Showing posts with label retreats. Show all posts
Showing posts with label retreats. Show all posts

23 September 2019

Retreat!


by Travis Richardson

First off I want to thank everybody for the kinds words that all of you sent me regarding my recent struggles to write. The kind words of support mean a lot. (And thank you Leigh for the Mac/Chrome advice, I still need to follow up on a few things over there.) I'm still a work in progress, but things are looking better.

Now on to this week's topic. A week ago I woke up on Monday morning in the Sierra Nevada foothills well-rested, but sad. I was about to leave an amazing writer's retreat hosted by Holly and Mick West. I had to go back to work and adult responsibility. Ugh. The weather apparently picked up on the sentiment. Up until then, the days had been hot and cloudless. In the night, there were thousands of stars to gaze up at before the harvest moon obscured the more distant celestial wonders. (Even then the view was better than anything you could see in LA.) But on that Monday morning, a light mist greeted the soon-to-depart-writers on the patio and soon it picked up from there, dumping a torrent of rain as we packed our bags and then our cars. All that was missing was a piano playing a melancholy yet inspirational tune as hugs and farewells were given before the credits roll. But I'm starting at the end. Let's jump to the beginning of this tale.

Back in June SoCal MWA and Sisters in Crime Los Angeles sponsored the every-other-year California Crime Writer's Conference. This conference is geared towards crime writers with law enforcement agents, publicists, publishers, agents and acclaimed writers making presentations. 
Sarah M. Chen, Stephen Beuhler, Holly West and I attended and made plans to go out to out for dinner after the conference was over. (It was also at CCWC two years ago that Holly came up with the idea to put together a Go-Gos themed anthology, Murder-a-Go-Go's.)

Sarah, Stephen, Holly, and Travis at Dinah's Chicken, where plans were hatched. 
Exhausted and enthused at the end of the conference we headed over to Dinah's Chicken where Holly invited us to visit her place up north for a writer's retreat. She and her husband, science writer, Mick West, had lived in Los Angeles for several years before moving up north to a gorgeous home outside of Sacramento. We said yes and unlike a lot of fake promises made in LA, we meant it.

Flash forward to September 12. Sarah and Stephen carpooled and I took my family up the I-5 for roughly 390 miles through the Angeles Mountains down to the central valley's almond orchards, grapes, and smelly cows into original gold mining country with old, middle 19th-century buildings still intact along windy roads. The six-plus hour drive while tiring also energized and readied my mind for the writing ahead.

That night Holly made spaghetti complemented with wine from the region. Tales travel and genial conversation went into the night. In the morning we wrote. I took a spot at a table outside until the heat brought me inside. When my wife and daughter returned from a kid's museum, all of went out for lunch in Placerville followed by ice cream at an old saloon near where a hanging tree of the early settlers had been.   

Having ice cream in an old saloon where a hanging tree used to be. 


That night we had different flavored moon cakes that my wife, Teresa, had brought. We sat outside looking at the stars (and passing satellites) as a full moon rose.

Saturday was all-day writing. I ended up waking up first and watched deer grazing the dining room table. I ended up writing there, unintentionally kicking Sarah out of the place she had been the day before. (Sorry Sarah.) While I'd like to say I wrote the entire time, the truth is I did a lot of research. More than necessary, I'm sure, for a short story. But it was clear, uninterrupted time that was amazing.


Where I researched and wrote. 
That evening we went out after critiquing some of our works. First stop was Fulsom Prison. Little known fact that Johnny Cash forgot to mention, deer are all over the place. Holly and Sarah got to feed them with crackers from a security guard. Also, I almost stole merchandise from the prison museum. After talking to the guard who let us in (to the museum) after hours, I walked out with a book about Folsom I had been holding but hadn't bought. I walked several yards outside before I realized what I did. Fortunately, they were lenient on me since I returned the purloined item without any damage.
Fugitives 

We went to downtown Folsom that night for burgers, beer and a sense of the early evening nightlife. Cute stores with interesting curios, a biker gang (Devil's Disciples) and an outdoor piano were many of the things we encountered around the town.

Cheers

Sarah plays on the olde tyme piano
We wrote again on Sunday morning. I forced myself to only write, not read. Later, when it was time for a critique of my work, the scenes I had worked revealed what I had done. I'd gotten too specific with government officials, departments, agency rivalries, etc. (My plot is what would happen if Gore had been president in 2001.) I needed clear conflict, not multi-level pre-9/11 bureaucracy. It was good to hear. I felt the weakness, but they clarified it.

When my daughter returned from an outing, we went swimming in the pool. Later Mick barbequed delicious chicken shawarma and friends came over. We talked into the night about what we got out of the retreat and goals for the future.

The last night
Then we went to bed. The bittersweet morning, as explained above, happened. We said our goodbyes with the hope to return next year with a few check-ins now and then.

Final group shot

You know a place is magical when it has the Maltese Falcon

I am fortunate that Stephen and Sarah live here in LA and we get to meet in a writer's group almost every week. Holly provided us with a great location to dig in and take writing seriously again and to enjoy time with good friends. Of course, I came back to work to find myself overwhelmed and having to prepare for a work "retreat" the following day. But I'm more centered and focused now. Thank you, Holly and Mick, for a wonderful time.

Have you ever been on a retreat before? Would you want to go on one or have a staycation instead?














Travis Richardson is originally from Oklahoma and lives in Los Angeles with his wife and daughter. He has been a finalist and nominee for the Macavity, Anthony, and Derringer short story awards. He has two novellas and his short story collection, BLOODSHOT AND BRUISED, came out in late 2018. He reviewed Anton Chekhov short stories in the public domain at www.chekhovshorts.com. Find more at www.tsrichardson.com