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The Lost Expedition: Session Report and Review

The Lost Expedition

A game by Peer Sylvester

Osprey Games

BGG listing.

Note: The most cursory of historical research went into the writing of this fictionalized session report on the card game The Lost Expedition.

My dearest Slimane,

I cannot conceive of a place so different from Geneva and my beloved Algiers than the province of Mato Grosso. But I speak neither of the tropical weather nor the lush environs of the city of Cuiabá; I refer here chiefly to the commotion that my fellow explorers, Messrs. Roosevelt and Chapman Andrews, have precipitated as we prepare for our expedition through the Amazon interior. We are but three souls, and yet between the two of them they have created a hullabaloo of unloading and transporting materiel to rival arrangements for war. Even the press has followed us from Manhattan–from one riverine city to another–and so perspiring journalists, pen and paper clutched in fingers swollen from the heat, skulk about the teeming docks.

Nonetheless, the papers consistently omit one important detail about our expedition. For we are encircled and enclosed and en-fussed over by an entire cavalry’s worth of assistants—Roosevelt’s standard retinue, it would seem—porters, carriers, raft men,  guides, and the indefensible luxury of two mess cooks. Why, I crossed the Saharan desert with naught but a sulking dromedary and a waterskin!

Men. I shake my head in disbelief.

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Day 4: Kill Your Darlings.

The Parking Lot.
The parking lot. I think that may actually be Anne Lamott in the foreground.

I’m loving the mix of people here. There are teachers, there are MFA students, there are retirees, there are folks like me with day jobs that have nothing to do with their writing.

One great thing about the workshop: no name tags. (You can figure out who the writers are by the familiar way they hug each other.) That snootiness I experience with strangers at (ahem) anthropology conferences — people in the hallway drop their eyes to your name tag, realize you’re a nobody, and walk on — doesn’t seem to exist here.

And can I say that these were the nicest people? Of course, I may have been lucky this year, but this was surely the warmest bunch of (then-) strangers I’d ever met at a conference. And I suspect it had a lot to do with the very nature of the conference and its organizers (although of course these participants were special too): laid-back, supportive, excited, friendly. It’s difficult to be shy when people are so welcoming, and soon you find yourself easily going up to other strangers and introducing yourself. The eagerness is infectious.

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Day 3: The Literary Liquor Store.

Squaw Valley Mountains
Mountain + trees + stream: I saw this view about six times a day.

The clerk at the literary liquor store looked at us fiction writers and shook his head. All seven of us were at the register and between us we had only a measly couple of six-packs and a flask-sized Jim Beam.

“The poets drank waaaayyyy more than you folks,” he said, referring to the poetry workshop the week before. Indeed we had heard tales of drunk driving and general inebriation; whether this was conduct unbecoming a poet wasn’t clear. “They certainly bought more hard liquor,” he said. The clerk took our money and counted our bills. He still shook his head. “This is kind of sad.”

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Day 2: Would You Like Some Tea? I Would Love Some Tea!

mountains
The view from my balcony.

Our first real day of workshop — and that photo above really was what greeted me first thing in the morning — is led by Karen Joy Fowler. She’s fantastic; I love her work, and happily direct you, dear reader, to What I Didn’t See, her alternately harrowing and enchanting new collection of stories. She’s even better in person: wise, funny and totally candid, especially (ulp!) about rejections. If I remember correctly, it was Sarah Canary that was rejected 20-plus times until it finally found its way into the right hands. (Later, Fowler also does one of the best readings of the day, from an upcoming novel: a hilarious and tense face-off in a high school cafeteria.)

We’re off to a good start: a couple of science-fiction pieces — one set way off (Fowler said it was too way off) in the future, another the beginning of a post-apocalyptic saga that starts in the Salton Sea. I dig the fact that one’s a social worker and another’s a lawyer — again, regular folks like me. “Too many adjectives,” the class practically agreed about the latter piece, except that I didn’t. In my head I figure they’ll all slam my piece later for being overwritten and hyperbolic.

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Day 1: Jitters in the Valley.

The view from my daily workshop session.

So I landed in Reno tired, my eyes red from lack of sleep, lungs breathing in stale cabin air all the way, and I have the jitters. I’m anxious and my nerves are jangly, but it’s not because of the din and jingle of the slot machines by the luggage carousels. I’m not jittery because of the long roundabout trip, free courtesy of Southwest — Oakland to Los Angeles to Reno — or because of the even longer trip I did just 24 hours before (Oakland to Austin to Los Angeles and back to Oakland 12 hours later, just to drop off my daughter). I’m anxious because this is my very first writers’ workshop and I’m in the presence of real writers.

A bunch of us workshop participants are being picked up at the airport and so I click on the link in the email signature of one of the participants. (Let’s give her a pseudonym, like, uh, Janet.) Janet is already published all over the place: PANK! Storyglossia! Jitters, yes? I suppose it’s illustrative of my mindset — much of which I’ve already explored elsewhere — that my first nervous thought wasn’t “Wow, I’m in the company of these people!” but “Crap, what do I have to say to these writers?”