I’ve been on a writer’s retreat this week with my buddies from North Carolina. This is our fifth or sixth getaway, and it’s always an amazingly productive week. This time around we are at The Weymouth Center for Arts and Humanities, which is a non-profit foundation based at a beautiful old home in Southern Pines, N.C. The foundation invites working writers to have up to two weeks a year as writers in residence. The six of us; Margaret Maron, Katy Munger, Sarah Shaber, Diane Chamberlain and Bren Witchger, are old hands at this process by now. We each take responsibility for one night’s dinner, and bring groceries enough for a Trojan army. Katy and I are sharing a bedroom, but everybody else has their own little room and writing space. We started the week Monday night by setting writing or plotting goals for the week. And then each morning, after breakfast, we meet and write down our goals and post them for all to see. Because in addition to having mutual support and brainstorming, we all need some accountability. After lunch, we usually chat about what we’ve accomplished–or what’s giving us problems. Then we scatter to our corners around the house. It’s so interesting to me to see all the different ways each of us works. Sarah is working on the re-write of a historical novel, so she brought her marked up manuscript, and a huge poster, with outlines and diagrams, and Post-It notes telling her which chapters would have to be re-worked. Margaret was working on the final copy edits for her next mystery, which will be out in August. It’s the latest Deborah Knott mystery, to be called SAND SHARKS. Her manuscript was neatly spiral-bound, ready to be worked on. Katy is working on a new project, as well as an old one, so she had schematics and flow-charts to plot her next book. The fact that she types with two fingers adds to the entertainment value. Diane has a long skein of taped together file cards with hand-written notes and color-coded highlighting. Bren has her journals full of notes and ideas. And me? All I have is my wits and a yellow legal pad with some cryptic scratchings. The weather has been ideal this week, sunny and mostly warm. The mansion is set amongst the horse country of the Carolina sandhills, and there are pastures and barns all around us, so the girls have been taking walk-abouts and visiting the horses in between writing jags. Me? I just write and eat M&Ms. After dinner each night, we discuss what we’ve accomplished. And then the real fun begins. On our retreats, we don’t watch television. We pretty much limit contact with the outside world to phone calls home and emails. After dinner, we play games. But not just any games. Word games! Margaret introduced us to Balderdash on one of our first retreats, to Holden Beach. In case you don’t know this diabolical game, it consists of a deck of cards with the most obscure words you’ve ever seen on one side–and the meaning of the word on the other. One person draws a card and announces the word. The other players then write down their bluffed definition of the word. The sillier the better. Playing this game with writers–people who make a living from playing with words, is SO much fun. After we’ve warmed up with Balderdash, we usually gravitate to Taboo, sort of a modern version of Password. Great fun, especially after some adult beverages have been ingested. This week, we’ve been playing a new game, brought by Diane. It’s called Apples to Apples, or, as the box advertises “a game of comparisons.” We stayed up late many nights flinging silly words at each other–the perfect antidote to the serious word-slinging taking place during the day.