Book Review: Beyond the Cascade by A. H. Jessup; Part One: Writer’s Workshop

In my first lonely weeks living in a small hotel room in San Diego while on my first step of moving to the States after thirty-five years abroad, I reached out to seek the company of like-minded people, specifically writers.  It started out when I was doing a web search for science fiction related activities in the area.  I came across the Match-Up website, which is a national forum to help people with similar interests get together.  Since not much was happening in the realm of science fiction fandom, I checked to see what sort of writers groups might be available.  There were several, it turned out.  The ones with hundreds of members I found either too diverse or intimidating, but I settled on a smaller group of writers who got together once a week in a park in the city to critique novels in progress.

I registered online and joined the group not to have my own work critiqued but simply because I wanted to meet and chat with other writers, and from the beginning I made it clear that that was my intention.  The way the system worked was that people would e-mail sections of their novel to the moderator, who would in turn e-mail them to the rest of the members.  If you thought you’d be able to attend the week’s meeting, you would RSVP online.

I took a bus to the Mission Hills area, and then walked several blocks to Pioneer Park, where the meeting was being held.  It wasn’t hard to find the group of writers sitting around on the grass together.  Some had brought chairs, some had blankets, and some, like myself, sat directly on the grass.  I didn’t attend every week but for a time I went as often as I could.  It turned out to be a mixed group of people.  There were a couple of teenagers, several older people taking up writing as a hobby in retirement, a few housewives, a few freelancers who made their living writing web articles and did creative work on the side.  It was easy to tell the difference between the dabblers and those who were serious about writing and improving their craft.  The dabblers would generally not listen to criticism but try to justify themselves and their writing.  Those who wanted to learn and improve would consider any comments and suggestions carefully and sometimes ask for clarification.  I tried to put in my two cents worth when I thought it might be helpful, but as I said, generally I was there to socialize, and when I could see that someone was not in a position to receive or benefit from what I had to say, I didn’t bother.

I saw potential in several works that were presented in the meetings, but most of them were in the beginning stages.  The writer had only written a few chapters and was trying to get feedback for encouragement, or even suggestions as to which direction the story should take.  I usually told them that they should finish the first draft first, that they shouldn’t listen to others during the creative stage of the endeavor but only during the final editing.  Most of the time they wouldn’t listen.  Creative writing classes almost always assume the opposite; teachers and fellow students rip a story to shreds before it has a chance to be born.

But one work of which I read a few chapters was different.  The writer had already completed the first draft and was looking for help with the editing process.  Right away I sensed potential when I read excerpts from “Beyond the Cascade”.  There was a full story, complex characters, and a fascinating, full-blown plot.  It stood out from all the other efforts presented in the workshops.

Eventually the novel writing meetings moved from the park to another venue, and I started doing more article writing and had no time to attend.  But I kept in touch with Amos Jessup, and we arranged to get together with a few other writers from the workshop to sip wine and talk shop – not critique each other’s work but just talk about writing in general.  This is what I had been looking for and I enjoyed these get-togethers much more than the previous formal meetings.

Jessup had been trying to find an agent to market “Beyond the Cascade” and had been coming close but as yet had met with no real success.  I encouraged him to go ahead and self-publish his work, as I had done with my novels, memoirs, and story collections, and continue to market it, if he wished, in the meantime.  In this day and age in the present state of flux in the publishing world, self-publication with a view to possible future publication with a traditional publisher is a viable option.

So it was that “Beyond the Cascade” eventually saw print.  It is now available on Amazon and other online venues.  I myself was so intrigued by the premise and the few bits I had read that as soon as it became available I purchased a copy.

To be continued…  

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