Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Writing Life: What the heck is a writers' grotto?

by Kemble Scott

Probably the most popular image of a writer has some angst-ridden guy sitting next to an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts in a sparsely furnished room with a lone light bulb dangling from the ceiling. It's a solitary life, with despair in every letter punched on the keyboard.


Many writers are choosing a different path and gathering into communities. Here in San Francisco I'm a member of the Sanchez Annex Writers Grotto. It's a workspace where ten of us share the rent and have little offices where we come to write.

What's amazing is how we're all writing in very different genres. In the fiction world, we have Sean Beaudoin. He's got one young adult novel out, and other on the way. Shana Mahaffey just sold her first novel to Penguin's New American Library, which will be promoting it to women's book groups. Michelle Gagnon has a new serial killer thriller that just came out called Boneyard.

On the non-fiction side, Michael Chorost won the Pen/USA award for his memoir. Paul Linde is the house psychiatrist who has written about treating AIDS patients in Africa, and he's got another book in process. Alison Bing writes witty travel guides for Lonely Planet. And Raj Patel is the internationally best-selling author of Stuffed and Starved, a new and very timely book about the world food crisis.

We've even got someone in the movie business: screenwriter Diane Weipert. Her first feature film was shown at the Sundance Festival.

Ammi Emergency just joined us. She's known for her short stories and essays, and is one of the latest recipients of the prestigious Stegner Fellowship at Stanford.

And then there's me with my edgy first novel SoMa, and my next novel Phage in the works.

So what happens in our community? Do we critique each other's work?


Do we have workshops? Visiting scholars? Readings?

Nope. Nope. Nope.

Because we all work on such different projects, the Grotto isn't so much a place for collaboration as it is for perspiration. We all come here to work side by side. Somehow, by having a place where creation is the sole mission, there's a vibe that happens. Maybe it's because we're part of writing community that there's a group dynamic that happens. When you're at the Grotto, you feel compelled to write.

Artistic and creative communities have existed for hundreds of year, but you can thank author Po Bronson and his colleagues for adapting it to the writing world and bringing it to our city. Po started the San Francisco Writer's Grotto. This inspired our founder Doug Wilkins to create our workspace here in The Castro. There's also a grotto over in Oakland.

While we don't write each other's books, we do help one another with the business of publishing. My next novel was never pitched by a literary agent, or subjected to the traditional submissions process. Instead, one of the authors here took it directly to his publisher. A few weeks later, I received an offer.

Something like that would have never happened if I was that guy sitting alone in his room with one light bulb swinging over his head.

You don't have to rent office space at a grotto to enjoy the benefits of being part of a literary community. There are many other ways to connect, which can be crucial to a writer's chances of being published. I'll share those in my next posting...

1 comment:

Michelle Gagnon said...

The writers in your grotto all sound so fascinating! How lucky you are to be surrounded by so many talented people- and don't forget to mention future bestseller Kemble Scott :)