I got back from Writer Camp about a week ago and promptly got the flu. I shouldn’t have been surprised. They keep you busy, busy, busy during each ten-day residency at Vermont College of Fine Arts, besides which there was a horrible plague making the rounds at the dorm, taking out one writer at a time with a case of feverish, puffy-faced misery. All of that busyness and plague was bound to catch up with me.
But. But! I had a wonderful time. I was in a workshop led by the exceedingly amazing Jane Kurtz—and, when Jane broke her elbow, guest-led by the brilliant Uma Krishnaswami—in which I learned just how hard it is to write a picture book. It’s way harder than novels. For me, at least. I tend to like going blahblahblah, and picture books are not about that. They’re about understatement, and creating interplay between words and pictures. Humor, tension, and even poignancy are found in the gap between the illustrations and what is left unsaid on the page.
Julie Larios made a similar point in her lecture on flash fiction. I had never even heard of flash fiction before. Now I’m obsessed with trying some. Julie compared the difference between a novel and flash fiction to the difference between seeing an image reflected in a mirror and seeing a piece of an image reflected in a shard of mirror. Flash fiction shows us a sliver of a life, a moment, by which the rest can be deduced. Again, what is unsaid takes on tremendous significance. It requires more of the reader, to create a world from a single scrap.
There were lectures, readings, a story slam, and more–but the best thing about the ten-day residency at VCFA is being part of a community who cares as much about reading and writing as I do. These people seem to understand the whole of me based on the single scrap they see in ten days. It’s like a life in flash fiction.