Sycamore Hill is a week-long writing retreat and workshop modeled after the Milford Workshops started by SF writer Damon Knight in the 1950s. In the early 1980s, while living in Kansas City, I attended two Milford workshops run by Ed Bryant in Colorado. After moving to North Carolina in 1982, I felt isolated and missed the chance to critique stories with other writers.
Sparked by an offhand remark by Greg Frost, Mark Van Name and I started Sycamore Hill as a local verison of the Milford workshops, but the thing quickly got out of hand and grew into a national workshop for professional writers of the fantastic. The workshops are by invitation only. The maximum number we have ever had at Sycamore Hill was 18 writers, the minimum was 10; most have included 12-15 writers. Participants, all published writers, bring manuscripts of works in progress, usually short stories but sometimes portions of novels. We schedule 2-3 critiques per day, and spend mornings and afternoons discussing these stories. In the evenings we eat meals together and hang out. It's an invigorating and exhausting experience.
After a decade or so in Raleigh, the workshop went on hiatus. Richard Butner come on in place of Mark, and we moved SycHill to Bryn Mawr College outside of Philadelphia (where Greg Frost helped us organize things). Most recently Sycamore Hill has taken place at the Wildacres Retreat Center in Little Switzerland, NC, up in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Like Damon Knight, my purpose in starting SycHill was to offer writers of SF, fantasy, and related fiction a chance to talk and debate, to reduce their sense of being alone in their efforts, and to encourage us all to write as well as we possibly can, understanding that definitions of what constitutes "writing well" can differ. There are no teachers and no students at SycHill. Charles Sheffield, who attended one of the conferences in the mid-1990s, wondered aloud why anyone would submit work to the probing criticism of a dozen other professionals when by far the greatest number of stories brought to the table are already publishable before being workshopped. I think there are rational reasons to do this and a few irrational ones. Sycamore Hill has seen a lot of great fiction over the years, a number of debates, a few serious conflicts, and many friendships made and deepened. I hope that it's done something to help us all write better than adequate science fiction.
LIST OF SYCAMORE HILL ATTENDEES AND STORIES