched the sky turn orange, red, purple, deepening to navy as the sun sunk behind the Davis Mountains while a version of King Ranch casserole cooked in the oven. We listened to the night birds, watched billy goats across the road, slapped at biting mosquitoes, and talked about the juicy alchemy of Alpine on the writer's soul.

The second evening a panel, comprised of the WLT faculty, fed our curiosity with details about their successful writer lives. Although these journalists, authors, and poets seemed to have fallen into their writing careers by accident or the intercession of a benevolent Fate, Joseph Campbell would be proud of their heroic quest to become noteworthy. We listened, infatuated by their stories, and yearned for our own benevolent Fate to favor us with the Holy Grail, a publishing contract.

The third evening three of us drove to nearby Marfa and sat on the patio of the Hotel Paisano where Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, Natalie Wood and other cast members stayed while filming the movie Giant. We watched other tourists and a couple of ranchers and their families enjoy the cool desert evening and a fine meal. We had the restaurant's signature entrĂ©e: pistachio crusted fried steak, garlic mashed potatoes, and fresh string beans. If you want to know how to charge $16 for a chicken fried steak, I just told you. Alas, even though it was past eight o'clock when we headed back home, it was too early to see the Marfa lights.

The fourth evening we met up with 2008 Texas Poet Laureate Larry Thomas and his wife Lisa in the Holland Hotel bar. My sweetie and several writer friends are partial to the margaritas there. Larry, an Alpine resident transplanted from Houston, pumped us for city news while we envied his and Lisa's languid life in the Big Sky Country. Afterwards we went to the public library to hear fellow workshop participants read their work. Yes, I was the designated driver, and happy to be of service.

The fifth night we fretted over our approaching departure. This annual summer retreat is grueling work, but I am so viscerally affected, being among this tribe of writers who migrate to the desert every August, that I feel a deep sadness when it is time to leave.