Summer Camp for Writers | HumorOutcasts

Summer Camp for Writers

August 2, 2018

The envelope was slim, as they all seem to be these days, and so I opened it up expecting the usual brush-off:  “Dear Poet: Thank you very much for submitting your work to the Alice Wambsley 2018 Villanelle Competition.  We received over 2,348,092 entries for the first place prize of $20 and a subscription to plangent voices, and we regret to inform you that your entry was not the winner, or the first runner-up, or even the consolation prize winner, despite its evident merit.”

“We’ll be making haiku out of gimp from 1:00 to 2:00 this afternoon, then . . .”


Same to you, pal, I got ready to say as I slipped my finger under the flap, tore it open, and slowly unfolded the letter, trying to delay the moment of bitter reckoning just a few seconds more.

But then, as at a natatorium, the room swam before my eyes.  “Congratulations,” the letter began, and that was all I needed to know.  I’d been awarded a two-week fellowship at the Zucchini Loaf Writer’s Conference!  My dream of spending sunny summer days indoors with fellow aesthetes had finally come true!

“It’s a beautiful day, so we don’t we break up into groups and go over each other’s poems line-by-line indoors.”


“Honey,” I screamed out to my wife, “I’ve been accepted at Zucchini Loaf!”

“Is that a culinary school?”

“No–it’s one of the top 65 summer writing programs in America.  Or at least the original thirteen colonies located in New England.”

Black t-shirts are mandatory for all campers.


“Where is it?”


“Great!  I can go visit Marci and . . .”

“Uh,” I began, cutting her off dubiously, “I . . . don’t think you’re allowed to come with me.”

“Why not?”

“It’s in the application.”  I pulled out the brochure with the Terms and Conditions spelled out conspicuously in 6 point type on 7 point leading–italic font–and read her the relevant part:  “Writers are not permitted to bring boom boxes, electric musical instruments or spouses to Zucchini Loaf.”

“That’s kind of a strange rule,” she said.

“It’s essential to the mission of writers conferences.”

“Which is?”

“Okay, I’ve assigned you guys to the cabin for coming-of-age/rite-of-passage novels.”


“That participants receive intense, personal one-on-one instruction and engage in the maximum amount of marital infidelity in a context where time and resources are limited.”

“Let me see that,” she said, pulling the acid-free, handmade artisanal piece of paper from my hands–not that she didn’t trust me or anything.

“Look,” I said, pointing over her shoulder.  “Here’s the first-day schedule: 6 to 8 a.m., check in; 8 to 10:30 a.m., swim test; 10:30 to noon, cocktails; noon, group grope/orgy, main dining hall, or ‘buddy-check sex’ for those who have already found their soul-mates; 2 p.m., post-coital bliss/remorse; 2 to 4, arts and crafts.”

I was somewhat gratified to see her face cloud over.  So she really does love me, I thought.

“I hope you remembered to bring a thesaurus!”


“Don’t worry,” I said as I put my arm around her.  “Everybody has to submit vaccination records and a clean bill-of-health–signed by their doctor–certifying that they’ve been STD-free for at least 6 months before they go into the pool or engage in intercourse.”

“That’s not much of a vacation for me,” she said with a lump in her throat.

“Hey–I’m just playing catch-up with you,” I said defensively.  “You get to go off to beauty spas with your girl friends while I stay home, slaving away over a hot stove, making sure the cats’ homework is done.”

She was silent for a moment, then she made that funny little moue with her mouth that I love so much, the one that signals that although I may be a clueless jerk–I’m her clueless jerk.

“I guess that’s fair,” she said finally.  “Well, what’s done is done.  So what do I need to do to get you ready?”

“Let’s look at the brochure,” I said, and we turned to the list of clothing and supplies that every camper was expected to bring.  “Fourteen (14) black t-shirts, five (5) black turtlenecks, four (4) pairs of slim, faded blue jeans, one (1) beret, one (1) pair huarache-style sandals (not to be worn with socks), one (1) whimsical pair of red, high-top Converse All-Star gym shoes.”

“You already have most of this stuff–except the red sneakers,” my wife said, “so you’re pretty much all set.”

“Not so fast,” I said as I pointed to the all-caps adjuration at the end: “WRITER/CAMPER NAMES SHOULD BE SEWN INTO ALL ARTICLES OF CLOTHING.”

“I hate to sew.”

“Not to worry, you can get little iron-on labels.”

“Still–that’s a lot of work.”

“Hey–my mom did it for me.”

“All right,” she said, and she began to busy herself while I packed my footlocker.  Space was tight, so I had to make some tough decisions.  Bring Confederacy of Dunces, or The Moviegoer?   Conrad or Dickens?  Flannery O’Connor or Eudora Welty?  It wasn’t so much a question of what I wanted to read as what I wanted other people to see me reading.

Walker Percy:  “I want you to get this Southern Gothic crap out of your system this summer, okay?”


When I was done I came back into the bedroom where my wife was finishing up with the labels.  She handed me a t-shirt, and as I started to fold it I noticed a safety pin holding a note to the inside hem.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Just a little precaution,” she said, fighting back tears.  “I worry about you.”

I took the note between my fingers and read “Neo-formalist poet: If found, please return to Zucchini Loaf Writer’s Conference.”

I looked up at her and, hoping to allay her fears, said “I’m old enough to go to an overnight writer’s conference by myself,” with a little more confidence than I actually felt.

“You know how you are,” she said.  “Always wandering lonely, like a cloud, taking the road less travelled by.”

Available in print and Kindle format on as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

Con Chapman

I'm a Boston-area writer, author of two novels (most recently "Making Partner"), a baseball book about the Red Sox and the Yankees ("The Year of the Gerbil"), ten published plays and 45 books of humor available in print and Kindle formats on My latest book "Scooter & Skipper Blow Things Up!" was released by HumorOutcasts Press last year. My humor has appeared in The Atlantic, The Christian Science Monitor, The Boston Globe and Barron's, and I am working on a biography of Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington's long-time alto sax player for Oxford University Press .

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