The members of the Brussels Writers’ Circle are a varied bunch. Prose writers, poets, playwrights, memoirists, screenwriters and bringers of silly bits and pieces, we sweep in from all different occupations and locations every week to share our scrawlings with one another.
In ‘Meet the Circle’, we introduce you to some of our members, hopefully providing an insight into who we are, what we do, and what we think about Greco-Roman wrestling. Well, maybe not that last bit.
This week we will hear from Chicagoan Todd Arkenberg, who’s a relative newbie to the group, and therefore in a good position to give you a taste of what it’s like for fresh members.
When did you join the group?
I joined BWC in January 2014, the very month my spouse Jim and I relocated to Brussels.
What were your first impressions of the group?
I formed my first impression of BWC back in Chicago. Deeply involved with Chicago’s two oldest writers workshops, I searched the Internet for a group in Brussels to ease the transition into our new home. The website was robust – great information on the group and welcoming to newcomers. Three weekly sessions impressed me as a sign of serious writers committed to their craft. A prompt reply to my inquiry was a bonus.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on several projects in various draft stages. I self published my first novel, Final Descent shortly before leaving Chicago. Promotion efforts are complicated by our relocation. A second novel, JELL-O With Jackie O. is in its fourth draft with an aim of publishing in fall, 2014. I expect to publish a third novel, None Shall Sleep, in 2015, having just completed an initial draft. A fourth project, a memoir, is in very early stages of development.
Who are your biggest literary influences? How have they influenced you?
I was an English Literature major in college, focusing on the nineteenth century. While Hardy, Dickens and Austen fed my desire to write, modern readers have different tastes. Current literary mentors include John Irving, Alice Munro and Ian McEwan. They fill stories with rich characters, people with whom contemporary readers can identify. Alice Munro teaches me an economy of storytelling. Her short stories offer brilliant lessons in crafting works complete with mood and feelings using few words. As a writer of long fiction, I’m always looking for ways to economize on words without compromising impact. That’s something with which, I think, all writers struggle. Now and then, I still grab a Classic but consider it a decadent treat like a waffle smothered in whipped cream and chocolate sauce.
Do you have a memorable moment from the BWC that you could share?
I’m racking my brain to find my most memorable moment. Perhaps I haven’t been involved with the group long enough to distinguish memorable from routine. I enjoy the diversity of members and the amazing quality of the writing. I’m impressed with those for whom English is a second or even third language. I struggle every day to write in my native tongue, grasping for the right word. I can’t imagine writing in another language. Perhaps the surprising richness of the non-English native speakers is most noteworthy.
What do you get out of the group?
BWC offers a comfortable, supportive forum in which to hone writing skills. The workshop format, whether I read or critique, makes me a better writer. From a wide variety of styles and genres, I learn what works. I applied group feedback to strengthen a piece, offered for critique. By definition, there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ reader perceptions. Discussions help decipher how writing affects readers’ minds, a key to all good writing. BWC also offers camaraderie. I’ve formed friendships with many members that helped me ease into my new life in Brussels.