Long Time Gone

Yes, more than two weeks between blogs. A thousand pardons! But I’ve been working, truly I have. Book signings and speeches, and novel-hatching and such. A couple weeks ago I was the speaker at The Southern Lady Celebration, here in Atlanta, at the Grand Hyatt, sponsored by Southern Lady magazine from Birmingham. Great group of 500-600 women, and such a fun, Spanx-worthy audience–yes, I even put on hose, makeup and heels for the event! The next morning I was off to my annual writer’s retreat to the Weymouth Center for Arts & Humanities in Southern Pines, NC.

Southern Ladies Prove to be Spanx-Worthy

I’m fortunate enough to be part of a writing group called The Weymouth Seven. It just happens that we are all women novelists. We all met years ago through our mutual friend/mentor Nancy Olsen, who owns the awesome QUAIL RIDGE BOOKS in Raleigh, NC. At first we used to just get together and bitch and whine about how hard it is to write. But eventually, we decided it might be fun to go away together and write and workshop and brainstorm…and bitch and whine. That first time, I think four of us went to a borrrowed house at Holden Beach, N.C.

Weymouth 7-Minus Bren, who was MIA

But the group grew, and our deterimination sharpened, and one of the group, Diane Chamberlain, had heard of this arts center in Southern Pines that offered writer-in-residence programs that would allow us to live in the gorgeous old Boyd mansion, FREE, for up to a week. Diane went solo that first time, and the rest of us followed.

Diane and I took a stroll in the gardens

We think our retreat last week was our tenth! We’ve also met at another borrowed beach house at Topsail Island, and last year, we gathered at our own Breeze Inn on Tybee, but we always try to meet once a year at Weymouth.

Don’t know why, but the place seems to hold magic. We arrive with our laptops and crockpots, claim our rooms and writing corners, and settle down to work. There are lots of nooks and crannies at Weymouth where you can hole up and write in splendid seclusion, but there’s also a great library, where we gather at night. Each writer brings a dinner, which we eat communally, but we’re on our own for breakfast and lunch. A LOT of coffee (and Diet Coke for me) is consumed.

Alex working dark magic in the library.

We try to start mornings by setting goals and brainstorming. I’ve turned into the self-appointed retreat task-master, querying everybody on their work in progress, any stumbling blocks, and what they’d really like to achieve. And I write it ALL down. This time around, several of us–myself included, were starting new books, which can be agony. Two of our members, Sarah Shaber and Katy Munger, have new book contracts, which we celebrated. So we did a lot of brainstorming, kicking around ideas, making suggestions for characters and plot. Then, we headed for our hidey-holes to write. And plot. And chart. At the end of the day, we all drifted back to the library for dinner, wine, progress reports, more brainstorming, and then, a round of word games.

Diane “Working the Outline Grid”

If I’m the whipper-snapper, our friend Margaret Maron is the leader, the glue that holds us together, not to mention the champion at Scrabble, Balderdash and Taboo. Unfortunately, Margaret was in a car accident, where she sustained four broken ribs, just a few days before we were to leave, so she was a no-show, although we were so glad she was able to make it to the rescheduled launch of her brand-new book, CHRISTMAS MOURNING at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books on Saturday. If you missed her there, you can still order autographed books here, and the nice folks at QRB will ship ’em to you.

Last Monday, we did a panel discussion and group booksigning, with books supplied by our favorite local indy, The Country Bookseller. If you missed us, we left behind lots of signed books.

Another day, our own Alexandra Sokoloff treated us to a mini-workshop on her Three Act Structure charting system. Alex teaches her method frequently, and if you’re a writer, looking for a new way to plot, I highly recommend her work. In fact, she also has a fantastic workbook you can download.

In between brainstorming sessions, the good people of Southern Pines decided we needed treats. Giant bags of Peanut M&Ms (our favorite brain food) were dropped off. Mysterious foil-wrapped trays of rugelach, cookies and brownies appeared in our kitchen. “For the Writers” was taped to each tray. We got so sugar-buzzed we joked that we’d have to put up a sign on the stairway: PLEASE DON’T FEED THE WRITERS. Just joking, of course.

By Friday, the end of our work week, I think all of us were thrilled with the amount of work we’d gotten done. I managed to write more than 10,000 words, and come up with the first five chapters of the NEXT book. So it was a very, very good week.

On the long drive back to Atlanta I decided to treat myself to a junk stop. I’d read the blog for a shop called OLD-TYME ANTIQUE MARKET in Marshallville, NC, and just had to check it out. Beth, the owner, was a doll, and her shop is a delight. I could have loaded everything i her shop into the back of my car. Instead, I practiced restraint and only picked up a few things.

It was great to get home to Mr. MKA and the rest of the family on Friday. Grandbaby Molly seemed to have sprouted another 3 inches. My to-do list grew just as rapidly. But I’ve got a solid start to the NEXT book, and am happy to be firmly back in the writing saddle once again. And now come the holidays. Sigh. At least Mr. MKA takes care of the turkey.

1 thought on “Long Time Gone”

  1. And now that you're back in a writing mode (novel and blog-wise), you're going to post about that fabulous shop and what you bought, right? Your retreat looks both fun and productive, which is a pretty hard combination to find.

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