If you are anything like me you have wondered about the value of Writer’s Retreats. And if you are a notorious tight-wad like me, you especially wonder if they are worth it. When I learned that there was a retreat only 30 miles from my home, that cost only $65 and included two meals, I’d found the perfect opportunity to see if a retreat was worth it. It wasn’t just the food and beautiful scenery of the farm where the retreat was planned that drew me in, but I’d heard good things about the host, Donna Galanti. She’s the author of two middle-grade novels and a adult thrillers that are right up my alley. The morning of the retreat I rolled out of bed and poured a massive cup of coffee and headed out the door. I started driving through the city, which gave way to winding country roads. When I was only a few miles away from the location a fog settled over the road and I wound my way down dirt paths, so narrow that I had to stop twice to yield to oncoming cars, because I came to a bridge only wide enough for one car. I saw several deer and even a wild turkey on the drive, but as soon as I arrived at the entrance of the farm the fog cleared and the way was well marked with signs. Donna greeted me in the driveway and pointed me to the parking. These little organizational details put me quickly at ease, parking was set, the signs let me know I was in the right place. I could see it was a well-organized retreat. I could also see that one not so well organized would be stressful, but mine was perfect. When I drove by the large stone farmhouse that was the centerpiece of the property I could see several picnic tables arranged at the base of the house, near the pond, complete with a shooting fountain. Under the balcony of the house, a buffet table was set and ready with coffee, tea, pastries, fresh fruit, and water. I grabbed two of everything and then found a seat at the table closest to the food. Sitting next to me were two friendly people whom I’d never met, but immediately liked. They were authors, Mary Ann Domanska and Erica George. Mary Ann already had a published YA novel and Erica was represented by Agent Liza Fleissig and shopping her first work of YA Fiction. The three of us chatted until Donna’s greeting and writing prompt. I’ll be honest I didn’t know what to make of a writing prompt. When I signed up for the retreat I knew there would be a writing prompt, but I didn’t really care if I had it or not. I figured the others can take the prompt, but I’ll just write. It turns out the prompt was all about setting the scene. Donna read excerpts from books such as “A Reliable Wife,” where the setting played an important part in telling the story. As I was there to work on a Saints book, I let my mind wander back to my book’s settings, back to the streets of New Orleans. I remembered strolling the uneven streets of the French Quarter wearing cheap plastic beads, eating Crawfish with my brother and sister on the banks of the Mississippi, eating Creole food like cornbread pudding with my Brother at Neyow’s, or eating bacon topped pancakes at The Ruby Slipper. Yes, a lot of my memories are food related, I love to eat. The writing prompt was just what I needed to put me in that New Orleans state of mind again. When the morning prompt was finished I staked out a spot on the balcony, overlooking the water, with Erica and went to work.
First, I reread several passages from “To Murder a Saint” remembering some hints I’d dropped way back when I first wrote that book four years ago. Then I flipped through “Masquerade” re-reading the prophecy of Fanchon’s new psychic. With the reading done, and sadly a few mosquito bites and one bee sting, I went to my computer to get to the work of writing. I had a few rough starts, deleted almost the first three pages I’d spent the morning writing, then I found my way. Once I got on track I wrote so quickly I soaked my carpal tunnel gloves with sweat. We beaked for lunch, which was a wide assortment of salads, and wraps. I ate quickly and darted back up the stairs to get back to work on the balcony. Donna continued with a talk about platform building, which was great for people just getting started in writing who need to find their audience. I was there to work so I only glanced up occasionally to see what Donna was up to. In the end, I left with some new friends, invitations to more writing outings, a full stomach, and five thousand usable words for "Searching for Saints." Verdict, writing retreats are so worth it. Something about this particular one felt serendipitous. Like I was in the place I was meant to be at the time I was meant to be there. The fog lifted as soon as I arrived. The writing prompt felt like it was written just for me. Sitting with Erica and Mary Ann felt like hanging with old friends. It was just the sort of day where you remember what you had in mind when you decided to become a writer. To learn more about Donna Galanti click here: http://www.donnagalanti.com/