A Wicked Excellent Retreat

by Julie, still basking in the glow of hard work, good food, and wonderful friends

A WICKED EXCELLENT RETREATSix years ago Jessie, Barb, Edith and Liz had newly minted contracts, and decided to get together for a weekend to figure out what that meant. The next year Sherry had a contract, and she and I were invited to join the weekend retreat. That weekend the Wickeds were born. We got the blog up a few weeks later, in time for Liz’s release, followed shortly by Edith and Barb.

My contract came through shortly thereafter, and the six of us have been gathering for this 48 hour retreat ever since. Some years have been mostly about writing. This year the focus was on the business of being a Wicked. That isn’t to say that there wasn’t laughter, great food, lots of wine, and fabulous conversations. There was all of that, and more. But five years into this community that we all cherish, we had conversations about how to continue to build, celebrate our successes, support one another through deadlines, and navigate the twists of turns of life.

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We are six very different women, with different points of view. We don’t always agree, but we do always listen to one another. Over these six years we’ve become friends, certainly. We’ve also come to respect one another enormously, respect our paths, and offer advice when asked for it.

This year we helped each other plot, met up with Lea Wait (who’s new book Death and a Pot of Chowder by Cornelia Kidd comes out tomorrow!), talked about an editorial calendar for the blog, had a conversation about the book business that lasted the better part of a morning, shared new skills with each other, created some new work flow for the blog, and wrote down releases and deadlines through 2019. My mind is whirring, but I’m excited about the conversations, and rejuvenated by spending time with my friends. I know you will all love these new ideas, which we’ll be rolling out this summer.

One personal note–as I mentioned earlier, I did not have a contract when I joined the blog. I will forever be grateful to these women for inviting me on board, lifting me up along my journey, and becoming dear friends. We’ve been figuring out the best way to be Wickeds along the way, and are so grateful to you, dear readers, for coming along with us.

Readers, do you go on retreat with friends? Tell us about it in the comments!

Wickeds, what did I miss in my recap?

Mindful Writing

By Kim in Baltimore, reading fascinating short stories.

A few years ago I joined a group called the Mindful Writers. Each year I attend two retreats, one in the fall and the other in spring, where I am able to write for hours in peace and take hikes and meditate. These have been some of the most glorious times of my life.

Last year the group decided to compile some of our writings into a book and the result is Into The Woods. All of the proceeds from the sale of this anthology will be donated to The Children’s Heart Foundation. I have invited Lori M. Jones, Ramona Long and Kathleen Shoop to the blog to share with our readers more about this wonderful anthology and why this foundation matters to our group.

Lori’s Story               .FullSizeRender (6)

In 2005, I was pregnant with what appeared to be a healthy baby girl. Then at a routine 24 week check-up, the doctor said, “I can’t find your baby’s heartbeat.” When the doctor finally did it was only at half the rate the heartbeat should have been. There are 40 known heart defects, and she was diagnosed with one of them – Complete Heart Block – which is a defect in the heart’s electrical system. She would need a pacemaker as an infant in order to survive. She is now 12, on her second pacemaker, and doing very well. But when she was a baby, I had no idea what her future would entail, or more specifically, how she’d handle being different. I dissected my emotions through writing which led to me being offered a contract for my first children’s book – Riley’s Heart Machine – about a girl dealing with being different from her peers because she has heart machinery.

I searched for a heart charity to donate some of the proceeds to which led me to discovering the amazing work of The Children’s Heart Foundation. I eventually became more involved with the charity, from chairing the Pittsburgh Congenital Heart Walk and sitting on the PA Chapter board and the national board to eventually leading the PA Chapter as its president.

Since writing Riley’s Heart Machine, I’ve traveled to schools delivering assemblies on Writing from the Heart and have published another book, Confetti the Croc, which celebrates our unique qualities. I also have written two novels, Renaissance of the Heart and Late for Fate.

One of the best gems I discovered in my writing journey was The Mindful Writing Group. Through the discipline of writing together, I was able to complete my manuscripts. More importantly, I have found my tribe!

The anthology means so much to me because it’s a full circle moment for me. This book was a chance to join forces with all of my tribe members and create one beautiful project. And then they told me the proceeds were going to The Children’s Heart Foundation, to help the very charity that was fighting to make sure my daughter and other children have a bright future.

Kathleen Shoop on why the anthology is titled Into the WoodsIMG_6751.PNG

Into the Woods was a natural outgrowth for us, The Mindful Writers Retreat Authors. We write together a lot – in person and online. After years of retreating together we decided it was time to create something, a sound bite of the variety of voices that make up the group.

An anthology is a fabulous way for authors to pool their energy into a project while maintaining independence in what each person produces for the book. The collection creates a unique and vibrant body of work that can be read in short spurts or in its entirety. The theme – Into the Woods – seemed like the perfect idea for The Mindful Retreat Authors’ first collaboration since so much inspiration, ideas and wonder has grown out of our times in the lovely woods.

Ramona Long on why she wanted to be the editor of this anthology

I volunteered to edit Into the Woods because I wanted to support The Children’s  Heart Foundation and this was a way I could do that. Like any anthology, working with a group of authors is always a learning experience, but I was particularly happy to work with this group because we are so closely bonded as Mindful Writers. We are all a part of one another’s stories, in a way.

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Dear Readers, thank you for joining us today. Please share your stories about a group or organization that is close to your own heart.

The Detective’s Daughter Goes on Retreat

Edith here. Our Accomplice, Kim Gray,who usually writes the Detective’s Daughter posts, can’t be here today, so I’m jumping in to share her virtual report of going on a writers’ retreat.

Kim, Annette Dashofy, Martha Reed, and I were invited by Ramona DeFelice Long to go on a week-long retreat at Clare House, a convent retreat house in Pennsylavania. None of us had any problem with jumping at the opportunity. I’d gone with Ramona and Kim last year and loved it. After we returned last week, Kim put up a few pictures and commentary on her Facebook page, so I’m drawing it together in a blog post for her!

The gathering spot for the animals’ breakfast.


Time for reflection.


Our doorbell.


The front entrance of my home away from home.


A good spot to sit and think.


My companion on my walks these past seven days.


A great place to relax and write.


(Edith: The “Hermitages” referenced in the sign are five tiny cottages also on the grounds that one can rent. I haven’t been inside, but the web site says they are 17′ x 17′ and have all the essentials, including a mini-kitchen. Wow.)


Our last dinner table set.


Edith: And a couple of mine, this one just before Ramona, Kim, and Martha set out to explore the Amish farmers’ market. It wasn’t all work!


And my “office” in the room designated as the chapel.

Edith's desk

We all had a highly productive week interspersed by laughter, wine, meals, and of course, storytelling. And we Wickeds look forward to having Kim back next month with another tale of the Detective’s Daughter.

Readers: Where do you go to recharge, to think, to reflect, to get away from your usual setting?





Wicked Wednesday: Pushing to Write

Lots of writers around the world just finished National Novel Writing Month, in which the goal is to write at least 50,000 words in November. With that in mind we thought we’d talk about other pushes we’ve done to get a big word count down on paper in a limited time period.Wellspring bedroom

Edith: For me the key ingredient is isolation. I have several times taken myself on a solo writing retreat for a long weekend. Twice I went out to the fabulous Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts, in the western part of the state. Once I rented a Quaker retreat house on Cape Code. And last year over the New Year’s Eve holiday, I house sat for a friend one town over. All those times, I was alone, either in the house or in my monastic room. I wrote all morning, all afternoon, and into the evening. I just kept pushing. I took meal and exercise breaks, but nearly completely off the Internet – also key! That kind of pushing isn’t a sustainable pace for me, but especially when I was also holding down a full-time job, it really enabled me to get a big chunk of first draft written. One three-day weekend I produced 10,000 words.

Jessie: I agree with Edith that retreats are really helpful. The Wickeds have blogged about our joint retreats in the past and they have really helped me to rack up the words. When I am at home the best way for me to produce a great deal in short order is to use a time management technique called Pomodoro that focuses on one task at a time. I do 25 minute bursts on my work-in-progress with five minute breaks in between. I don’t even reach for my cup of coffee in the twenty-five minutes. I just type. On days that I apply this technique I get a lot done. It is sort of like a mini-retreat within my day.

Liz: I’ve started NaNo three or four times and never finished. I think it’s the month of November that doesn’t agree with me – too much else going on. That said, I’ve had success with the Chocolate Challenge, an exercise run by the Guppies. Every February, the person who writes the most words during the month gets chocolate from the other participants – great motivation for me! I agree with Jessie, though – our joint retreats are so helpful to get me focused and writing a lot of words. There are, however, some weekends where I can just stay home, hibernate and churn out a lot of words – I actually did this last weekend and turned out about 6K. It all depends on the deadline, too – that’s a great motivator to get words on the page!

IMG_0664Sherry: I’m more the tortoise than the hare when writing. I’m much more likely to do 1,000 words a day than spew out a bunch in a short period of time. I’ve had one what I’d call mystical writing experience when I was writing the proposal for the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series. It just poured out of me. I wish that would happen again. I like the idea of going on a mini-retreat by myself. Where to go? This picture looks like the perfect retreat place to me.

Barb: I have to admit I’ve always wanted to go on one of those literary writing retreats where some helper silently leaves lunch on your front door stoop while you work away in your cabin. I’ve never done it, though. Not that I’ve suffered. I’ve taken all sorts of courses and workshops in interesting places–Star Island, in the Isles of Shoals, Seascape on the coast of Connecticut, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Kripalu in the Berkshires. I will go on a literary retreat someday, but for now, for me it’s butt in seat and work, work, work. And yes, deadlines are tremendously focusing.

Readers: How do you use stretches of time for creativity? And have you ever “won” NaNoWriMo?