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Deb during one of our classes

Deb during one of our classes

This is the second in a series of posts sharing what I learned from author Deb Harkness during a week-long Master Class at Hedgebrook. Here’s part 1 in case you missed it.

Having learned our fill on character, our lesson for day 2 was on plot and history. A lot of people find plotting overwhelming, but as Deb said, “all we’re doing [with plot] is taking a person from point A to point B.”

How History and Plot Work Together
The elements of a historical narrative are the same as the story historians construct about the evidence they have found. We tend to think of history as what really happened, but a lot of times we just can’t know, even with a lot of evidence. Many times the evidence, even eyewitness testimony, is contradictory.

That’s why historians look at evidence and then go back later and construct a narrative to tell a particular story. Like historical fiction writers, they end up leaving 99% of what they’ve learned off the page. It may sound like they aren’t being true if that’s the case, but if they included it all the book would be overwhelmingly lengthy and boring. They, like fiction writers, have to stick to a central point or purpose and only radiate out so far from that, and only when doing so enriches the overall point they are trying to make.

Genre and Plot
There are tons of traditional plot models out there, but Deb told us none of her books follow any of them. She believes that is a perfectly valid choice for an author to make. (Honestly, my books don’t either.) We explored the traditional three act structure, the hero’s journey (often used in fantasy) and a basic plot structure and talked about how they are alike and how they differ. (By the way, the images I’m linking to here are the exact ones Deb gave us as handouts, so you can pretend like you were there with us.) It’s a good idea to at least familiarize yourself with the elements of these and other models so that you know the basics of what’s expected from a story, even if yours doesn’t fit neatly into one of them.

Deb doesn’t define herself as a genre author. This means she writes broader fiction that doesn’t fit into a category like mystery, paranormal, romance, etc. However, many writers, myself included, do choose to write within a given genre. It’s important to note that different genres have different expectations. As an author you have three choices:

  1. Work within your genre – All genres have expected conventions, word limits/page expectations. (For example, romance has very particular word counts and expectations of what has to happen by a certain page. Thrillers are also known for having strong pacing expectations.)
  2. Work outside of genre – This is what Deb does. It tends to give you more freedom in length and what you can and can’t do, but it can also be difficult for agents and publishers to classify when it comes time to sell it.
  3. Work against genre – In order to do this, you need to know the rules of the genre well. After all, you can’t break rules (well) you don’t know or understand. And if you break them badly, you won’t have a story people want to read.

History defines the outer limits of where you can go in historical fiction. Within in historical fiction, your sub-genre (fantasy, romance, mystery, thriller, etc.) constrains the genre. In other words, if you’re writing historical fantasy (as I do), you’re still subject to the general rules of fantasy writing; you just happen to be setting your fantasy in another time period.

Bringing History into Your Plot
Deb made the very interesting point that very few people are participants in historical events, but history still affects each one of us. There are three main ways we interact with history:

  1. History that is going on around you that shapes what you eat, wear, etc. – This affects everyone. For example, if I was setting a book in pre-Roman Britain, my Celts would likely not eat onions or celery because the Romans brought those to Britain. However, because my Arthur and Guinevere live after the Roman invasion, it’s logical they could eat those things.
  2. History you are a direct participant in  –  Fewer people will be part of a battle or other significant event. This could be due to their station in life, or they might just happen to live where something of import takes place and get caught up in it. For example, because they are rulers, both Arthur and Guinevere are active participants in the historical battle of Mount Badon.
  3. Doing historical things - Deb gave the examples of being a blacksmith, riding side saddle or teaching in a one room schoolhouse. These are things that you wouldn’t really know are historic while you are doing them. It’s only by looking back through history that we can define them as historic. For example, Guinevere is a Druid priestess. To her, that is a natural part of her religion. Only to us, 1,500 years later, is this considered historical.

This is a continuum. Characters can move on it and different characters can be in different categories at the same time as one another. So your main characters might be doing historic things or being directly involved in historic events, while your secondary characters are only doing historic things. Or your main character may always be doing historic things, but those historic things might change in the course of the book as the history that is going on around him or her affects his/her life.

We all know this, but it bears repeating, especially in the context of historical fiction: history for history’s sake is boring. You may be impressed by what you know, but you will lose the story and your readers if you include all of it. (This is why I started this blog, so that I had something to do with all that extra knowledge and didn’t feel like it was going to waste if it didn’t end up on the page.) Pick the historical things that allow your character to work within your plot. History is a pot of resources you can dip into to find something that makes your characters work i.e. show something about a relationship, help in character development. It shouldn’t be there just because you learned it.

Story Openings and Other Various Tips
As any writer will tell you, knowing where is the best place to begin your story is very difficult. As writers, we often have to “write our way” into the novel and so where we started writing isn’t necessarily the best place to actually begin the book. Deb’s suggestion for finding the elusive “inciting incident” is to find the moment where everything changes for your character and start there. As she said, “It’s like sinking an anchor for yourself and the reader.”

Deb’s tip: Look at your WIP and start reading at page 151. What before that is truly necessary and what is you writing to get to where you need to be? Delete anything that isn’t absolutely essential.

Trivia: Deb told us that A Discovery of Witches originally had a lot more of Diana at the library at the beginning, but she cut it because nothing was happening.

Other tips:

  • Create a file or a book for yourself that is your “bible” with all the information about your characters, plot, and references so you can easily refer back while writing and editing.
  • If you’re going to use something extraordinary like time travel, magic or reincarnation in your story it has to have a reason beyond you wanting to do it. It has to add something to the story.
  • Letting information out slowly over time is always better than a dream, flashback or other contrived tool.

Next week: What Deb taught us about setting.

What do you think about Deb’s advice on plot and history? Writers, what tips do you have? What’s worked for you? Readers, what do you like the best in the plots of the books you read? What annoys you?

This was our last day of class. Yes, we had wine.

This was our last day of class. Yes, we had wine. (Deb is on the right.)

I received permission from Hedgebrook, Deb and my classmates to post a series of blogs about what we learned from Deb during our Master Class called Past Tense: History as Resource and Inspiration. Since she covered a different topic every day, that’s how I’m going to present them to you. She purposefully taught us different aspects of creative writing in the order she feels they are most important.

A Few Notes on Writing Historical Fiction
Before Deb got into the specifics of her first topic, she gave us a nice lecture about how we are perfectly qualified, as storytellers, to write historical fiction even though we’re not historians. I touched on that a little in my first post about the Master Class, but I’ll add a few details here.

Non-historians tend to think of history as right and wrong; historians know no such thing exists. History is an interpreted discipline in which they make an argument based on what they can back up with evidence. Circumstantial evidence doesn’t count for them, but it is a boon for historical fiction writers. It is our job to “write between the gaps,” as one of my follow writers said.

Novelists need to take authority over our story and characters and give up on the idea that historians have “the truth.” If it is not historically impossible, then for us, it is historically possible. It is our job to make it believable.

She emphasized that history should be a tool and not an obstacle. Our first job is to tell a great story. For that reason, any historical fiction story should be able to be set in contemporary times and still make sense. That is how we know the story itself is solid. The history simply places in another time.

Lesson #1: Character
Deb is a character-driven writer, meaning that for her, stories begin with and are propelled by the characters and their journey. The plot arises from what they do, rather than being thrust on them. (I’m a character-driven writer as well.) Her main point is that if your readers don’t care about the characters, all you’ve done is write history. The characters are what people relate to as they read your story.

In order for your characters to have integrity, they must be real, three-dimensional people who are consistent and make decisions that ring true, even if you don’t always agree with them. She believes that oftentimes readers are willing to trust historical fiction authors with history because they trust the characters. They are willing to forgive and forget a lot, but usually not a character that doesn’t speak to them.

History can give us the basis for creating characters, whether we pull them straight from history or use it as the context of the lives of fictional characters. Either way, when used correctly, historical details reveal things about the characters.

One character development tool Deb introduced us to is the Proust questionnaire. I’ve seen lots of lists of questions to interview your characters with, but this one was new to me. (Interestingly, this is what part of the interviews on Inside the Actor’s Studio are based on.) The idea is that by answering these questions, you begin to learn what makes your characters tick and see patterns in their lives. Most of what you answer won’t end up in your book, but knowing this information will help you start immersing yourself in their world. The better you can do that, the more believable and real your characters will be.

Another tool one of my fellow writers mentioned was the question Anne Lamott poses in Bird by Bird, “What does your character have in his/her pockets and why?” The “why” is the true purpose of any of these interview techniques because it starts to get at motivation, which is key to both a believable character and story. As Deb said, “History can be a crutch for us. Sometimes problems are better solved by asking ‘why?’”

She ended our first lecture by reiterating her belief that (at least in character driven fiction) the character’s journey transcends all the other stuff: the setting, the plot, the historical context. She taught us about each of those, but set the tone by teaching us their place: they are all secondary to character.

Next week: Plot and history.

Random bit of trivia: Deb doesn’t outline. She says her stories evolve as she goes and does lots of editing.

What do you think about Deb’s thoughts on historical fiction, history and character? Do you agree or disagree? Why? Did anything you read here strike you as important or unusual? Please tell me your reactions in the comments.

This is a hint of the book title, without giving it away.

This is a hint of the book title, without giving it away.

Lucky you! You’re getting two blog posts today since I’m part of a blog hop.

This one has been called by a few different names, including My Writing Process and the Faberge Blog Hop. I prefer to think about it as an opportunity to tell you about my latest Work in Progress (WIP). This is the contemporary story I’ve been hinting around about for a while now. Since it’s nearly ready to go to beta readers and then my agent, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give you a little tease about it.

1) What are you working on?

I am finishing edits on my first contemporary story. I don’t know exactly what to call it in terms of book genre, so I refer to it as a romantic comedy. The closest comparison I can draw is Bridget Jones’ Diary. This is my first attempt at summarizing the story, so it’s not nearly as polished as a query or back-cover copy would be:

Annabeth Coe is a hopeless romantic who is still waiting for her soul mate to appear. When, on her 34th birthday, she meets a handsome professor named Alex, she thinks she may have finally met “the one.” But when he fails to ask her out, she determines she will do whatever it takes in the next year to find the guy she knows is out there somewhere. Hilarity ensues as Annabeth navigates the world of online dating, Meetup groups and being set up by well-meaning friends and family in her quest to find love.

When she’s finally happily dating an artist named Victor, fate throws her a curve ball by thrusting her and Alex together in a working relationship, where they get to know one another without being able to pursue one another. Then, just when Alex is in reach, a blast from Annabeth’s past shows up to stir up trouble, in the form of her ex-boyfriend, Nick, who broke her heart and ruined her ability to trust years before. While she’s dealing with the unresolved emotions his reappearance has brought to the surface,  Alex is offered the opportunity of a lifetime to teach at Oxford, where he becomes embroiled in a scandal that threatens their relationship. Can Annabeth move beyond past hurts to trust Alex in his time of need? Is their love strong enough to survive what is either Alex’s greatest mistake or a pack of well-planned lies? Or will Nick’s meddling be enough for  Annabeth to give up on love completely?

This summary doesn’t do the story justice – it’s even missing my favorite character, Mia – but it’s all I’ve got for now.

2) How does this story differ from others of its genre?

This is a tough question to answer because I don’t know exactly how this book will be classified. It’s not a traditional romance for a few reasons:

  1. While it’s clear the characters are having sex, there are no explicit love scenes.  I did this on purpose because I didn’t want the sex to be the focus of the book. Rather, I wanted the characters’ story to be what keeps you reading.
  2. It’s written in first person. This is Annabeth’s story, so I wanted you in her head, experiencing things as she does. Traditional romance is written in third person, telling both sides of the story.
  3. While Annabeth’s quest for love and her relationship with Alex is certainly the focal point of the story, it also makes a strong statement about the value of education, specifically how important reading and writing are for young people. I never intended my book to have a “theme,” but it naturally occurred as a result of Alex’s passion for his students and a project he and Annabeth work on.
  4. Annabeth is older than the traditional romantic heroine. I made her my own age because I wanted to write a book for women like me who are older than the norm for those never married. I wanted a book that those of us who are still waiting for someone worth our time can relate to. I may end up having to make her younger to appease the market, but I’m hoping not.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I never thought I’d write something like this. I’m not normally a romance fan. But as I said above, this isn’t what most people think of as romance. I wrote this story because I had to. The plot came to me and would not be denied. I wrote the whole book in two months, which is only a fraction of the time it normally takes me to write my historical fiction books.

This book had it’s genesis when my best friend, Courtney, introduced me to the song “To Whom it May Concern” by The Civil Wars. I fell in love with it immediately because it’s basically a love letter to a soul mate you know is out there but have never met. I loved The Civil Wars’ music, so I listened to another album and found the song “Dust to Dust,” which was to me, a bookend to “To Whom it May Concern.” “Dust to Dust” is about two people realizing they’ve finally found one another after a long period of being lonely and trying to convince each other to let their guards down and finally love. I told Courtney that someday I was going to write a book that started with the words “To Whom it May Concern” and ends with the words “Dust to Dust.”

A few days later I was watching the British TV show Inspector Lewis and I saw actress Nadine Lewington. As soon as I saw her, I knew she’d be a character in one of my books someday. The next morning, Annabeth was in my head, and it was Nadine. Two weeks later I had a full plot. Two months later, the book was done, complete with the opening and closing lines I wanted. That’s not normally how it works for me.

4) How does my writing process work?

I pretty much chronicled the process for this book in my last answer, but I will say this: normally the whole thing takes a lot longer. But no matter if it’s contemporary or historical, every book starts with the characters. I usually know who they are and what they want before I even have a plot. When I write historical fiction, I go on from there with research into the time period/myth I’m writing. That usually helps me fill in the plot details. Then I outline and start writing, knowing full well that the characters will mess up my outline at least once during the first draft.

When I draft, I mostly write on weekends since my day job is also writing and there’s only so much my brain will do in a day. I don’t have any rituals or anything specific that I do every time. I just plop down on the couch and write. Sometimes when I need motivation, I will look at Twitter to see what the successful authors I follow have to say. Sometimes they spur me into action. Or I also watch things with the actors who play the characters in my head to get a feel for how they might move or sound. Since I’ve been to Hedgebrook, I also light incense that smells like the wood burning stoves in cabins to take me back to a time of peace and creativity. In the end, it’s the characters who write the book; I’m just their scribe.

Once I have a first draft, I set it aside for a month to get some distance and clarity. Then I go back and do a first pass, catching typos and noting major problems. I fix those and then read it again, making more changes. Then it’s time for the beat sheet, which is my last round of edits before anyone else sees it. Then my two alpha readers (one writer and one average reader) read it and I make their edits. Then a group of beta readers see it (again, a good mix of readers and writers, plus one amazing proofreader). After a few more edits, it’s off to my agent and we do some additional editing. Then it’s ready for submission.

I was tagged for this blog hop by Elise Forier Edie. Make sure to go and check out her answers about her latest book. She’s a playwright and author based in Los Angeles.  This month she is looking forward to the release of her paranormal romance novella “The Devil in Midwinter” by World Weaver Press and the opening of her one woman show “The Pink Unicorn” at Stage Left Studio in  New York City.  You can learn more about Elise’s work and writing at these links:

BLOG: http://www.eliseforieredie.com/blog.htm
TWITTER: @EliseForierEdie
FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/EliseForierEdie?ref=hl
BIO: http://www.eliseforieredie.com/bio.htm
GOODREADS: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7495615.Elise_Forier_Edie
AMAZON: http://www.amazon.com/Elise-Forier-Edie/e/B00HFEFOGE/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

And next week, look for these authors to answer the same questions about their WIP on their blogs:
Shauna Granger (she writes paranormal, post-apocalyptic and erotica), Jamie Krakover (she writes YA) and Courtney Marquez (she writes historical fiction – she’s a maybe for the hop).

What do you think about this book? Does it sound like something you’d want to read? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Neil-Patrick-Harris-as-Barney-Stinson-saying-what-on-HIMYM-GIFIf you follow me on Twitter, you know that I was less than pleased with last night’s series finale of How I Met Your Mother. The show’s creators obviously wrote themselves into a corner in the first episode, but still decided to play out their vision for the show’s last episode nine years later character and plot evolution be damned. Here’s a great, very spoilery analysis of what went wrong.

But as my Twitter friend Emmie Mears noted, “Remember: if you’re a writer, you can always adjust a plan before it goes terribly awry.” And now upon reflection of HIMYM and Emmie’s comment, I know I need to do just that with Book 3 of the Guinevere trilogy. I’ve known for a while now something isn’t right with it. Now I know what it is.

I’ve known from Book 1 how the story was going to end – and I’m still going with that – but I realize now I need to rethink how I’m getting there. One character’s life does not currently have a satisfying ending. I need his death to mean something and feel like the sacrifice it really is. I also need to leave clues for my readers that make another big reveal make sense upon reflection, rather than totally coming out of the blue. This may mean that a whole lotta words get deleted and rewritten, but if that’s what’s best for the story, that’s what will happen.

But this is what drafting is for, right? And thanks to a change in plans, I have time to really think this through and do the rewrite it needs – after I write my next book. Why am I sharing this with you? 1) I want you to understand that I’m human and make mistakes, and 2) you are part of this process with me. I want you to see me learning as I go and maybe, just maybe, learn along with me.

Lesson learned: don’t stubbornly stick to your original idea if your story changes in such a way that it no longer makes sense. Sometimes as you evolve as a writer and your story takes on a life of its own, you have to be flexible as well. As writers, we owe our readers an ending that makes sense in the confines of the world they’ve invested in, even if they don’t agree with it. Whether or not you’ll agree with mine, only time will tell, but at least I can give you a lead up that makes the time you’ve invested in the journey worth it.

Readers, have you ever been disappointed by the ending of a series where it seemed like the author forced an ending? Writers, have you ever experienced the “oh crap, what I want to do isn’t going to work” situation? How did you handle it? Share your stories in the comments.

My latest pride and joy, both purchased from Etsy. This hangs over my fireplace as a reminder that I can to anything I get my mind to. I bought a 3rd frame to display a future book-related accomplishment.

This hangs over my fireplace as a reminder that I can to anything I get my mind to. I bought a 3rd frame to display a future book-related accomplishment. (Both from Etsy.)

In lieu of a full on post this week, I thought I’d just give you guys a quick update on what’s been going on in my world:

  1. I’m still recovering and re-entering the real world from my blissful week at Hedgebrook and I’m exhausted (anyone else feeling this way, too, or is it just me?), hence the update post.
  2. I’m editing a book I haven’t talked much about here because it’s not historical. It’s a contemporary romantic comedy. It’s not something I ever thought I’d write, but love it to death. I had a ball writing it and am actually having fun editing it, which is a first for me; I usually loathe editing. I’m hoping that’s a good sign and that everyone who reads it will have fun with it, too.
  3. No updates on Guinevere, other than to say that book 3 is on hold for a bit while I focus on something new. Publication is totally out of my hands, so I’ll let you know when I know something more. I know many of you are anxious it to read it. Believe me, I’m anxious to see it go out into the world! If I had my way, it would come out tomorrow.
  4. About that new book: I’m taking on my second favorite English legend: Robin Hood. This is something I’ve always wanted to do and my agent is very excited about it. I can’t share plot details yet, so I’ll be sharing research with you as I get into it. I’ve never dug into the legend beyond what we all know as part of pop culture, so we’ll be learning together, which I think is exciting. I’m hoping to start writing this new book by May 1.
  5. I have a few more Arthurian/Celtic things to share, so they’ll pop up from time to time. Never fear.
  6. I’m going to start reviewing books for the women in fantasy group Sirens in April. My first review will be Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor, which is the final book in the trilogy that began with Daughter of Smoke and Bone. Be on the lookout for that, plus other reviews I’m doing for the Historical Novel Society, and maybe even some books I read just because I want to.

I feel like there’s more, but that’s all I can think of. I don’t know about you, but I’m excited about what the next few months will bring.

Question for all of you: I’m curious about your thoughts on genre cross over. Would you read a romantic comedy I wrote even though I’m primarily a historical fiction/fantasy writer? Does that matter to you as long as the story is good? I’m just wondering what people think. Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

And if you have any other questions, or if anyone knows of good Robin Hood resources, please comment and I’ll answer.

Nicole Evelina:

In case you ever wanted a little insight into my world…

Originally posted on Cassandra Page:

This Writer's Space Today’s This Writer’s Space features Nicole Evelina, Arthurian author extrodinaire.

Where I Write

When I’m at home, I’m usually on my couch with two cats vying for space with the laptop. Not very glamorous, but it gets the job done! I do have a second bedroom that doubles as an office (and my cats’ bedroom), but I don’t usually do much writing there. I think the couch is just more comfortable, plus I get beautiful afternoon sun through the front window.

Nicole Evelina couch

When I venture out to write, my favorite place is a little coffee shop about 15 minutes from where I live. It’s loud (darn college students) and the music is terrible (thank God for headphones) but I love the old-world vibe.

Nicole Evelina coffee house

Where I’m Inspired

Nicole Evelina lake

This is a man-made lake that’s less than 10 minutes from my house. I go there to walk/run a lot and it really clears my…

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Our Master Class group, including teacher Deb Harkness

How do you begin to describe the opportunity of a lifetime? Knowing me, it’s not with few words, but I’ll try to limit myself.

IMG_0500Many of you know that I just got back a week ago from attending a Master Class led by #1 NYT Bestselling author Deborah Harkness. It was held at Hedgebrook, a magical area of land on Whidbey Island, about two hours outside of Seattle that is dedicated to advancing female writers.

I found out in mid-January that Deb would be teaching a class on using history in fiction when she tweeted about it. At first, I didn’t think I could afford it, but then a wise soul (my mom) pointed out that it would not only be a great opportunity to learn about writing, but also allow me to cross off several items from my bucket list (meet Deb Harkness, take a class from her, go on a real writing retreat, see the Pacific Northwest). So I applied and was one of six writers chosen. Deb later told us that she hand-picked us because she saw potential in us and our writing, plus we were creating stories about strong women that she wanted to read.

Fir Cottage

Fir Cottage

Hedgebrook is a unique place. Each writer has her own cottage, named after the type of wood from which they are made. Mine was Fir Cottage. They are very simple, hand-crafted in an Amish style and heated by wood burning stoves. Each one has a small kitchenette with a toaster oven, single burner and just enough cookery and plates for single use. There’s a desk to work at, a comfy window seat and the world’s most relaxing recliner. There’s also a half bath and a loft with a bed and chest of drawers. That’s it. No wifi or anything fancy. As it turns out, this simplicity taught me that I don’t need so much stuff in my life and I’m beginning the process of purging, but that’s another story.

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My writing space inside the cottage

Every day (except for Saturday, which was a writing day), we had two hours of class with Deb. We were her first ever creative writing class, but if she hadn’t told us that, I wouldn’t have known. She’s such a great teacher! Every lesson had a different theme: character, plot, setting, world view, point of view, research, etc. I’m hoping to share with you a little of what she taught us in each lesson, but I’m waiting on final permission from Hedgebrook to do so. The really cool thing about this class is that it wasn’t taught from some rule book; Deb used her own experiences and encouraged us to share our own in order to make learning a group process. She even shared drafts of her own writing with us so that we could see how her writing evolved from one draft to another and told us personal stories of frustration and triumph with the writing process that made us all feel so much better, since it meant we weren’t alone.

The view from one of my windows.

The view from one of my windows.

One interesting thing that I will share is that Deb took great pains to convince us that we, as non-historians, are actually in a better place to write historical fiction than historians, like herself are. She made the point that historical fiction, at its core, is about telling a great story; the history is window dressing. As we haven’t been through the training emphasizing facts only that historians have, we’re more in touch with the imaginative side of our brains that wants to fill in the gaps, which is where the storytelling takes place. This doesn’t mean that we can just make up whatever we want or be sloppy about research, but it does mean we have greater freedom. That being said, she also explained how closely the job of a historian and historical fiction writer resemble one another, as even historians can never know the truth for certain; they have theory, use facts to back it up, and do their best to convince others that they are the most right. Not all that different from the stories we tell, albeit we go into our stories knowing they are fiction. This made me feel a lot better, as I’ve always questioned if I was qualified to write historical fiction.

IMG_1276After class, we’d go to the Farmhouse together for dinner. This building is where the kitchen and dining areas are, plus a cozy library/living room. Oh the food! I can’t rave enough! From salmon patties and curry to fresh mussels and clams and chicken Mirabella and the best vegetarian enchalladas – it was all so fresh, all organic, so good, made all the better because it was made with love. As we ate, the wine and conversation flowed. Boy did we tell some funny stories!

Hanging out after dinner.

Hanging out after dinner.

Deb fit right in. She is so open, so warm and so human. Each night after desert, we’d adjourn to the library/living room for conversation. She intended to do a little work, but always ended up joining us and answering questions about her stories. I learned more about movie deals, book tours, audio books and the behind the scenes of publishing from her than I could have in any class.

Once we were done, we all grabbed our groceries for the next day and walked back by flashlight (there are no lights and it was cloudy for all but one night so we didn’t have moonlight) to our cabins to shower, read, write or do whatever before we went to sleep.

Look! I learned how to build a fire all by myself!

Look! I learned how to build a fire all by myself!

We also each got at least an hour of one-on-one time with Deb. Some people gave her writing samples to critique. I wish I had part of book 3 that was ready for that, but since I didn’t, I spent my time talking with her about what it’s like to be a historian (and realized that a PhD is probably not right for me) and also about the publishing process and life as an author. I can’t tell you enough just how wonderful and wise she is. I am so blessed to have had this chance to spend time with her and get to know her.

Now, a week later, the whole thing feels like a dream. It really did go by fast. But as I reflect on my journal entries, hang new photos on my wall and keep in touch with my fellow writers on Facebook, I realize just what a special opportunity this was. I’m so glad that Hedgebrook provided it and that I went for it. I’m already planning on applying for a residency at Hedgebrook at some point in the future and I will be supporting them in every way I can. There’s a running joke among Hedgebrook alumni in the journals kept by residents of each cabin about the goddess of Hedgebrook, the spirit of the place. Call it what you will, but there really is something healing and inspiring about it. It is a place that women can come and feel creative, safe and nurtured, things sometimes very lacking in the outside world.

IMG_1223Thank you to everyone who made this opportunity possible – at Hedgebrook and in my personal and work lives. You don’t know what a gift you’ve given to me. To everyone reading this, if you get the chance to visit Hedgebrook, or do anything similar in your own life, go for it! You only get one shot at this life and it’s up to you to make your dreams come true. As a Hedgebrook alumna, I know I am several steps closer to mine now.

What questions do you  have about my writing retreat? Please ask them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer.

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