So we were talking about the Hero’s Journey and ascribing the general arc to the Writer’s Journey, a path no less dark and certainly no less arduous. I led you along my own journey. For departure I told you about my “music career,” and what I think is the inception of my love of story. For my initiation I brought you with me as I took my first creative writing course, and my my earliest impressions of my first and current novel writing group, NCN. I’ll get to the part of my story which the Hero’s Journey would call my return in the next piece, but today I’d like to tell you about my first ever meeting with NCN.
It was almost three years ago when I was first invited to meet with NCN. I had no idea what to expect. I showed up at the appointed place 10 to 6pm just as I was asked and sure enough there was the member who’d invited me (Molly). She found me and guided me over to where the others were waiting. Among them, John and Brittany for sure. Brittany must have been there on time because she’d carpooled with Molly (a few of us are notoriously late, I myself among them, which I know is terrible! I), and John was there early I think to glare down his nose at the world and have a good time talking shit about whatever paper back trail he was in the midst of hiking at the time.
Anyway I sat down, and remained pretty much quiet while the rest of the members showed up one by one. As I’ve stated before, and this is from my perspective, the original members were Brittany, John, Molly, Annie, Ian, and Tim… but out of those six the only 2 founding members were Brittany and Molly. At six o’clock the only member not with us was Ian.
I wasn’t there for the budding drama, but John was playing a tune I’d become familiar with, “It rankles my ass that we’re all here on time, and once again Ian’s jerking off somewhere when he should be here!” Oh yes, NCN can be a place of high drama, for a certainty. Now this is an approximation of the man’s speech, but if you could travel back to that time you’d hear a more colorful and masterfully articulated burst of profanity and irritation the likes of which you aren’t likely to have heard before… I of course kept quiet while a few of the member’s nodded their heads in agreement.
Looking back, I think they were trying to communicate with me. The message within the message was, listen asshole, if you wanna be a part of this group you will be here on time, is that understood? Message received. From the time I joined to the space of over a year I was never late… then I slipped, and I’m still in recovery, though I’ve had a good streak going.
Anyway we crowded into a large classroom and rearranged the tables so that the seven of us could sit in close quarters. In this way the group had the atmosphere of a war council, except instead of scattered maps with pins set at strategic locations, NCN had snacks (fruit and crackers) and eventually stacks of chapters. Novel crafting was their war and I would learn that they were each one of them, generals.
We sat down and they began to tell me about the group, and their expectations for new members. They began be expressing the fact that NCN was a professional development group, and that every member present had the goal of publishing in mind. This was a fancy way of saying, we don’t fuck around here. Now, since I’ve been a member, I’ll let you know that we do have a good time. We do poke fun at each other, quite a bit actually, but our goal is the production of sound writing, and that we place above all else.
Next each member described their novels for me. After that intimidating introduction this is what humanized them. Each member was asked to create and lay a synopsis of their latest work for my benefit. One began by invoking a genre I’d never heard about at the time, steam punk, another smiled folded her fingers together and began a ten minute lecture on the many different types of magic and magical factions in her novel, and yet another began with a disclaimer and a warning.
Through each synopsis there was eye-rolling, laughter, interjection, and clarification. If a member missed something about their novel that another thought important, that other would interject. “Don’t forget about this!” What I learned then was that these people were on the same team. They rooted for each other, and pushed one another to do better, to elevate their work to the next level. When someone wanted to play the modest card and describe their work as something meager, here was the group to champion their cause, your novel is worthwhile, you don’t work in vain! What these people offered one another was week to week gratification, and the feeling that what they did (what we do) is important to at least the people in this room, and that is a sign that it may be important to the folks beyond it too! That is paramount.
About midway through the meeting the infamous Ian shows up. Looks like your average Joe, but he’s got a super human voice with a boom that can demolish stone masonry (he’s loud). He apologizes, shakes my hand, the group informs him what we’re doing, and then he begins his own synopsis, “Clint Eastwood meets High Fantasy.” Again, this was over my head, but I was intrigued. The Good the Bad and the Ugly is still one of my all-time favorites.
Finally they got down to the business of laying the challenge at my feet. For all other members, they let the folks in to try out without any sort of test. Whatever scrutiny the trial members received they received in group, but they only had to want it and they were in for a time. This being the case, NCN received some strange members over the years.
There was a man who wrote and rewrote the same 4 chapters over an over again. Another who wrote the bizarre in the vein of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, not that there’s anything wrong that style but from the group’s description he was all over the map, and there’s probably one or two crazies I’ve never heard about and haven’t asked about. This time they meant to do something a little different to screen.
They told me I had to produce 50 pages, submit it to the group for analysis, and if I was invited back they might offer me a shot at joining. The task didn’t feel impossible, but I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I told them I’d do it.
The remainder of the group was good. Molly read first. She was my teacher, and her work surprised me. Scene one of the first thing I ever heard her read a psychopathic killer was dipping a knife into a woman’s leg and tasting the blood! Yikes! The next to read was John, and the first glimpse into his mind was something one never recovers from. A religious zealot from the time of the the Spanish conquistador Cortez (possibly shortly after) travels forward through time to another galaxy where the British Navy is still running strong… but in space. The zealot materializes in the cargo hold of a ship and is transformed into a pleated human bug-thing that can control the dead. That’s a big WTF, you know!
Needless to say that first meeting was utterly mind boggling. As for the other members, I was impressed with them too, but for me my introduction to the group was dominated by Molly and John… and if you knew them you’d say that that fits their personalities, and there’d be no surprise whatsoever.
Thank you for reading,