Thurs. Feb. 4: Retreat Wrap

Thursday, February 04, 2016
Waning Moon
Rainy and mild

It was quite the trip to Vermont. Very interesting experience, and, overall, positive.

I’d entered a contest to win a stay at a writing retreat in Vermont. I entered with a “what the hell” attitude, never figuring I’d win.

Once I got the email stating I’d won, I researched the place. It was legitimate, although their model is to invite you to a free stay, but paying for food, in hopes you’ll come back again at full price and purchase coaching and/or editing services. I contacted them to let them know that I’m not in the market for that (my publisher assigns my editor and I’m motivated enough not to need a coach). I’m not an “aspiring” writer in the usual sense of the term. While I “aspire” that every book is better than the last, in both craft and story-telling, and that I’m always growing, I am a working, published writer. If they only wanted unpublished writers up there, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t taking someone else’s slot.

But they said I was still welcome, I paid my deposit, we confirmed dates, I paid the balance, and there we were. I’d jokingly called it “Poconos for Writers” hearkening back to the seventies and eighties when people were invited for a free stay in the Poconos in the hopes they’d buy a condo there.

I got on the road by 8 AM on Sunday. Decent driving conditions, not much traffic. I made it up to Brattleboro near noon, and had a lovely lunch with author Archer Mayor and his wife Margot. We had a good time, and talked about lots of things.

Then, I headed further up Rt. 91, took 107 across – and the weather started getting worse. 107 was slippery, and I spent most of the time hoping I wouldn’t slide off the road into a river.

I was also concerned about the dearth of gas stations.

Made it across 107, got onto 100 (which is also rather small and narrow). The gas station in Rochester was closed (it being Sunday afternoon in a small, rural town).

The directions were vague, and I don’t have GPS, but I found the turn-off – or, I should say, turn-up. I had to drive up a mountain. Without four-wheel drive. In a VW rabbit. Fortunately, it IS a VW, and the new battery put in last week served me well. I would have never made it on the old battery. The car had to work at it. Plus, the unpaved (or barely paved) road was icy.

I paused at the quarry about half way up to catch my breath. Stone soothes me, and I took full advantage of the big hunks of it to get re-situated.

I made it up the mountain, followed the signs (not easy to see in the twilight), and found the place.

I was in the Mark Twain room, which was a lovely room with plenty of light, Mark Twain memorabilia, and a wonderful antique desk. No chair except a rocking chair (too low for the desk), but a lovely antique desk. The bathroom was tiny but functional – situated in what once had been the room’s closet, and a hanging bar for clothes. It’s not like I had gowns and things that needed a lot of hanging space, so it was not an issue. There was no lock on the door – disconcerting for an ex-New Yorker, especially since the room was right off the front entrance. But it had a hook and eye.

In the Welcome Packet, it stated that beer was $4/glass and wine was $8/glass and we weren’t allowed to bring in our own liquor. Um, I’m a legal adult and mostly responsible – if you’re going to tell me I can’t have a glass of wine in my own room, I need to know that BEFORE I come up (and I probably won’t come).

I got settled in, and went for “cocktails” at 5:30 to meet the other writers. There were two other writers that first night, a father/son combination from New York (they didn’t write together, they’d traveled together). We had lovely conversation in the Library, in front of the fireplace, and then had an amazing dinner by the private chef: salad with strawberry vinaigrette, pineapple/rosemary sorbert as a palette cleanser, and a seared tuna on a bed of kale and quinoa. Wonderful dessert. Outstanding.

The owner of the establishment joined us for dinner, and told us about the place and the vision of the place. For me, it was too much of a hard sell, and it was also not what I want or need at this point in my career – especially talk about filming pitches and doing a docu-drama/reality-type show. I have a “no-photos” clause in my contracts – appearing in a reality show is simply not an option, in addition to disagreeing with the concept on many levels.

By the time we disbursed for the night and I was back in my room, I was having second thoughts. I woke up in the middle of the night and wondered if I should simply leave the next day.

But, I decided to give it a chance.

Stumbled out of bed Monday morning, retrieved a cup of coffee from the kitchen, and went back to my room for my yoga, meditation, shower, etc. I did some writing, but not as much as I wanted to. I’d hoped to get a full 1K done before breakfast. Didn’t work out that way. I borrowed an extra chair from the dining room, which suited the writing desk.

Breakfast was delightful: mushroom scrambled eggs with salad, berries with yogurt. But breakfast is late in the morning – after 9 AM, so it’s nearly 10 or later by the time one gets back to the room and to work. With lunch being shortly after twelve noon, that doesn’t give one much of a writing morning, unless the bulk of it is done before breakfast. Which is fine, but my strongest writing hours are between 6 and 10 AM.

Mornings are a busy time there, because the staff has to prepare rooms, clean, run the washer, prepare breakfast, clean up after breakfast, and prepare lunch. There was music playing – jazz, which didn’t bother me at all, but some of the others found it a bit distracting.

I think it’s easier when the studio space is separate from the living space, because then one can really be isolated during working hours, and then come together in a separate building for communal time. It’s harder when it’s all in one building.

I did some more work on DEATH OF A CHOLERIC, and then put it aside and concentrated on starting the play set in 17th Century Italy. Read through my notes. Started working on the play.

Lunch was lovely: soup and grilled cheese.

Back to work after lunch. Hard not to take a nap. I hadn’t slept well, so I dozed a bit, and did some background reading.

I went back to the play, decided I didn’t like anything I’d written, threw it all out and started over. This time, it worked out better, and I got a solid eight pages written. Much slower than my usual speed, even in longhand.

I looked something up on the 365 website, and saw a familiar name – an actress with whom I worked on a film in college. I checked her website – beautiful – and shot her an email to see if she was the same person and if she remembered me.

We met up for cocktails again. Two more writers had joined us – one from New Jersey and one from Maryland. We got acquainted, then moved on to a lovely dinner: a lovely appetizer, a ginger/coconut sorbet, seared steak tips on a bed of mashed potatoes and cauliflower and sautéed vegetables, and another wonderful dessert.

Dinner conversation was about out day’s work to an extent, but also other things – anecdotes of personal experiences, politics, etc. Since this was the night of the Iowa Caucus, and since this election has a lot at stake, it was nice to be able to have a lively discussion about what is going on and why certain candidates resonate with people.

After dinner, we gathered our reading materials.

I did not read from what I’d written that day. Reading a first draft is detrimental for me, not helpful. First drafts are for me to figure out WHAT I’m trying to say. After a few drafts, feedback is helpful to let me know whether or not I’m saying it successfully, and where the strengths and weaknesses are.

Reading from either DEATH OF A CHOLERIC or the new play simply was not an option.

In my manuscript bag, I discovered I’d brought the first two chapters of SONGBOUND SISTERS. I’d written and then workshopped the first chapter of it at the Cape Cod Writers Conference last August, and it’s back on the roster to be the primary focus starting in March, with a first draft by June. The feeling in August was they wanted more narrative focus and less dialogue-driven, so I read how I’d expanded the original pages. The response was supportive with insightful and useful comments from everyone. I feel I’m being heavy-handed on several points, but I guess I’m not, because they didn’t really pick up on them.

The other writers who read had very good work. We all listened to each other carefully, and the comments were specific and constructive. It was a very positive dynamic, yet still focused on making everyone’s work better.

We were up until nearly midnight. I kept checking the caucus results when I went back to my room, but they were still counting.

I heard back from the actress – she IS the person with whom I worked, and seems happy we’re back in touch. We both wrote plays for 365 Women, which I think is fun.

I didn’t sleep well, again, which was disconcerting, and then I overslept. I staggered into the kitchen for coffee in the morning, and someone tried to talk to me while I was trying to jam the filter into the Keurig. Always dangerous. So I’m trying to be friendly, while still protecting my “I don’t talk before coffee or my first 1K”.

Considered skipping yoga and meditation, but that would have been a BAD idea on oh, so many levels. Did it, showered, integrated the comments from the previous night into SONGBOUND SISTERS – moved a few things around, added a bit of detail that will make the context clearer.

Breakfast was good – pancakes and bacon, and I was actually coherent enough to have conversation in full sentences.

Wound up putting on my iPod and headphones to cut out morning distractions. I was having trouble with the Town Hall Meeting scene in CHOLERIC; I finally stopped struggling and went over to the rocking chair to re-read the material I’ve written on TIE-CUTTER – again, about a third of the book. That deadline’s up after CHOLERIC is done, and then SONGBOUND SISTERS comes into the rotation.

The material is much stronger than I remembered, which was a relief. I’m onto something here. Something very different from what I usually do, but I’m onto something.

All of a sudden, it was lunchtime (buffet salad). Very good, but I needed to get back to work.

I got a good chunk of work on CHOLERIC done in the afternoon. Nowhere near what I’d hoped to, but it’s solid, and will work. I realized that one of the primary antagonists (not just in this book, but in the first several books of the series) was introduced here at Town Hall, on p. 156, and that just won’t do. So I went back and inserted an encounter with him on p. 14 that foreshadows the rest, without going into a long introduction.

I realized something important: I work WELL at home. Plenty of people don’t. But I set up close to the writing room of my dreams – terrific light, my books around me. Okay, so I couldn’t decorate in complete Old English Library style – but it’s a happy, pleasant, workable room, and, in it, I’m productive. That’s a good thing.

But it also means I have to pick the whens and wheres of writing retreats very carefully, because I don’t need to go on many of them. I do well at home. My first 1K of the morning – no problem. On a day where I have additional writing time blocked out, anywhere from 3-7K is the norm. I was struggling to get 3-4K at the retreat. With two full days of writing, I should have (and expected to) get 8-14K done. I expected to get at least 6K done on CHOLERIC and finish the first draft of the play, along with writing the outline for a new idea, for which I’d brought up some background reading. I was disappointed in myself.

But it means that the home writing space I have set up works, and that’s a good thing, and also important to know, because than the grass isn’t always greener (or the ink bluer).

Cocktails (this time with wine served), good conversation, another lovely dinner of a blue cheese tart, blood orange sorbet, and Vermont chicken pot pie, and a lovely layered dessert.

So Cruz won Iowa. The fact that he’s a climate change denier should completely knock him out of eligibility for office. Trump, of course, is acting like a spoiled child and wants a “do-over”. Hillary won by 5 votes, some of them a coin toss. Good outcome for Bernie.

After dinner, more readings. This night, I read the opening of the second chapter of SONGBOUND SISTERS, one written in absolutely my style. That went over very well. VERY well. There were still comments, very useful ones (I’d missed a kind of important detail that was in my head, but hey, the audience has the page, not my brain). It gives me both the confidence and ideas to rewrite the first chapter in that style – the style that I know connects with readers and also serves character, plot, and story well. I made some notes, and I may do some work on it this weekend, and then put it aside until it comes back up on the roster in March.

Speaking of March, I figured that I won’t make the February 15 deadline I’d set for myself to finish CHOLERIC. Not without doing a minimum of 12K a day on that, and it’s not an option. February 29 is a more realistic deadline, but that also pushed back TIE-CUTTER and SONGBOUND. We’ll see. Maybe I can work CHOLERIC and TIE-CUTTER in tandem, the way I did during Nano, and not get too far off track.

The material read by the other writers was also very good. We gelled quickly into a very, very good group. They are writers whose work I want to read more of (and I’ll buy their books), and I have every intention of acknowledging their help for SONGBOUND.

In other words, I’m glad I stayed.

My contract extension’s come through for OLD-FASHIONED DETECTIVE WORK, so I’ll need to do a big PR push for them later this spring, especially with everything I have at AMBER QUILL going out of print.

Packed, slept (not well, not too badly). Overslept again, and packed the car first thing in the morning. Got 1K done on CHOLERIC before breakfast. The weather was vile, so I hit the road as soon as possible after.

Made it down the mountain (slowly, very slowly) and to the gas station. Filled up, headed south on 100, which was a nightmare, except for Killington, which is wide, even, and well-maintained to encourage people up there in bad weather. By the time I hit Rutland, I was ready to pull over and check into a motel. Rutland had lots of street flooding, and the weather got worse and worse. It lightened up a bit by Bennington, where one of my headlights conked out. Driving down through the Berkshires was okay. It had lightened up a bit by Lenox, so I decided not to stop there.

But it took me 4 hours from Rochester to the MA Pike. Hit the Pike (luckily, it didn’t hit back). By Springfield, the fog was so bad, I could barely see anything. And how much of a dumbass does one have to be to drive in that kind of weather without any lights on, just because the clock says it’s daytime? Morons.

I’d decided to stop in Sturbridge, but things lightened up by then. I’d pulled ahead of the storm, so I kept going. Got through Worcester, down 495, and by the time I reached the Sagamore Bridge, it wasn’t even raining anymore.

Made it home a little after 4 pm, just about ready to collapse. Everyone was glad to see me, including the cats.

Unpacked, had a glass of wine, caught up, had dinner, but went to bed ridiculously early.

Slept well, but overslept.

Took the day off from writing this morning. Back to work – they were glad to see me, too. I had reports to write, PR to get out, and I have to finalize the panel so I can get the paperwork in for the ArtsWeek Boston event.

We’re supposed to get snow all day tomorrow during working hours, so we might be closed. We’ll see.

Looking forward to serious work on both CHOLERIC and the new play this weekend, along with adapting “Confidence Confidant” into radio format and “Broken Links” from US format to BBC format.

Although I feel like I could sleep for a week!

Devon

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Published in: on February 4, 2016 at 12:31 pm  Comments Off on Thurs. Feb. 4: Retreat Wrap  
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