The crucible


Paula’s Post #28


Pronunciation: /ˈkruːsɪb(ə)l/
Definition of crucible


  • a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures:the crucible tipped and the mould filled with liquid metal
  • a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new:their relationship was forged in the crucible of war
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘crucible’?For me, Arthur Miller’s Tony award winning play about the Salem witch trials immediately springs to mind. Miller apparently wrote the play out of concern for the over-zealous persecution of alleged communists by Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, the play his allegorical response to the mass hysteria spreading like a cancer through post-WW II America.

But this week, Silk’s post, Out of the Frying Pan… reminded me that “The Crucible” is also a pretty apt metaphor for our upcoming, marathon critique group session. Silk’s deliberate use of that deliciously trite idiom was intended to alert our followers to the fact that we’re entering a new phase, that we’re about to move from ‘the frying pan into the fire’.

Open a window, baby, someone just turned up the heat!

Some think us mad to have embarked on this crazy five month challenge in the first place. But hey, in retrospect, the ‘writing’  was the easy part, a mere prelude of what’s to come. The curtain has closed on ‘Act One’ and we’re about to embark on ‘Act Two’, or what I’ve fondly started to refer to as ‘The Crucible’.

Crucible or Cauldron. A week long, marathon critique session where each of us will attempt – and I use that word deliberately – to provide in-depth, kind but constructive criticism to the other four members of our group.

Tempers may flare, anger may simmer, blood may boil, but none will escape… the crucible. For days on end, we 5writers will be trapped in some little room together, like chickens and potatoes, stewing in a cauldron.

But this time, not just any ‘little room’ will do.

Since our critique group was formed, except for a few meetings in coffee shops or at the occasional bar, we’ve more or less taken turns ‘hosting’ the group at each of our homes. Our typical monthly critique group meeting invariably starts with a lot of coffee and a flutter of nervous anticipation. We then progress to a round robin critique session punctuated by a lot of coffee and more flutters of nervous anticipation. By mid-day, when nerves are starting to fray, we break for lunch and bruised egos are soothed and balm applied in the form of more coffee and, at least on those lucky occasions when we visit Helga’s house, a sumptuous meal.  Bread broken, fuelled by more coffee, we continue with critiques into late afternoon until, glassy eyed and exhausted, we bid farewell to one another for another month and crawl back to our writers’ dens, licking our wounds.

But not this time.

This time, we needed a special venue for what we anticipate may be a full week of mind-numbing meetings. A place where we can all be together, sans family, sans friends, sans distractions. A place where we can crawl back to our respective dens at the end of each day and shed a tear or two in private. A place that offers opportunities for both togetherness, and solitude. A place from which there is no escape.

But where?

We’re writers, se we have no shortage of ideas. Time and money? Maybe not so much. Clearly compromise may be required.

Right now, the three leading contenders for our mid-June meeting are:

1) Death Valley:


Okay, not Death Valley exactly, but pretty damn close. To some, the California Desert may seem the perfect choice for our ‘crucible’ or ‘cauldron’.  At least outside. But sadly, it looks like five airfares south, even at that time of year, may proving prohibitively expensive, so we may need to look elsewhere for our ‘crucible’ or ‘cauldron’. Somewhere we don’t need to fly.

2) Baked Alaska:

What could be better than an Alaskan cruise? Chilly weather, attentive stewards, abundant food and drink and hundreds of ‘characters’ to study while enjoying scenic wonders. Since we’re based in British Columbia, we don’t even need to fly anywhere, we can travel round trip Vancouver-to-Vancouver. Best of all, when things get too hot, all we need to do is open a window. So we’re all kind of loving the idea of a week on a cruise ship. But wait! What about the very necessary ‘den’ to crawl back to? Hmm…. when subjected to closer scrutiny, the spectre of the dreaded ‘Single Supplement’, makes this option highly unlikely. How can one retreat to one’s den when the lion, tiger or bear who inflicted one’s wounds is sharing one’s cave?

3) Snowbound:


Admittedly, we’re not scheduled to hold our marathon retreat until mid-June, so maybe there won’t be any snow left, but when my colleagues came up with the idea of a remote ski chalet in the woods up at Whistler Mountain… call me crazy but Stephen King’s The Shining did spring to mind. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m starting to feel the hairs prickle on the back of my neck. Don’t you know how many murders take place in remote, snowbound cabins?

Let’s face it, pick any of the three suggested venues and dear departed Agatha Christie, the Grand Dame of mystery fiction, would have kittens at the very thought of so many delicious plot possibilities: five tortured, desperate writers trapped together in…

…the desert/a cruise ship/a remote cabin in the woods…

…from where there is…

….no escape.

Fans of Agatha Christie know how much she loved ‘locked room’ scenarios. Exotic settings that carefully limited the number of suspects by confining her characters on the same country estate, or on a ship or a train. A clever device that allows the reader the opportunity to ‘play detective’ to ferret out the murderer from a cast of known suspects and ‘solve’ the crime.

So, what ‘locked room’ would you want to be trapped in for a week with 5writers?

3 thoughts on “The crucible

  1. Yikes Paula! At first I couldn’t figure out why you started your ‘Crucible’ post with a picture of a martini, but by the time I got to the end I wanted to drink one for courage … and it’s only 8:00 in the morning!

  2. I’ve officially retired from the practice of law, so I’m precluded from giving legal advice. I believe, however, that Paula had some prosecutorial experience in her past, and that might give her an advantage if you abruptly became 4writers at some pointedly awkward moment (unless she isn’t among the 4writers remaining). Let me phrase it this way: Only Agatha Christie would see this as a good idea. Even the 4 criminal lawyers you might end up retaining will shake their heads at their client’s folly. Find another way.

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