The Write Stuff

At Hilton Head’s Cooks n’ Books with Patti Callahan Henry and Salty Dawg

I’ve been lost in a book for close to three weeks now. Wandering around in the territory of imagination without my GPS. So you’ll have to excuse my absence from this blog. I spent a week down at The Breeze Inn on Tybee, working away on SUMMER RENTAL, bookended by appearances at Hilton Head’s Cooks and Books event and the Jacksonville Library’s Much Ado About Books, followed by another week of writer’s retreat with my writer’s group from North Carolina. It was a fun combination of public events and private torture, er, writing time.

I started off by travelling to Dataw Island, outside Beaufort, SC to speak to a book club luncheon on Friday. That Sunday was the Cooks and Books event on Hilton Head, which is a fund-raiser for Literacy of the Low Country. Got to see writer friends like Patti Callahan Henry, Jackie Cooper and Karen White, and of course, meet lots of friendly fans. Then it was back to work on Tybee. The first week at the beach, I plunged headfirst back into the book. I have to set goals for myself to keep my momentum, and I’d promised myself that I would have 200 manuscript pages by the time “the girls” arrived. And I also wanted to be able to send those pages off to my new editor for her feedback. It’s been an unusually chilly gray winter this year, which was good news, as I was not tempted to do much other than burrow in and write. My husband kept calling and asking if I’d gone for a bike ride, or at least a stroll on the beach. I did take one 30-minute beach walk, and another couple brief bike rides, but for the most part, it was a productive work week. Although, yeah, I did get burnt out on writing one day. Told myself I was going “off-island” to get dinner at Publix, somehow ended up driving into Savannah and making stops at World Plus Market–where I spent an hour cruising the aisles for shiny happy cheap stuff. Then I decided it was vitally important to world peace that I replace the mattresses in Boomerang Boy’s beach bedroom. Somehow, I managed to spend more time choosing which flavor Italian soda to buy at World Plus than I did at the mattress store. Finally, $900 later, I made it to Publix to buy my rotisserie chicken.

My only walk on the beach at Tybee–but a beautiful one

Then it was off to Jacksonville, where I gave the keynote luncheon talk at the Jacksonville Library’s Much Ado About Books festival. Such a fun event! I had all day Friday to wander around Jacksonville, and those smarty-pants library folks even provided me with a junk itinerary which sent me to the Avonlea Antique Mall, where I picked up a trio of cool old black and white beach snapshots to add to my collection, and then to Five Points, where I browsed Five Points Antiques and Fans and Stoves, both great little antique shops. At Five Points Antiques I scored a pair of retro vintage concrete seahorse placques just like the ones I’d been jonesing for these since seeing a story in House Beautiful last year.

Concrete seahorse plaques from HOUSE BEAUTIFUL

Friday night was the Much Ado About Books gala, which featured a theme of Lights Over London. The event organizers managed to turn the library’s rotunda and courtyard into a London fantasy, featuring Union Jacks, bobby hats, and even a huge Tower of London. My date for the night was Ward Lariscy, a Savannah native who happens to be one of Jacksonville’s most talented interior designers. I teased him about being my “arm candy” but it was a match made in heaven as we gossiped about antiques and Savannah and such. I even got to make my curtsey to “Queen Elizabeth,” who was, in reality Jacksonville arts champion Betsy Lovett. After a quick turn on the dance floor–told you those Jax folks know how to party–it was off to a dinner with a bevy of New York Times bestselling authors, lead by Steve and Liz Berry, and including my new friends Andrew Gross, Chris Bohjalian and Michael Palmer. They even taught me the NYT bestseller secret handshake.

Paying my respects to Queen Elizabeth, aka Jax Library Patron Betsy Lovett

On the way back to Tybee Saturday night, I took a quick detour to St. Simon’s Island to catch up with old friend Laura Lippman and family. Laura had just turned in her next NYT-bestseller, and she and husband, television writer/producer David Simon have been living in New Orleans while filming David’s new HBO series TREME, which premieres April 19. Laura’s LIFE SENTENCES just came out in paperback last week, so you should rush out and buy dozens of copies.

Writers retreat 2010 at The Breeze Inn

And then, it was time to buckle back down to work. I’d invited my North Carolina writer’s group–Diane Chamberlain, Margaret Maron, Sarah Shaber and Alex Sokoloff to come down to The Breeze Inn for one of our twice-yearly retreats, and they finally took me up on my plea/offer. We missed absent members Kathy Munger and Bren Witchger, but boy did we buckle down to work. Half “the girls” stayed at Castaway Cottage, which is right next door to The Breeze Inn, so everybody had their own working space. People often ask us what a writer’s retreat is, and we usually liken it to a writer’s bootcamp. All of us are multi-published veteran authors, so we are all serious and committed to our work, which is not to say we don’t have fun. We do. But work comes first! Our schedule usually follows a pretty set routine. We meet in the morning, and over coffee/Diet Coke, we talk about the day’s work. We write down our concrete writing goals for the day,–for instance, a plot point reached, or a page or word count achieved, and if anybody has an issue or problem with the work in progress, they ask for some brainstorming.The brainstorming is such a tremendous help! Together, we’ve come up with plot twists, titles, subplots, character names and much more for each other’s books. At lunchtime, we usually meet over a sandwich or leftovers, and talk about our progress so far, and then it’s back to work until we break for dinner. Not wanting to waste valuable work time by going out to dinner, we usually eat in, with each member taking turns supplying soup, stew, casserole, ect. Over dinner we assess the day’s progress and again brainstorm. Finally, after that, it’s usually some kind of diversion, usually a word game like Balderdash, Taboo or Scrabble, although we have also watched movies. The interesting thing this time around was that we were all at different stages of a WIP–(work in progress). Margaret is just starting her next mystery. Diane is facing a May deadline. Alex was mid-book and also starting to plot out her next book, Sarah was turning an old screenplay into a new novel, and I was mid-book, facing a summer deadline. While we were at the retreat, I received five pages of notes from my new editor, with suggestions on how to strengthen what I’d already written, and direction for the second half of the book. Those notes came at a perfect time, with my friends ready with ideas on how to achieve my editor’s goals. Together, we all hashed out tiny details (Diane’s female characters all had names ending in ‘a’), to big picture quandrys–how to add emotional depth to my lead protagonist. By Friday night, we were ready for a celebratory dinner out–at Sundae Cafe. And Saturday morning was getaway day for all. I think we all left satisfied with what we’d accomplished and excited with the prospect of our upcoming projects. We still need a name for our writer’s group, so if anybody has any suggestions, we’d love to hear ’em.

3 thoughts on “The Write Stuff”

  1. Will you be writing any more Callahan Garrity "House Mouse" books? They're fun escape lit. 🙂

    Barb from Oregon

  2. Will you be publishing any more Callahan Garrity "House Mouse" books? They're fun escape lit. 🙂

    Barb from Oregon

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