Once Upon A Time

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, making a last-minute switch on the post she was planning to write…

I had something else in mind to write about for today’s post, but having just come back from an event, I changed my mind. These days it takes a lot to really impress my jaded heart, but I’m happy to report I’ve found something!

You’ve all heard us show and tell how writers support one another (and truly, there is no other business I know of where competitors regularly assist each other to make their products better–and have loads of fun doing it). One of the ways we do this is by attending each other’s events if we are able. Because it can be a bit of a crapshoot whether readers will show up or not–I’ve had events where 60 people attended, and an event where a single, solitary soul came to see me–if I can go and make sure a friend will have at least one familiar face, I will do it.

So last night I went to an author reading at a place I have been hearing and seeing so much about: The Storyteller’s Cottage in Simsbury, Connecticut. Just the Victorian exterior was enough to make me long to see the inside.

And when I did? The place FAR exceeded my expectations. The interior is stunning, with gorgeous period décor and glorious original woodwork. But it’s the activities available that really got that aforementioned heart of mine racing. In addition to a number of writing classes and children’s programming, writers can rent out rooms, or even a whole floor, by the hour. I was practically salivating, thinking about grabbing a few writer friends and writing in the Jane Austen or Jules Verne Steampunk room for a few hours some Sunday afternoon. But wait, there’s more!

There are also two mystery escape rooms, with a third one being fitted out–and one of them is based on Agatha Christie. Honestly, it was all I could do not to ditch the readings downstairs and insist that the owner lock me in immediately. But delayed satisfaction is good for the character, right? So yet another reason to return.

The owner has thought of everything, including book groups like The Great British Baking Club, where participants read culinary mysteries and then bake in the gorgeous kitchen–um, where do I sign up?

So, in case you weren’t sure, I am highly recommending a trip to the Storyteller’s Cottage. Let me know if you go!

Do you know of any businesses that think outside the box in such an impressive way? Have you ever done a mystery escape room–and lived to tell about it?

Stirring the Plot

Sadie/Susannah/Jane here, wishing the cat would stop walking across the keyboard so I can write already...

Hey, Wicked Friends! It’s hard to believe another month has gone by and it’s my turn to do some blabbing on the blog. I hope you all had a lovely September. I think I did–it went by in a blur for me!

Yes, we have a uniform. No, I can’t tell you what MTB stands for. We are sworn to secrecy.

I’ve spoken before about the wonderful retreats I and my writer friends go on several times a year. One of my posse has a gorgeous Vermont ski house that sleeps a dozen people very comfortably–and believe me, when this all-female group is at its largest, those 5 bedrooms and 4.5 bathrooms come in handy!

Today I thought I’d tell you about an aspect of these retreats that you writers might be able to apply to your own groups (and I sincerely hope you all have at least one teammate in your dugout, because it is NOT easy going it alone). Our main focus is always our plots–and we always collaborate. But here’s the thing: we write in different genres. And each genre has its own set of expectations. Depending on who can make it to the retreat, we may have writers working on mystery, Amish romance, steamy romance, urban fantasy, paranormal, women’s fiction, young adult, or even middle-grade chapter books.

That’s a pretty big range. So how is it that a mystery writer can help plot a shapeshifter novel?

First, we have all known each other for years, are close friends, trust each other implicitly, and are familiar with each other’s work. So we have an innate sense of what will fly and what will not fly for any particular author. The corollary to this is that we have a tacit agreement that anyone can give any opinion without fear of the recipient taking offense. This is huge. Without this kind of trust and honesty, the group simply doesn’t function. We all understand that we are not there to pat each other on the head and say, “Good job!” (although we give lots of support) We are there to make everyone’s story the best it can be. And sometimes that means tough love.

Second, we respect the process. Our retreats are structured so that we have both group plotting time and personal writing time. We rarely deviate from our routine, because if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Our hostess has an MBA, and she keeps us on track if we start to veer off topic. Depending on the size of the group, we have one or two plotting sessions. We sit around her big table, and the writer who is “it” gives us a nutshell version of her story. Sometimes we exchange story premises beforehand, but usually we just wait until we get there, and then listen. The woman at bat may have just a nugget of an idea, or may have most of her plot worked out but needs help ironing out details. She tells us what she needs, and we start firing questions and ideas, which leads to more questions and ideas, and very soon a plot takes shape. It’s frightening, sometimes, how fast it comes together with that many creative brains working in unison. We can usually plot an entire book in a half hour. And then we move to the next.

Third, we all understand the basics of good fiction: compelling characters, a memorable setting, plenty of conflict (both internal and external that moves the story along), a clear goal for every character, which also moves the story, setbacks/failures, a logical and exciting climax, and a resolution that satisfies in some way. These basics cut across genre lines. (Literary fiction is its own thing–but it’s not our thing, LOL!, so I’m leaving that out of this discussion) So if one or more of these element is weak in the story we’re plotting, we can identify it and come up with ways to strengthen it.

And fourth, we understand that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The questions that the women’s fiction writer asks of the young adult writer are quite often something the YA writer might not have considered. Different perspectives make for fresh, innovative stories. And creative energy feeds on itself. It gets faster, bigger, and badder the more it’s nurtured.

What about you? Do you have a friend or colleague you can be completely honest with, whether you’re a writer or not? Can you take constructive criticism without getting offended? Who are your MTBs?



Making a Writing Retreat: Part II

From Edith, starting to walk around again (after getting a new knee) north of Boston.

Here’s Part II of my poll on writing retreats, with answers to my questions from authors Tiger Wiseman, Ramona DeFelice Long, Liz Milliron, and Holly Robinson – their bios are at the end of the post. Check out Part I for the purpose and feeling of a retreat, although of course there is overlap.

What are your top five tips for what to bring?



Tiger Wiseman

  • Writing snacks ( I bring potato chips)
  • A good book or two
  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • MP3 player
  • Wine
  • For work, only what you need. Before you leave, prioritize your projects and bring research, notes, etc. for those projects only, instead of every possible story on your dream list. Bringing too many projects can leave you feeling like a failure because you’ll never get to them all.
  • Comfort items, like your favorite pillow, blanket, teddy bear, Christmas lights, a sound machine.
  • A story idea or issue that can be discussed or brainstormed as a group. This is a real bonding experience.
  • A journal. If you are a newbie, it may help to note what you brought that was a godsend and what you left behind that you longed for. If you have a meaningful experience, journaling it will keep it alive for you  long after the retreat is over.
  • A camera! I use my cell phone and love looking back at photos of my writing escape places.



Liz Milliron

  • Anything you need to make your writing space comfortable (pillows, lap desk, favorite blend of tea, etc.).
  • Something you can take notes on (cards or a phone app), preferably portable so if you decide to take a walk and inspiration strikes, you’re prepared.
  • Materials for the WIP – me I never go without my MacBook air, which has everything I need on it, but if you write longhand make sure you have all your things. This sounds silly, but I once went on a retreat and a woman there had forgotten half her research materials.
  • Snacks to power you through the day (our retreats are never lacking for food, but if you crave something bring it along).
  • Comfortable clothes to write in. I am known in our Sisters in Crime chapter for my Cookie Monster pajama pants.When the pants come out, everyone knows I’m about to hunker down.Jeans are for socializing, but Cookie Monster is for writing!


  • Flannel Pajamas & slippers: my favorite writing uniform
  • Running clothes: I find that solitary runs with music are the best way to wake up my brain
  • Bath bubbles: Yes, a bath works wonders to ease the kinks in your body after writing for hours
  • Quick reads: when I’m intensely writing, I like a good mystery or thriller for escape
  • Chocolate & wine: yeah, I know those are two things, but they go together!

E:  I’m seeing a theme of snacks and comfort, there! And what I bring is no different.wellspring-bedroom

  • Comfy clothes and walking shoes (yes, and slippers).
  • My smaller laptop, favorite pen, and paper notebook.
  • Super easy meals. I don’t want to waste time cooking unless I’m with others.
  • Wine and chocolate, of course.
  • Chargers!
How long does it take you to get into the groove? What’s the optimal number of days to be away?
T: I can get into my writing groove immediately. Optimal retreat is 4 to 7 days.  Anything shorter and you don’t get enough written to feel successful; longer and you start to fret about things not getting done at home. . .and the dog.

R: I lose the bulk of the first day and the last day for coming and going, so the optimum


Ramona DeFelice Long

short side is 5 days, because that leaves you at least three full days to write. I have been away for two weeks and four weeks, and the first is too short and the last is too long. For long term I’d say the sweet spot is three weeks.

L: I get into the groove pretty quickly – an hour, tops.l think this is because my limited writing time during the week has conditioned me to hit the ground running. I love weekend retreats. A day isn’t quite enough and I think I’d go a little bonkers after a week, but a weekend (Friday afternoon through Sunday morning) is perfect for me.
H: I get into the groove pretty quickly, after setting up my stuff, unpacking, and taking a walk to clear my mind. Optimally, I love going for 3-5 days: intense 10-hour writing days.
E: It takes me a few hours, usually. I have to get the space set up to my liking, poke around the kitchen, breathe some oxygen outside, and depending on long my drive was, take a walk – but even that is kickstarting my writing.
If you’ve hosted a retreat, any comments about the experience? Selecting whom to invite?
T: I’ve hosted several retreats in Vermont. I find that 3 to 5 writers (including host) is a good number since we share cooking duties.  I often let one person invite whoever they want, their friends.  I don’t think the choice of people is as important as making sure everyone understands and follows the rules: quiet times, chore division. Anyone can get along for 5 days, as long as they’re accomplishing what they came to do. Down time is very important.  If you’re alone, you may push too hard; with others, you stop for dinner and–at my retreats–wine and conversation or games. Makes for a well-rounded, relaxing retreat.


Sign as one leaves the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts

R: I have hosted. Once I rented the retreat house and invited a few people I thought might be available. Another time, I specifically invited people who’d been to a past retreat, as a reunion. A schedule that allows for private work all day and a dinner followed by group readings, brainstorming, discussion, or just chilling with wine is my favorite program. If there are workshops or any programming, those should be in the morning so the afternoon can be devoted to a long period of writing.

L: if you are putting together a weekend and inviting people (as opposed to something like doing it as a chapter of an organization), look for people who are flexible. People who like being in groups and are willing to pitch in – not sit around and live off other people’s work. Nothing brings a group down faster than a constant complainer. And if your event is going to be open to a chapter and you know there’s a complainer, resolve that the person is not going to ruin the weekend for you.
E: Morning workshops wouldn’t work for me. I need my morning creative time alone, and would rather hang with the group late afternoon and evening. Re-entry can be rough, too.

H: I do have mini-retreats at my Prince Edward Island house. I only take friends who write


Holly Robinson

as intensely as I do—that’s just three people to choose from—my favorite friend to take is one who knows when not to talk! Which is pretty much all day, unless we’re on an afternoon walk, or after the wine comes out after dinner and we share what we’ve been working on.

E: Holly, I’m that kind of writer! Take me along next time, please?
My guests:
Readers:  Ask our retreatants questions – they’ll pop in and check throughout the day if they can. And be sure to check out their writing if you haven’t already. They are a talented bunch!

More Thoughts on Retreats

Susannah/Sadie here, just trying to keep cool…

A few weeks ago the Wickeds posted about the annual retreat they take to the Maine coast. Today I thought I’d post some tips about how to plan your own retreat. Whether you’re a writer, a scrapbooker, a knitter, or have some other craft or hobby you want to have some uninterrupted time to work on with other like-minded folks, a retreat can be a great way to get away from (most of) the responsibilities of daily life and really focus.

I’ll use a writing retreat as an example for the rest of this post, but this basic template will work for most other types.

First you need to decide whom you want to ask to go on your retreat with you. Think very carefully about your roster. You will be in close quarters with these people for several days. Make sure you choose a team of people who don’t have habits you can’t live with, and whom you can trust to pull their weight with shared chores, and whom you can trust to leave you alone when you are working. Don’t bring a diva along with you, anyone who needs to be the center of attention, or you’ll spend the whole weekend focusing on or distracted by her instead of your work. In a similar vein, make sure the people you ask are at more or less your level of skill and expertise. You don’t want a rank beginner, or you may end up doing more teaching than writing. The group I go with has been together for several years and we know each other well in and outside of the writing world. Although, we’re never really out of the writing world.

Next, you need to decide on a venue. I’m blessed in that one of my retreat partners owns a large, beautiful ski home on a mountain in Vermont that she is generous enough to open up to 8-10 of us twice a year. There are 4.5 baths and 5 bedrooms, good Wi-Fi, and, oh, a hot tub. If someone in your group has a second home somewhere, that might be just the place. If that’s not an option, depending on your budget, you may wish to rent a cottage somewhere, or even go to a hotel for a weekend. Obviously, the size of your venue dictates the size of the group you can take. Make sure everyone understands what kind of shared expenses there will be.

I highly recommend having a focus for your retreat. With my group, we set aside several hours (in two blocks) to work on plots and characterizations. We have a designated time where everyone sits around the big table, and we brainstorm a plot for each attendee. You would be amazed at how complete a story can be hammered out by 10 women in a half hour to 45 minutes. This ensures that everyone gets equal time, is giving as well as receiving, and comes away energized and ready to get to work. Bear in mind that we’ve been working together for a while now. The more times you retreat with the same group, the more efficient the process becomes.

Decide how you will handle meals, snacks, and cleanup. For our Vermont weekends, we potluck it, although we do a little advance planning so we don’t end up with 8 slow cookers full of chili. Anyone who’s crunched for time or not much of a cook can bring wine or offer to do the dishes. Oh, and we consider wine our eleventh member of the retreat.

Depending on where you hold your retreat, you may want to set aside a couple of hours to make a field trip into town. Where we go in Vermont (Manchester), there are both an amazing independent bookstore (Northshire Bookstore) and a yarn shop (Yarns For Your Soul). Do set a time limit so you don’t spend your retreat shopping instead of writing.

Finally, decide on some personal goals for the weekend. Perhaps you have a new project and you want to complete several chapters. Or you’re nearly finished with your first draft and you want to bring that puppy home. Or you have a word count target. Be fairly aggressive with your goal setting. The energy that comes from the group may surprise you. Take advantage of it and get as much, or more, done than you ever thought possible.

Oh, and do something nice for your hostess. Bring her a gift, and don’t leave her with a dirty house to clean after you’ve gone.

Do you go on retreat? Would you like to? It’s not that difficult to organize one!

Fun with a Purpose

Today begins the Wickeds’ Third Annual Writing Retreat! We are all delighted to be attending and each have some things we hope to accomplish over the weekend. All of us are enthusiastic goal setters or are trying to be and a writing retreat is perfect time to challenge ourselves and each other. So Wickeds, what do you have planned for our time together?

 Jessie: I am planning to write 10,000 new words. And I am looking forward to talking about the business of writing with all of you in the evenings.

beach house bunkhouseSherry: Just for the record I wanted to do an Opening Lines post today because I’m not good at setting goals. These women are trying to make me a goal setter — go figure. Here goes: my goals include writing some words, drinking some wine, laughing until my cheeks hurt, and climbing down from the bunk bed without breaking my neck.

Julie: Oh Sherry, I should be a good woman and say I’ll take the top bunk again, but . . .My goals are to relax (which hasn’t happened in a while), add at least 5000 words (though I have high hopes for more), sleep, nap, and celebrate being around these wicked cozy dames.

Sherry: I told you last year, I’d take it this year, Julie!



  1. Write
  2. Imbibe adult beverages
  3. Discuss book marketing
  4. Imbibe adult beverages
  5. Solve problems of publishing industry
  6. Imbibe adult beverages
  7. Solve problems of known universe


Repeat 1 through 7.


Repeat 1 through 6. Leaving in the afternoon, so any remaining problems of known universe will unfortunately have to stay unsolved.

Edith: We should make Liz take the top bunk – she’s the youngest in the group! My scarvesgoals are: 1) to write a bunch of new words on my historical, or maybe plot out the fourth Local Foods mystery. And 2) to eat, talk, and drink with my best writing buds. We do have an actual agenda this time beyond writing (and drinking). It includes a group photo shoot, scarf decoration and tying lessons, setting up the blog calendar, talking book marketing, and more. We might be stuffing goody bags for Malice Domestic. We might be walking on the beach. We’ll surely be exchanging tips and advice and experience six ways round.

Liz: Mine are pretty simple – finish Icing on the Corpse!