Dog Bites

Can Dog Bites achieve a creative breakthrough under the tutelage of a Sylvia Plath-lookin' chick?

Writer Blocked

Dog Bites usually takes great pleasure in The Life -- carrying around business cards identifying us as a "staff writer," dropping the phrase "according to my sources" at the gym, reading multiple newspapers at the coffeehouse while everybody else reads just one. Every time we write "Journalist" on a form asking for our occupation, we get a little thrill despite ourselves.

But families have a way of making even the most contented among us feel like a world-class loser.

We had dinner over the holidays with our revered Uncle G., a major influence during Dog Bites' impressionable younger years. A nature buff, sage, and fixture in the Bay Area psychedelic rock scene of the '60s, Uncle G. taught us -- among other things -- how to reveal a simple pebble's beauty by rubbing it around on our nose, letting our body oils release the hidden colors and patterns of the stone.

Needless to say, Dog Bites was crushed when Uncle G. yawned over dessert that night and said, "Funny, Dog Bites, I always expected you to become a great poet or a playwright. And here you became a journeyman journalist."

Though the conversation quickly moved in another direction, Dog Bites couldn't stop thinking about Uncle G's words. Sure, we did a little fiction writing back in college and, yeah, we may have bandied about words like "novel" and "MFA" for a few years. But that was just because we hadn't found our true calling. Right? Wasn't it? It wasn't that we had sold out. Surely not. Still ...

A few weeks later, while doing "research" at work, we stumbled on an intriguing ad on Craigslist for something called The Red Room Writers Society.

... The Writers Studio program we offer really can change your life. Or, it can at least change the part where you want to be a writer, but you keep procrastinating and putting off doing the actual writing part. We can change that part.

Only you actually writing will get you where you want to go, and we know how to make you do that. As a bonus, we make you do that while serving you tea and cookies at an historic mansion in San Francisco ...

After a furtive glance around our office pod, we clicked through to the Society's Web site. Here we saw pictures of -- we guessed -- the Red Room itself, which looked like the parlor of a Victorian-era whorehouse. For just $140, would-be writers would score a spot in the Red Room's "Studio," where they would be forced to do nothing but write for an hour, once a week, for a month.

"The studio is designed for students at any stage of a writing project, who feel stuck and want to see immediate results," reads the site.

If Dog Bites weren't such a damnable heathen, we might have taken a moment to send a little prayer up to our guardian angel. As it was, we picked up the phone and dialed the Society's number.

We were soon talking to one Ivory Madison, the silky-voiced founder of the Red Room.

"You're not going to get closer to writing by listening to Norman Mailer speak," explains Madison, who is no Norman Mailer. In fact, she's a law student, studying to become a public interest lawyer, who dabbles in fiction with radical feminist themes -- none of it published.

"I started the Red Room to try to get people like me to find out why we aren't publishing. Why we aren't finishing our projects," she says.

Madison's solution? Rent out the dining room of a B & B, charge people admission, and serve as a cross between a New Agey motivational speaker and an ass-kicking personal trainer to the roomful of would-be writers.

"It's been changing people's lives," gushed Madison. "They're leaving their husbands, quitting their jobs, losing 40 pounds -- it's amazing!"

Well, hot damn! Sign Dog Bites up! But first, there was a screening interview, said Madison.

"I don't want any random street urchin," she said.

Dog Bites, who has been compared on more than one occasion to Squeaky Fromme, felt a tad apprehensive. But Madison assured us that mostly, the interview was an opportunity for her to help Dog Bites pinpoint the blocks that were keeping us from being a Writer, and set some goals. The promise of head shrinkage perked us up, too; Dog Bites has been known to pick up and fill out those personality tests you find on the ground, even though we know they're dropped by Scientologists.

A week later, we were face to face with Madison, a Sylvia Plath-lookin' chick with a blond flip and little secretary glasses, at a South Park cafe.

"What do you like to do in your spare time?" she asked, cheerfully, reading off a prepared list of questions.

Cautiously, we told her we liked to make treats -- particularly sweet ones. Detecting from Madison's silence that more was needed, we added that we did six different types of sit-ups, in five sets of 25, every day. Thinking this gave the wrong impression, we carefully added that we didn't own any cute workout clothes. We also noted that we enjoyed critiquing our friends' romantic lives behind their backs.

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