Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A New Montparnasse

No subject is terrible if the story is true, if the prose is clean and honest, and if it affirms courage and grace under pressure.  

-Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris

Yes, we even wear berets, sometimes. Deal with it.
I'm not foolish enough to compare myself to any great writer. I'm not foolish enough to compare myself to any hack writer, either. I'm well aware that I'm a wannabe professional who thinks he's a decent enough storyteller.It's up to history and publishers then the general public to decide whether or not I'm ANY kind of storyteller. What follows is a sort of meditation on the group that's on the web as The Confabulator Cafe, where I'm one of two editors and several bloggers on the site.

My writer's group has been meeting once a month (off and on) for nearly three years now. In the middle of last year we decided that what the group needed to do, at last, was grow up a little and become what other writing groups like The Dead Horse Society are: valuable critique and support groups for writers who are serious about writing. We didn't want to emphasize turning pro, only being serious about writing. Whether fiction, non-fiction or technical we felt like we could help each other grow at the craft we had chosen.

Several folks have come and gone including one of the founders of the feast. I'm glad to say that this current incarnation counts among it several very good and trusted friends whose work I've been reading since the end of NaNoWriMo in November. One of us is about to be published (not me, not yet) by a subsidiary of a well-known house. Others of us have had smaller works published in various places, too. Several of us have participated in NaNo multiple times and are just getting comfortable with our voices and the genres we want to write in. This group is very much in the toddler stage of becoming a Thing That Matters.

It's rare that a group of individuals with so much raw (and often unfocused) talent get together in one physical place like that any more. It happens, though. And despite me just asserting otherwise in this very paragraph that it's rare, you can find quite a few of them with a reasonably simple internet search.

But that's what makes it easy to find them though no less rare. It's much, much harder to actually assemble a group like that. I've been in bands back in the old days before CDs were readily available to burn for oneself and this group feels to me like a really good band with a lot of potential. We're all contributing material to the record (the Cafe blog) and writing our own material that we're trying out in rehearsals. This isn't just masturbatory self-congratulation, either. We're reading raw, Zero Draft works where there's no hiding emotions and feelings about the things that inspire us. We call each other out on stuff, we laugh and we drink. Even though we're not anywhere near the talent level of the Parisian expats of the 20s (the so-called Lost Generation) in the Montparnasse Quarter, there are enough similarities that it doesn't hurt to say it out loud.

Is it arrogant of me to compare us to Hemingway, the Fitzgeralds, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and James Joyce? Sure it is. But Hemingway would respect me standing up to him as long as I'd acknowledge that he was the better writer and maybe the better man. (Which I know isn't true, but I'd be willing to let him delude himself if I ever got the chance to meet him.) Pound and Joyce would be drunk in a corner while the Fitzgeralds argued and Gertrude Stein might ask to read what we've got.

Yes, I've seen Midnight in Paris. I think it's a brilliant movie and the portrayals of some of those expats is a scream. But that's not why I'm comparing us to the Montparnasse group of the 20s. No, the comparison is simply that a group of dedicated, supportive friends can make one's creative endeavors better. That's what happened in Paris and that's what's happening in Lawrence. The Confabulators are among my best friends and you're going to hear about us. It's early in the life of the group so it may change as we go along, but it may not. Check out the blog, leave a comment and when we start telling you where to find all our books, remember this.

I leave you with a Hemingway quote from the film:
Yes. It was a good book because it was an honest book, and that's what war does to men. And there's nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully. And then it's not only noble but brave.