A Writer’s Retreat

Myrtle Beach balcony with ocean view

If you are a writer and if you are very lucky, you have a support group. Sometimes it’s your family. Most of the time it isn’t. Your family may sort of give you free time. God bless you if you have a significant other who takes the kids so you can just write or maybe even reads and offers truly helpful advice. Where did you find this gem, and you better hang on to them even if they (insert appalling action here) that drives you crazy?

I’ve been blessed with a remarkable group of writer friends in my journey, a posse if you will. I’ve met most of them through a writer’s forum that has made several iterations and is now The Litforum.com. Every now and then, some of us get together for a writer’s retreat. We rent a huge house and just hang out for a few days. There are no workshops or planned events, we just hang. That being said, we go out and do a few things. It’s an all-female gang and mostly romance authors with a few fantasy writers and the one odd ball mystery author tossed in. This particular year, we had chosen Myrtle Beach. It’s a good location with some nice rental properties and we snagged a particularly lovely house with nice amenities right on the beach similar to this one. I mean we could walk out the back door and out to the beach. Heaven. I had never seen the ocean before.

For this retreat we had Jen H. Jen G., Susan, Donna Rubino, Joanna Bourne, Tara Parker, and myself. Tara was writing a mystery. Susan and I were writing fantasies, and the rest of the crew were writing romances if I remember correctly or women’s fiction, but I think all romance. Jo was working on another novel for release and had two up for RITA awards in the same year, back before the implosion. It was an interesting group.

More of the gang whose identities have been hidden to protect the innocent. I’m not, so that’s my mug looking confused as usual.

The first order of business is always to make a shopping list and collect food as we cook in quite a bit and eat out sparingly. Not that we are cheap, but the more you eat out, the less writing you get done. We had two meals out planned, to an Italian restaurant and Medieval Times. When you get seven women together trying to decide menus and shopping lists, you can bet your sweet bippy there will be

  1. Good food.
  2. Too much of it.
  3. Wine.

We have some really good cooks in this crew, so there was lots of good food. I’m not a wine drinker, but we did snag some beer for me and Tara, the heathens of the bunch. Tara and Susan had to take me out to the beach since I’d never seen one nor the ocean. I took my shoes off and enjoyed the water, a little. I can’t swim and am afraid of drowning. So, I enjoyed it up to my ankles. It was pretty awesome . . . and safe. I’m thinking about taking swimming lessons at the YMCA, but for now, up to the ankles.

“If you look straight that way, there is France,” Tara said.

“Oh, no,” Susan said and corrected my position a bit like a nautical device, “I think she needs to point a bit more that way, France is more that direction.”

We had a discussion about world geography. Donna came out with some bread to feed the seagulls and handed me some. Seagulls are pretty good at swooping down and catching flying bread.

“Stop feeding those rats!” Tara screamed. “It’s all fun and games until those little bastards attack you.” Tara who is a navy vet and not afraid of much, fled to the beach house. We learned later she’d been attacked as a child by gulls. Some things stick with you. She refused to participate ever in our gull feeding adventures and I suppose I don’t blame her. I to this day have a fear of sleeping with open windows after having a man try to snatch me through one as a child.

So, with France located, the ocean enjoyed, gulls fed and fled, groceries bought, and dinner enjoyed, our first day was well underway. We had wrangled around for rooms earlier. Tara and I bunked together in a room with twin beds. I think the house had five bedrooms if I remember correctly. It was very spacious.

Conflict Box

There was enough room we could spread out and write, gather around a table and discuss different aspects of the journey, or just hole up in our rooms and write or relax. We discussed various methods of accomplishing things in writing.

Tara and I have been discussing adding Martha and Tilly into her murder mystery. For those of you not familiar with my Martha and Tilly characters, they are two over-sexed old women who are always in trouble at the senior citizen group with their antics. We’re thinking a scene where they get arrested and Tilly tries to bribe the deputy with sex. They inadvertently come up with a clue to her mystery before they are invited to please leave town. No one appreciates old ladies. It’s sad.

Jen G. was going over the conflict box theory later and we applied it to stories. It apparently didn’t sink in, because I am still struggling with some things, hence my battle with Save The Cat Writes A Novel. Regardless, we drank and talked, and put the theory to the test.

Later, I heard a woman’s voice singing show tunes and thought someone must have their music on outside. Donna was out on the balcony, so I wandered out there to listen with her. Oh, no, it wasn’t a radio, it was Donna. Who knew she had such a beautiful voice? I was mesmerized. She was just leaning on the rail, singing into the dusk. It was wonderful.

The next day was spent writing and talking about writing. Jo was trying to decide whether to kill a scene in the new book where her heroine has snared a rabbit because she is starving. The woman can’t decide whether to kill the rabbit or set it free. Jo thinks the scene isn’t right, we think it’s perfect and it is. It’s a gut-wrenching scene. She’s done a fabulous job. If you haven’t read any of Joanna Bourne, you should. She’s not only a great writer, but a great teacher. Everything you need to know about writing great dialogue and description is right there on the page. Well, she’s just a fabulous writer.

Jo plotting to torture her poor heroine.

So, that afternoon, I’m curled up on one couch trying to figure out a plot knot in Far Rider. Jo is curled up on the other couch tapping a pencil against her chin and she says, “I’ve got my MC in a whore house and I’m trying to figure out more ways to torture her. Hmmm. And I wonder why I’m never invited to dinner parties with polite conversation.”

I cracked up. I would offer her suggestions on torture, but everyone’s ideas on torture vary and some things are just better left unsaid. I’m the one who had an agent tell her, “You know you have a very adult scene in here.”

“Yup, that’s pretty adult.”

It was downright porn probably.

Jo and I got into a discussion on mules and horses. That’s a safe topic.

Medieval Times night! Whoo hoo! Off we pile in our cars to go watch the knights in shining armor and diss whoever writes that script. Seriously? However, the show was good. The food was decent and we had a blast. Susan was chosen by the blue knight to be his lady and he presented her with a rose. We had front row seats.

Now, let’s discuss Susan. She’s middle-aged, very prim, proper, shy, and quiet. She was very embarrassed to be singled out for the attention. We loved it. You go, Lady Susan. Our knight did right and honorable battle and vanquished his foe, but in the end was vanquished. We wept.

After the show, the knights are available in the lobby to sign autographs and take pictures. We flock of writers descended upon the one sitting on what was like a throne to visit with them. Susan would rather not, but she was along for the ride even though many of us were in her possessed car. More about that later.

Remember the show Night Court and the somewhat off balanced stepfather? Yes, that’s me.  I’m much better now. I approached the knight on the throne. “Hey, great show. We loved it.”

Polite conversation. I’m sure he would love to get rid of this gaggle of middle-aged women, get out of this costume, go take a shower, and go get a drink with his friends or just chill in front of the tube.

“We’re writers,” I say.

“Oh, is that right? What do you write?” He’s a little more interested now.

“Jo writes romance based in revolutionary France and Napoleonic times about a hot female spy and, you know, hot guys. She has two books up for RITA awards this year, which is the highest romance awards going.”

He leans forward a bit more. “Really?”

I nod. “Uh, huh. Susan is working on an epic fantasy that is going to be a blockbuster bestseller when it hits the shelves. Think Game of Thrones good.”

I hear an aghast, “Julie!” but ignore it. I have faith in Susan. It is going to be a bestseller. “I write fantasy, Tara writes mystery, and the rest are romance writers. Jo was interested in your horses. I’m fascinated in the way you train the hawk.”

“Well, we’ll be done here soon, would you like a tour of the stable? We can show you our horses and talk to you about them?”

It’s like being invited to a guy’s apartment to see his etchings only much better. Horses are involved and, you know, young, hot, knights. We went to the stable and they introduced us to all the horses who were very sweet and talked about how they train them and how they train. They discussed training the hawks and told funny stories about their adventures as knights and were really quite charming. It was a great night.

The next day was more writing and discussing writing and our Italian night out. It started raining and there was construction. Also, Susan’s car was possessed. You know that movie 2001 A Space Odyssey? I’ve never seen the whole thing, but I’ve seen enough clips I might as well have seen it all. I especially recognize Hal. Hal resides in Susan’s car. Make a u-turn. “If I make a u-turn I will be right in the middle of traffic in this construction zone and we’ll all be killed.”

“I don’t care, Susan, make a U-Turn. What are you doing, Susan? You’re ignoring me.”

“I think you’re car is trying to kill us.”

“It’s OK. I think I know where we’re going.”

“Turn here.”

“I don’t want to turn here.”

“Why aren’t you turning, Susan?”

The GPS was sort of messed up and upset that Susan was ignoring him and kept repeating instructions. It was bizarre. Even so, we arrived at the restaurant and dashed through the driving rain happy to be alive and none of us with a desire to write science fiction ever.

We got the sweetest little waiter. He was a college student no doubt, doing the responsible thing and working his way through college. What a great kid.

Then he got us.

We deserved a drink. We had narrowly avoided death. And we were wet. And we were authors. Authors always deserve a drink. He brought the drinks while we decided what to eat.

We drank and talked and decided and drank some more. Except Susan who doesn’t drink. She’s the responsible one and has a possessed car.

Ah, the food, it was great. Really exceptional. A waitress passed by and Donna asked if she would send our waiter back. She must have detected something afoot because she did send our waiter back, but the rest of the waiters and waitresses had gathered to see what was up and were watching.

Donna pulled out some money and held it aloft when our waiter returned. Some of the rest of us were ready also. “Dance,” Donna said.


His friends busted out laughing.

“Or bring more wine.”

“Beer for me.”

He melted with relief and joyfully fetched more booze.

Oh, relax, we tipped him well and he laughed when he realized it was a joke.

Do I recommend writer’s retreats? If you’re with the right people. We got a lot of writing done and a lot of talking about writing. It was good to bounce ideas off each other. I ironed out a lot of plot knots. Has Far Rider sold? No, but my writing is better. I know what’s wrong with it now and how to fix it. I’ll work on it again after Rain Crow goes out. I need to get back to work on the other historical.

Sometimes you need to relax and let your hair down. What better way to do it than with writers?

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