Hansen: The death of fiction in Laguna

Short story fiction died recently in a Laguna Beach wine cellar.

The city quietly lost another part of its artistic culture when the fiction writers group DimeStories relocated to Costa Mesa. Its last monthly meeting was held Feb. 9 in the wine room of Laguna Culinary Arts.

The reason? Well, like all good fiction, it's somewhat complicated, nuanced and dependant on your point of view.

Known nationally for its three-minute short stories and open mic readings, DimeStories started in San Diego in 2004 and then branched out to Laguna in 2008.

The local group never grew very large — maybe a couple dozen at most — but there was always a loyal core of writers. Most of them lived outside of Laguna, which was part of the problem.

They didn't like fighting Laguna traffic.

"I'd say at least half or more were commuting in and they struggled with parking," said Laguna resident Michele McCormick, a former group leader. "It was just really challenging to get into Laguna. These were the people who were advocating moving it to Costa Mesa. They felt it would be much more accessible and possibly have a greater outreach to more folks in Orange County."

The group drew people from San Clemente, Huntington Beach, Santa Ana and Lake Forest, among other cities.

Meredith Resnick of Irvine was the first leader of the Laguna chapter. While she agreed traffic was sometimes tough, there were other challenges.

"It takes a lot of concerted and creative energy to keep the group running and also keep it relevant and current," she said. "I started it because I felt like I really wanted a community. But some people don't come for the community. They come to have people tell them their work is good. It's that simple."

Full disclosure: I participated in the Laguna DimeStories shortly after it started. I did it largely for one reason: to improve my public speaking skills.

But it didn't work.

After nearly a year of reading my stories, all white-knuckled and croaky, I was worse than when I started. It was humiliating.

However, what I did learn was the value of keeping a story to three minutes — or about as long as this column.

"People bring different things," said Resnick, who often worried about how to keep the group viable. "I wanted to meet other writers and make friends who were writers and do stuff together.

"I always worried: Was there enough energy in the group? Are people going to want to come back? That was always my anxiety — that, oh my god, are they going to be bored?"

McCormick sees the group's departure as somewhat of a failure for Laguna. Clearly, the town has trouble keeping groups active, similar to the way businesses come and go.

Plus, it's likely few if any writers from Laguna will go to the new Costa Mesa location (for details on the new meetings, visit dimestories.org).

"I'm a Lagunatic, and so when I get ensconced in something in Laguna on the weekend, it's very hard for me to extricate myself," she said. "So I'm concerned that I won't be able to continue because it will be hard to get even to Costa Mesa.

"I'm sure it will continue and grow, but I don't think our Laguna people will make it. We really liked having it in Laguna. We liked the Laguna vibe, the artistic community and the creative community here."

Group fatigue is real in Laguna Beach. Many people volunteer for multiple activities, groups and committees. Add these to our day jobs, family obligations, exercise and other commitments. Soon there is no time.

It's like the book you start but never finish.

Even at three minutes, Laguna's attention span is short and fragmented. Maybe we would have done better with a Twitter group.

Surely we have 140 characters.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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