Writers Retreat: The Mystery and Inspiration of Different Places and Spaces

Gather your best writing pals, circle a date on the calendar, set a goal for what you wish to accomplish, and head to a bed and breakfast for a writing renewal retreat. That block of uninterrupted time of which all creatives dream is inspiration magic.

Knowing that you’ve set aside a time period for the act of creating, or rekindling your creative flame, can actually be intimidating. Will I function okay without interruptions? What will I do without a phone ringing just as I sit down, or someone knocking at the door just as I’m developing a crucial scene? How am I supposed to concentrate without errands, chores, and never-ending house projects vying for my attention?

The Frederick Inn, located in Buckeystown, Maryland provided the quintessential setting for such an overnight idyll. There is something to be said for the inspiration of being in a space that is not home. Our group of four rented the third floor of this alluring property, armed with a white-hot goal of maximizing a 24-hour block of time to maneuver through story revisions, plot development, or just getting reacquainted with dormant work.

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What made the Frederick Inn ideal for such a retreat was the opportunity to tuck ourselves away in a secluded space (individual rooms, a common area that included a four-top table situated by a large window straddled by two stunning stained-glass panels, two powder rooms and a shower), access to the establishment’s well-appointed kitchen to store home-brought meals to avoid the time-suck of ferreting out food outside of the property, and the just-right attentions and made-from-scratch breakfast (drool-worthy zucchini quiche, fruit cup with mint, coffee cake, parmesan-topped tomatoes…) from the convivial innkeepers, Pat and Kirk.

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This charming, endearing couple also seemed to take particular delight in providing grist for our collective inspiration mill, sharing stories of the property that revealed more mystery than history. Trunk-traveling headstones returned by an octogenarian with a flimsy reason that didn’t quite get to the heart of the emotions beneath the macabre attachment. A bevy of relocated headstones like a mouthful of teeth tucked away in their own version of a graveyard, bodies (or at least the essence of their dust) presumably still in situ. The bottom portion of a grave marker with what looked like claw marks at the edge, a lone sentinel away from its topper.  The lady Elizabeth, her headstone’s inscription bearing the image of a weeping willow tree and the designation of “consort,” which sounds more scandalous than the 19th century use turns out to be.

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Such mysteries of times past remind us that every inch of earth has a story. A writer is only too keen to let such wonderings infiltrate her imaginings, and who knows what will come out on the other side?

Cheers to a successful 2017 retreat, and a new tradition.

 

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Don’t Let Creativity Die with the Wrong Writers’ Conference

For writers attending a writer’s conference, there are very high hopes about learning new things, meeting new people, and gaining that extra spark of motivation. Sometimes, those hopes go unfulfilled.

Waterfront Writers

STOPNEGATIVITYWriters’ conferences are important for new and seasoned writers trying to find their way. You invest with time and money, hoping for inspiration to keep you going. This is a conversation about how the wrong conference can affect your productivity—throw off your writing and dampen your spirit.

S: So, we’ve got that conference coming up—Bay to Ocean—end of February.

D: Yes, and I know we’re both hoping for great things.

S: Especially after that one we attended last April…

D: Dare we name it?

S: Yes, I think we should.

D & S: Conversations and Connections.

S: What was the one thing you learned at the conference?

D: Um, what NOT to do? How about you?

S: I learned how to insult writers who are better, more accredited than me.

D: That’s a very useful skill!

S: I especially want to talk about the first panel session we attended: Faking…

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WIP Blog Tour

1) What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or a historic person?
Naomi is a fictional character going through the motions of living her life, when the collective life everyone has known disappears over the course of a few days.

2) When and where is the story set?
The story is set in present day during the last days of summer on the eve of a deadly hurricane and what appears to be a multi-pronged terrorist strike. It takes place mostly in the Annapolis region and shows how people respond to something catastrophic that the vast majority are not prepared for—being self-sufficient.

3) What should we know about him/her?
Naomi Chassen has modern-day anxieties that stem from work and relationships. When she finally has all the reason in the world to be anxious, she actually finds her strength—as the worst is happening and she’s dealing with it, learning to think quickly and react rather than wasting time overly worrying about all potential outcomes.

4) What is the main conflict? What messes up his/her life?
The main conflict is at first Man versus Nature, and then Man against Man in an apocalyptic setting, with people making decisions on how to handle survival: work together as a collective or find a way to profit from the situation. In particular, one person is hell-bent on stymying the town’s efforts to hold things together—targeting Naomi.

5) What is the personal goal of the character?
Naomi’s personal goal is to survive and try to help others do the same, especially a little boy—a stranger’s child—who has come under her care due to a need she sees and steps up to handle, while balancing the creation of an interdependent unit with her friend and her boyfriend as they strive to manage being blockaded in their area, unable to escape, the effects of a biological attack heading their way and civic order beginning to break down. The situation becomes dire as a mentally unbalanced man fixates on Naomi and begins to blame her for his own situation.

6) Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?
The title is Edge of Undoing, and I blog about related topics HERE.

7) When can we expect the book to be published?
The novel is moving into the revision stage, so 2015 is the goal for publication.

Failure of Imagination

 

Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of antpkr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As part of my research for a book I’m writing, I am reading “The Great Deluge,” by Douglas Brinkley. I’ve actually been reading this book for some time, taking it in small bites for a multitude of reasons. One of those reasons is that it will serve as material for just a section of my book, so I don’t need to complete it within any particular time frame or bump other reading material to accommodate it. A second very big reason is that I can’t read it too close to bedtime, when I normally do the bulk of my reading, because it’s highly likely to give me nightmares.

 

The book is an incredibly precise accounting of the lead-up to the storm and its aftermath. Anyone near a television during those days who watched from safety outside of the storm’s devastation no doubt can still recall the searing images of a city devastated, many of its people stranded and losing hopeif not their lives. Brinkley, a consummate historian, tells the story with the in-depth parsing of events that only a skilled historian can achieve, while also weaving a story that draws you into its grip from the first paragraph of the first chapter.

 

A lot of blame was slung around after Katrina had moved on, and much of it rightfully so. What I can’t help but conclude—and the book makes starkly evident—is that a failure of imagination was one of the greatest underpinnings to the human consequences of this disaster. Sometimes we forget that true horror lies not just in books and movies. Or maybe we want to forget, which is why we ignore our imaginations, allowing them to fail at the very time when life—potentially our own as well as othersmay depend on it.

The Number One, Must-Have Survivalist Tool

Doomsday Housing Plan / Image courtesy of Duron123 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Doomsday Housing Plan / Image courtesy of Duron123 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I attended a Preparedness & Survival Expo in August.  One excellent speaker, Jay Blevins, who has been featured on National Geographic Channel’s “Doomsday Preppers,” talked about the 6 foundational aspects of prepping. At the top of the survival list?

Having the proper mindset.

This means having the will to survive, even when things get downright ugly, insecure and uncomfortable–and in the event of a ‘doomsday’ scenario, they inevitably will.  Having a strong mindset allows you to handle being outside of your comfort zone and losing your creature comforts.  That’s not a bad life skill to have for just everyday scenarios that can be their own scaled-down, personal version of doomsday, such as job loss.

I know I’ve gone soft in terms of handling anything outside of my comfort zone.  I’ve been running my writing consulting business by day, and working on my own writing on the side, including a collaborative effort at the Waterfront Writers website.  I’ve noticed that the outdoors features prominently in my stories.  Maybe that’s because lately, my outdoors pursuits have fallen by the wayside, and I feel the lack of connection with nature in my life and that sense you get of being able to find your way if needed.  In my comfortable world, this present shifting of priorities has been a good thing on the one hand, but also a mini-trauma–one I can luckily undo by shifting priorities around a bit so I can re-connect to the outdoors.

One thing I used to do to get out of my comfort zone is to go camping.  I didn’t go camping this year–and I realize that isn’t sufficient preparation for having a survivalist mindset when it’s only car camping.  But there was no way I was going to get my son to backpack, so I was always happy to just get the little gamer that far out of reach of a game console.  I have, however, had survivalist scenarios occur while car camping, such as camping next to neighbors where I wasn’t sure about their survival prospects after I’d listened to hours of their noisy shenanigans well into the night.  But I digress…

In a doomsday scenario, you may have only the bug-out pack on your back, and the only fire pit and picnic bench at your disposal will be what you create out of what you find.  And with that, you’ll need a mindset that accepts the situation and flows with it.

Car camping does serve to take me out of my self-created bubble world and remind me that I still have a lot to learn about self-reliance–and that means above and beyond earning a living.  My mindset is just fine for the daily dramas of life.  But you can always be mentally stronger, and it’s an area I want to explore more in-depth.

But not tonight.  I need a hot bath, a steaming cup of tea and then a little television.

How about you: do you feel you’d be mentally prepared should complete chaos and anarchy occur? Leave a comment! And if you don’t mind, go take a look at the website I’m collaborating on – we have four chapters posted for our new web series.  Help me justify my ‘gone soft’ condition on the Waterfront Writers

Writerly Collaboration

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Evgeni Dinev / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I enjoy spending time with people, talking and sharing ideas, laughing, being outdoors, EATING, drinking wine or brew… but by nature, I’m more the lone wolf. My grandmother taught me as a little person how to entertain myself. I have enough reading materials to keep me busy a couple of lifetimes, and enough writing ideas… well, best not to jinx it.

When it comes to writing down those ideas, the words come in fits and starts, like a water faucet pulling from a near-dry well in an abandoned cabin. Maybe it’s because my day job requires that I write, that by the time I get around to “my” writing, my brain is in “hibernate” mode.

So it has been a twist to my worldview to discover that, collaborating with another writer on a story, I don’t have the fit-and-start thing going on… it’s more of a we-struck-oil gusher that I have to curb so I don’t dominate the storyline. Maybe there isn’t as much pressure having a writing partner.

For one, if you get stuck, they can get down into the weeds of a story with you and give that nudge to get you moving. Second, if you lose the thread of continuity, you have a second set of eyes to find it. Third, there’s a fair measure of accountability going on, because when I get the draft to work on, I know my writing partner is waiting… so I don’t have the luxury of trite, cliché or even wildly-creative excuse-making.

I enjoy collaborating, and our latest installment of our shared effort Two Weeks to Rites, which so far has been a blast, is now posted. Go to: http://waterfrontwriters.com/

Thanks for stopping by for a visit! Back to my wolf den…