"The Sozopol Fiction Seminar was a long, digressive, often fevered conversation with some of the most interesting and well-read people I've ever met - the intellectual equivalent of skinny dipping by moonlight in the Black Sea. Momentous, pivotal, epiphanic, it was one of the best times I've ever had."
Take a group of writers out of their solitary practice. Put them in a beautiful seaside city in a country known for its hospitality just as summer begins to peek its nose out from behind spring. Fill their time with activity and conversation, and add just the right amount of wine. I had an idea what that would be like, and I wasn’t disappointed. As a sufferer of workshop fatigue, though, I couldn’t have predicted how well our six-writer workshops went; how helpful I found the critiques of my own writing, and how energizing I found engaging with my fellow workshoppers’ stories and novel-excerpts to be. (Nor could I have predicted what a jumpstart the east-to-west jet-lag would be for revising the story I workshopped.)
Diary excerpts written during the seminar and published in Public-Republic Now, as I arrive in Sozopol on a bus packed with writers, translators, amazing people – I am happy that one of those people who spend entire nights around bonfires beating on drums, strumming guitars, howling in alcoholic euphoria, sometimes not drinking and simply observing what is going on; one of those people who seek out wild places along the seacoast or in the mountains and when in the cities spend their summers in the parks amidst fire dancers or hitchhikers who up and go wherever they feel like, perhaps not the coolest of these people, perhaps not the most talkative, not the most free-wheeling, but still, one of these people, namely me, arrives in Sozopol – and as a writer, too. In some way I belong both to the one group and the other, even though the line between them most likely doesn’t exist. It’s three hours into Monday and I’ll be going to bed shortly. There will be more events in Sofia as part of the seminar, but to a certain extent things are already over, which makes me a bit sad. You rarely get the chance to end up in such surroundings. To feel like you’re among people who are on the same side in a personal battle with themselves. Trying to write always conjures up the image of solitude. That’s been said many times before. You’re with a group of people, you’re drinking or talking and all of a sudden something clicks, some phrase, some picture. A mechanism is set into motion and you find yourself in the middle of a story. It may only last a few seconds, but during that time you’re totally alone in your own head. Nobody can enter that space. In an environment like Sozopol you see different ways of achieving different things that are ultimately one and the same. That may sound slightly ridiculous, but that’s exactly how it is. So when you’re actively communicating with these people, you’re trying to understand their stories, because your story is similar to theirs. All of us at some point find ourselves in front of a white sheet of paper with no idea of what will happen. Or whether anything at all will happen. And when that something happens…
Sozopol was a drug, a dream, and judging by the withdrawal symptoms, something of an addiction. Sozopol was red wine, late nights, cigarettes that smelled good even if you didn't smoke, feeling known in an unknown place, laughter, talk of language, translation, writing, ourselves. In six days--far less than that, really--our group felt like family. Among them, I was a smarter, funnier, more profound human being. To be surrounded by fascinating people who also happen to love literature--what a luxury.
I hope that the Sozopol Seminar will remain a place for Meeting and Honesty.
My five days on the Black Sea exceeded the expectations I had set for the writer’s conference in tone, substance, character, experience. My American writer colleagues were super workshop participants, and it was a gift to discover their work, all remarkable. Food, wine, midnight swims in dark water, new friends, reflections on the author’s calling. These are the happy memories I have taken with me.