Sunday, August 26, 2007

Writers Retreat

Our Critique Group Goes on a Retreat...

Each week I meet with Judy Moresi and Donna Ross to critique our manuscripts. When Judy offered the chance to have a writers’ retreat at her “cabin” at Lake of the Ozarks, I was all over that! Turns out her “cabin” is a gorgeous home on the water with four bedrooms and oodles of room. The three of us drove down last Monday, and a tiny voice within me chanted, “Road trip! Road trip!” the whole time. I think it was the kid inside, squealing with joy. I really needed a break. I hadn’t realized it, but I did. Judy and Donna were excellent traveling companions. We stopped at an Amish shop and bought quilted items. We paused to poke around in an antique store. We bought groceries—and I got a State of Missouri Fishing License. Judy proved a patient teacher. She taught me to tie a hook on the line, to secure the rods in the holders, and to listen for the bells that signaled catfish on the line. I caught six catfish and two crappies. It was great fun!

But Did We Get Any Writing Done?

Now you’re probably wondering, did you do any writing?

We did. More importantly for me, we worked on plotting. I’m tackling a new book, and I like having a pretty good idea where my story is going. I filled up page after page in my notebook with suspects, background, and other details. But I wasn’t happy with the general direction. I wanted to write a book about redemption, a love story, set on Kiawah Island SC, and the mystery portion had taken over. So, I talked with my pals, and by the end of the trip, I felt much more clarity—in fact, I came home eager to get my ideas down.

But Field Trips are Important, Too!

To keep ourselves fresh, to get exercise, and to refuel our creative juices, we took “field trips.” We visited Judy’s neighbor, Gary, and met his pet raccoons. (He bought them from a licensed raccoon breeder after getting permission from the authorities.) Gary is a modern day “mountain man,” whose motto is “it’s better to be hated for who you really are than to be loved for who you are not.”

And How Those Field Trips Improved My Work-in-Progress...

That’s an important idea. When you write, in order to be successful, you have to find who (or what) your book really is. (I know, sounds weird, but it’s true.) You peel away layers to discover the essence, the message and theme. Otherwise, you are simply tossing words around, willy-nilly. I needed this time to really dig down deep. To discover why this particular idea intrigued me, and how I needed to proceed so I could do my best work.

Why I Write Mysteries

I write mysteries because I appreciate having a structure. I also like the fact that every mystery has at its heart a wrong that must be put right. There is to be a REASON behind the activity within the book, and that REASON is always the same: Tikkun Olem, which is Hebrew for “repair of the world,” the fixing of that which is wrong. We are coming up upon the Jewish High Holy Days. It’s a special time of year where we are required to think of the wrongs we’ve down, and how to make amends, to make things right.

A very good time of year, I think, to begin a new mystery.


Deb Baker said...

I've never been on a retreat, but after reading this, I'm going to see if I can arrange one.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Actually, it went so well, we're discussing offering it for other writers at Judy's house.

Kathryn Lilley said...

Ooh, I'm envious! Sounds like a fabulous time.