Nuggets from Squaw Valley Writers Workshop

Well, folks, I have returned from Squaw Valley, but I haven’t come down from my cloud–the one with a “9” painted on it.

My stellar morning workshop group sessions were led by Peter Steinberg (agent), Lynn Freed (novelist), Ann Close (Senior Editor at Knopf), Amanda Ward (novelist), Louis B. Jones (novelist), and Gail Tsukiyama (novelist), respectively, over the course of six days. The afternoon open workshops were led by Sands Hall (novelist/playwright/musician). I took an additional daily workshop called “Finding the Story” (writing therapy on steroids) from Gil Dennis (screenwriter), and I had my one-on-one critique with Greg Spatz (novelist/short story writer/musician) in the middle of the week.

Then there were the craft talks by Lynn Freed, Gil Dennis, Amy Tan, and Richard Ford, a host of afternoon panel discussions, faculty readings in the late afternoon and evenings, and the nothing-short-of-spectacular Squaw Follies (talent show) on the final evening. Imagine a show opening with a veterinarian-turned-writer/opera singer. Some people lay claim to all the talent. Couple that with other writers who can sing, Greg Spatz and his wife (Caridwen) playing bluegrass violin duets, and an evening-ending band, including the Spatz’s (Greg on guitar, Caridwen singing and playing the violin), Sands Hall and Chris Kiefer on guitars, Amy Tan playing the ukelele, and perhaps others I may have forgotten. The place was rockin’!

The one afternoon and evening we had free, a couple of other writers and I took the gondola from base camp (elevation 6200 ft) to high camp (elevation 8200 ft)–not for the faint of heart.


Another view once past the first peak tower.IMG_1970

At the top, we could see Lake Tahoe in the distance.


A furry marmot checked us out, most likely tired of people wandering through its territory.


On our way down, we stopped at Shirley Lake to dip our toes in the cool water.


We lost track of the trail quite often, and the standard trail map wasn’t that helpful. It was usually marked with paint on the occasional rock, but we missed several turns and had to keep retracing our steps. Lots of scrambling over rock faces during the descent.


Toward the bottom, we finally reached a series of water falls and had to dip our toes once again. Really an excuse to linger in the wildness of it all after sitting on our bums for the past five days. Four hours after we started, we staggered into base camp, thigh muscles all aquiver.

The sign at base camp greats everyone who enters the village. The tram/gondola building is the large concrete structure on the right.IMG_1984

My body and mind are still recovering. Stay tuned for more posts in the days/weeks to come. I’ll be on the road, visiting family during the next 5 weeks, but will try to post more about the Squaw Valley Community of Writers–with the emphasis on “community.”

10 thoughts on “Nuggets from Squaw Valley Writers Workshop

  1. Laurel Leigh says:

    It’s so fun to read about your Squaw experiences and see all the pics of a place I love so much. It sounds like you had an amazing time, not surprising! Greg Spatz is reading in Bellingham this weekend, and I’m excited about that. He’s an awesome writer and mentor along with all the other talent that populates Squaw. Welcome home!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Oh, I hope you can attend his reading! His comments are going to create some significant changes in “Abandon Hope.” Maybe he’ll play the violin as part of his reading. That would be a real treat!

      • Laurel Leigh says:

        The last time I was at Squaw, I was at a party in one of the big houses that had two stories: the party was going full blast downstairs and Greg and his wife were practicing upstairs. You can imagine where a lot of us ended up.

  2. Call of the Siren says:

    Nice post, Jil. I feel like I was there, and I wish I had been there! I agree with Laurel that I look forward to your posts about your Squaw experiences. The lineup of writers sounds great; I hope you received great feedback so that you’ll enjoy a productive fall.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes, the feedback was phenomenal. I think it’s going to be a productive year. Once I return from this extended family respite, I’m getting to work. Would love to have the first draft finished in record time.

      Stay tuned!

  3. Letizia says:

    What an inspiring group of people you worked with and what a beautiful place. I love your description of the “Finding the Story” seminar as ‘writing therapy on steroids’ – that one made me laugh! And how wonderful to hear that there was music as well. No wonder you’re still on a creative cloud nine…. here’s hoping it lasts a long, long time!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Thanks, Letizia! So do I!

      I can’t say enough about Gil’s workshop. His method is uncanny in its ability to lay bare the cyclical elements of participants’ lives and then mine this information for fictional character development.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I could have stayed there another week just to decompress, but it wasn’t in the stars. Instead, we are visiting family. Today, we’re headed out to an all-day swim meet to watch three nieces swim in various races throughout the day. Then at 6pm, there’s the synchronized swimming performance. Some of us will be prunes by the end of the day. Squaw seems like a distant memory. 😮

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