Back when my husband and I first moved to Raleigh six years ago, I was a woman adrift. For the first time in my adult life I was geographically cut off from friends of twenty years and more. As a novelist who works in solitude, I found it hard to find and make new connections. Luckily for me, North Carolina is a state virtually crammed with writers, and my old friend Margaret Maron lived only half an hour away from our house in Raleigh. Margaret introduced me to some of her other mystery writer buddies, Katy Munger, Brynn Bonner and Sarah Shaber. We started going to lunch to talk about our work and gossip about the book biz. After a year or so of these lunches, we decided to make a writer’s retreat at one of Brynn’s relative’s homes at Holden Beach, NC. I think four of us went on that first retreat. It was winter, the winds outside were howling, but inside our creative fires were burning. We met in the mornings for coffee (Diet Coke for you know who) and to set writing goals for the day. I became the self-appointed warden and wrote down our goals on a yellow legal pad, posting said goals by taping them onto the kitchen cabinets. Then we went off to our separate hidey-holes to pound the keyboards. We met again at lunch to chat about the work and brainstorm, then it was back to work again. After communal dinner we did more brainstorming and checked off any goals we’d achieved. And so went our week. We were all amazed by how much we accomplished at that first retreat. So we met again. And again. Eventually our little group grew. Diane Chamberlain moved to the triangle, and joined up. She and Margaret knew about a place–the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, in Southern Pines. Weymouth is set in a meandering 9,000-square foot 1904 mansion in the horse and hound country of the Carolina Sandhills. It was the home of historical novelist James Boyd, heir to a Pennsylvania coal fortune who spurned the family business to become a writer. In the 1920s and 30s, Boyd’s home became a gathering place for such jazz age literary figures as Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson and Maxwell Perkins. Today the house and grounds are part of a foundation dedicated to fostering the arts in North Carolina. And in the library, which was once James Boyd’s study, the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame houses portraits, biographies and the works of the state’s most accomplished authors. But this is a place for living, working contemporary scribes too. Writers with North Carolina connections can apply for spots as writers-in-residence, for up to two weeks each year. And no, you don’t have to be published. Just serious about getting published.
Around the time of our group’s first retreat at Weymouth, my husband and I moved back to Atlanta, but the writer’s group was joined by Alex Sokoloff, another newcomer to the Triangle area. So here we are again, in 2009, the week before Thanksgiving. Three of us arrived this past Wednesday, and slowly, the others have drifted in. We’re missing an important member of the group, our friend Brynn Bonner, who couldn’t make it this time. But we’re working away, and the pages are piling up, and we’re doing lots of problem-solving. In the evenings, after the work stuff is out of the way, we sit in the library, surrounded by the likes of Thomas Wolfe, Lee Smith, Reynolds Price and Louis Rubin, not to mention our late friend Elizabeth Squires. We sip wine and play word games, Balderdash being one of our favorites. Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve played Balderdash with a bunch of cutthroat writers. Last night’s words included such plums as prickmadam, sonk, snudge and zarp. Yes, really. We burn the midnight oil, and then the next morning, it’s back to the keyboards. When I leave here this Tuesday, I hope to have the first part of SUMMER RENTAL totally revised, and be ready to start work on Part 2. And as I head south, out of Southern Pines and Weymouth, home for Thanksgiving and family, I know I’ll be thankful for these few days at Weymouth, not to mention good work, good friends and good writing.