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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Author Takes on Alzheimer’s Disease in Debut Novel

Ellen_picI introduce to you Ellen Smith, debut author of Reluctant Cassandra. I had the opportunity for an advance read, and it is an intriguing story (and includes a cute dog!) that I thoroughly enjoyed. Ellen takes on big issues, drilling down to what they mean on a very personal level. Here’s more:

What is Reluctant Cassandra about?

Unwilling clairvoyant Arden McCrae must learn to stop avoiding her visions of the future and tackle life head-on. As her family and her town begin to fall apart, Arden discovers the strength she never knew she had.

Would you say this is a book about change, then, and how we handle change?

I would say so- in fact, I’d take it one step further. I think the book explores the conflict of when to move forward versus when to fight for what you had. Each of the characters explores that dilemma to some degree, and Arden most of all.

Does Arden use her clairvoyance as a crutch?

In some ways she does! Arden has visions of the future, but she also has the ability to sense the truth about the past. She runs the local antique store, and we see her depending on her ability to hear the stories behind her antiques in order to make sales. Arden is much more uncomfortable with her visions of the future, though!

Julianne Moore just won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award and several others for her role in Still Alice. What do you think surprises people the most about Alzheimer’s disease?

I think the most surprising thing is how different the effects of Alzheimer’s can be from one person to another. A number of people have said they were surprised by how quickly (or how slowly) their loved ones progressed through each stage. Others were very surprised by the personality changes their loved one went through while dealing with the confusion and frustration of living with Alzheimer’s.

What intrigued you about this disease that made you want to write about it?

When I first thought of Arden’s character, I wanted to see how she would react to a situation where she was moving forward but someone she loved was sliding back into the past. When I started doing research on Alzheimer’s disease and how it affected the patient and the whole family, the characters really started to develop.

Reluctant Cassandra will be available June, 2015. Visit Ellen Smith at http://ellensmithwrites.com/

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…

Reading Nook

Early Eclectic Reading Nook

Early Eclectic Reading Nook

Who knew a simple reading nook could be such a draw to a diverse range of ages and interests?

I created a little reading nook for myself in my postage stamp-sized living room. It’s where my big TV used to sit, the focal point of the living room. When I canceled cable in hopes of reading and writing more, I realized that the area was wasted space. With only a DVD player hooked up to the TV, why was I still paying homage to this box?

So, the TV was removed, I reclaimed bits and pieces from around the house and made a very, very cozy area for reading and relaxing. There’s not a lot of wiggle room, but when you’re immersed in a book or magazine article, there’s generally not a lot of thrashing about.

When I first set it up, my son emerged from his man cave and informed me that I’d have to share that space. Really… more appealing than a man cave?

My sister was over for the holidays and is the harried mother of two high-voltage monkeys. She sat down and informed me she would leave the kids with dad at times and come over to sit and relax there.

And recently over at a friend’s place, I noticed he set up a replica of my nook. Imitation is, after all, the sincerest form of flattery. I also noticed how quickly I gravitated to that chair, laying claim and using the ancient code of guest treatment to my advantage.

Business wisdom says to fill a need, so I’m thinking of setting up a reading-nook shop. Just create little reading cubbies, serve coffee or tea, cookies and cakes, and people could rent some quiet space, a respite from a frenzied world. Won’t you come visit and relax a bit?

Where’s your favorite place to curl up?

Writing: the Craft? Please.

There are a lot of writers who refer to writing as “the craft.”

Crafts involve cute pairs of scissors, richly-colored markers and pencils, glittery paints and don’t-sniff-the-glue.

But writing? I think of it more often than not as the proverbial blood, sweat and tears–BST.

Playing with those letters, BST… sometimes you feel you’re at your “BEST” and other times you curse the “BASTARD.”