by Nicole Loughan
Author of the best-selling Saints Mystery Series
A few years ago, Facebook and Twitter were all swooning about woodsy getaways where you could write all day and find your creative self. Even Amtrak was offering an author getaway on a train.
I was curious about the value of a retreat and decided to try my first one ever. It not only spurred the work I'd hoped for but even more so introduced me to some writers who went on to inspire me.
With about five years having passed since that retreat one of the most surprising happenings is that many of those authors that I met are now signed with big publishing houses and you can find their work on on bookshelves everywhere.
The retreat I went to was a one day affair within driving distance of my house. It was also a fundraiser for a local charity. It cost me less than $100, including food. What a steal!
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 middle-grade novels and a adult thrillers that are right up my alley. At that time Donna was still grinding away working on that big break like the rest of us, but today she's kind of a big deal. She signed a big fancy contract for her series Unicorn Island with Simon and Schuster. The morning of the retreat, with a large cup of coffee in hand, I drove 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. 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 lifted and the way was clear. Donna greeted me in the driveway, working as both host and parking attendant. 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, thanks Donna. A large stone farmhouse was the centerpiece of the property. Several picnic tables were 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 Emic Rizzle Tinkerer which went on to be named one of the best Indie Novels of the year by Kirkus and Erica was represented by real life agent and shopping her first work of YA Fiction. This year she just happens to have her big contract out with her book Words Composed of Sea and Sky (Running Press Kids/Hachette). 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 know what to do with it. 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. I recalled 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 grabbed 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 book many years before. 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/