NEKLogoSmallThe Writers’ Retreat Newsletter

April 2011, Volume 11, No 2


In This Issue



· IS YOUR WRITING FALTERING? Consider More Research.





Upcoming workshops and clinics:

May 4, 2011: The News from Poems: A Guided Tour of Contemporary Vermont Poetry

Info and register online or e-mail Julia Shipley


October 7–9, 2011: Screenwriting Clinic: 

   Making a Good Script Great

Info and register online or e-mail Linda Seger






A Step-by-Step Guide to Set Up and Operate a Writers’ Retreat


My dream is to open a writing retreat. We're all set up for it and I am just finalizing a website for my writers' retreat. I purchased and read A Writers' Retreat: Starting from Scratch to Success and got very excited believing it is a possibility. Rebecca Southwick


I first want to thank you for writing this book; I have just finished reading: it is and will be very useful for me. It gives me the strength to go further with my project and the practical advice I need.  Emmanuelle Guilbert


A Writers’ Retreat: Starting from Scratch to Success!  

I wrote this as a guide to assist you in contemplating your dream of operating a writers’ retreat business.


With this book you will simply rediscover your standards and realize that a successful retreat business is a calculated formula that anyone can follow.

To read a few pages of the book, visit; the book is available in print, e-book, and audio formats.

Micheline Côté, The Writers’ Retreat.

Shape your Vision into Reality with The Writers' Retreat!




We are proud to announce the opening of a first residential retreat in Italy, and delighted to welcome Nicole Durand, your host.


The Writers’ Retreat in Villa d’Arte is nestled at the border of France and Italy Azur Coast, an authentic Ligurian art village full of authenticity and tradition. The retreat is a balcony to the Mediterranean sea – a setting of inspirational beauty and most peaceful environment where one can live and create! The retreat is comprised of four Ligurian style houses with ocean views, private terrace.


To find out more or to secure your space, please contact Nicole Durand via e-mail at or The Writers’ Retreat in Ventimiglia, Italy.


Also, a warm welcome to Rebecca Southwick for opening a year-round residential retreat in Barre, Massachusetts.


The retreat lies in the heart of New England in the small picturesque town of Barre, Massachusetts. Built in 1823, Maple Grove Farmhouse is surrounded by 120 acres of fields, woods and meadows; it features twenty rooms of which eleven rooms are used for retreat space. There are five bedrooms and one studio. Maple Grove is a place of the heart, a place to indulge yourself in your writing. Your time is your own to write, to create, to sleep, to read. Whether working on a novel or reflecting on life, we offer space and privacy along with the chance to share your work with others and receive feedback. If desired, there are daily times for gathering to read and share your writing. 


Rebecca Southwick lives in residence and grew up on this picturesque New England farm. As a leader of workshops for many years, she has turned her farmhouse into a retreat center. She is also a writer herself and has been a member of a dynamic peer writing group for eleven years. She has led many workshops on writing, spirituality, empowerment and house building. She is very happy to share her beautiful homestead with you. Rebecca is writing her first book, Happy Birthday to You, Too, a remembrance of caring for a beloved father who contracted Parkinson’s and all the family dynamics that happen between eight siblings of immense diversity.


Please contact Rebecca Southwick via e-mail at or The Writers’ Retreat in Barre, Massachusetts.





By Dana Walrath


Writing and drawing about caring for my mother through Alzheimer’s disease ( has me thinking about medical stories. What makes them resonate with readers? How can these stories heal?  As deeply felt universals, sickness, birth, and death draw us in. They create landmarks in all our lives. These universals also make for great stories, in part because any single sickness episode, like an individual life, has a narrative quality with a discrete beginning, middle, and end. The heightened emotion, stakes, and consequences that accompany life and death situations also add to the effectiveness of a medical story. An individual’s character becomes crystal clear during moments of crisis and emotional intensity. These events always leave the main players, the ones we care about, somehow changed. Whether a new life has emerged, or one has been lost, or whether the story was one of recovery with the same number of people still standing at its end, a brush with sickness makes characters rethink their relationships to others. With these vital craft elements almost “ready-made” in a medical story, why do they so often go wrong?


Despite their archetypal resonance, medical stories often veer into melodrama, their characters into stereotypes.  They can rely on the intensity of the situation to make up for poor craft. Yet, in good hands, a medical story provides a powerful entry into the human condition.  How can an author develop these good hands? Here are a few tips:


-Know the rules of the mainstream medical beliefs and practices, and recognize them as rules rather than truths. Knowing about prevailing health beliefs and practices will help an author avoid grabbing the typical, often trite, culturally patterned response to a sickness, birth, or death.  Like a knee tapped by a physician’s soft hammer, the socially patterned “right way” to act pops up.   The danger associated with birth, the taboo associated with death, and stigma surrounding some conditions, lead us astray. An author must dig deeper to determine the truth of the action to the character and the event to the story.


-Consider that even without identifying their presence, the mainstream medical beliefs and practices are present in the stories we write.  Readers bring their internalized health beliefs and practices to the stories they read and use this as a standard for interpretation.  An awareness of the mainstream will help an author anticipate the impact of the medical story on readers.


-Focus on illness, which has culturally specific social meanings, rather than disease. Since most readers will likely not be pathologists, they receive sickness narratives on a cultural, rather than a biological, wavelength.  Stories heal illness by giving specific context and meaning to a sickness. A story can fill in and soothe the gap left by the absent medical diagnosis or the absent cure.


-Knowing one’s own health beliefs prevents them from acting like a smoke screen, separating an author from her characters or story. Strong emotions are often connected with one’s own deeply held beliefs about sickness and health, birth and death. An author can begin to use this emotion more effectively by checking into their character’s belief system(s) regarding sickness and health, and then reflecting on how that compares to his/her own beliefs. When writing memoir, emotion “shown” through story is more effective than a description of the emotion.


-Finally, remember that the conditions which the mainstream medical system cannot cure are often stigmatized. Thus terminal or chronic sickness, mental illness, and disability have great potential for story as all members of society are disquieted by the different or sick individual.


For more information on writing effective medical stories, contact Dana Walrath at or visit her retreat in Cape May, New Jersey.


 IS YOUR WRITING FALTERING? Consider More Research


By Cindy Barrilleaux


Every writer occasionally stalls out on their writing project, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.  The common solutions first come to mind, such clarifying your theme and organization, reducing writing distractions, dealing with anxiety. However, in my experience as a writing coach, a less obvious solution may do the trick and get your writing flowing again: research.


Nonfiction writers often expect themselves to have all the answers, all the fact, all the supporting arguments to make their writing convincing.  Many memoirists rely on their own memories for the telling descriptions, vivid imagery, interesting anecdotes. And fiction writers often rely on their own imaginations to create the sense of place and atmosphere to draw in readers. However, when much published authors are interviewed, they usually describe extensive, painstaking research that lies behind their successful books. Nonfiction writers who are experts in their field research backup material from other experts and outside sources. People writing memoirs research family history and interview others in the family for supporting details you need to add credence to their storytellers. Novelists visit the location of the story and research events contemporary to the time of the story.


A woman I was working with was writing a novel based on her family. She gradually felt lost and confused. I advised her to do some research, so she spent weeks interviewing near and distant relatives, visiting the towns where they had lived, digging through memorabilia and junk in attics, until she had what she needed to make her story come to life. Her story is rich with vivid images and unexpected details.


Another author was making lots of progress writing his nonfiction book, a cultural critique. He began to lose momentum, and couldn't think of what he wanted to say on the subject. At first he resisted my suggestion to do some research, but after remaining stuck for some time, he gave it a try and read all the other experts on his subject. Within a couple of months, he not only fleshed out his book and gained confidence in his ideas, but he began a correspondence with a couple of the experts.

I’ve never seen research fail to bolster a writer’s confidence and sense of connection with the book or article.  It's not surprising. The kinds of details that research supplies add authenticity and backbone to writing.  And those are the marks of good writing.


So, writers, if you’re losing inspiration in your writing, ask yourself if you simply need more foundational material and interesting details. If so, get thee to the internet, the library, the historical society. Interview experts, pour over journals, go to museums.  Research is not only practical, it's fun. 


Cindy Barrilleaux is a writing coach for and for Write Your Best, Inc. You can contact her at and visit her website at, where you can sign up for her monthly writing newsletter.





By Julia Shipley


As a writer and teacher, I pour energy into poems, essays, articles and students. The day after day practice of giving energy to wonderful endeavors can sometimes leave me feeling depleted, weary, and spent. I discovered that one of the secrets to longevity and endurance is to identify people, places and things that reinvigorate my work. Here are a few of my creativity-resuscitation touchstones. I hope they might work for you too, or inspire you to discover some of your own.


Vermont’s Poetry Alive program in Montpelier: Each April our capitol city celebrates the vibrant poetic talent of the state’s writers by posting poems in storefront windows. There are more than 160 poems in this “walk-able poetic anthology” to pause and read between the café and the library, the movie theatre and the hardware store, the State House and the DMV. It takes only a few moments to absorb the ideas and rhythms of a single poem, hanging at eye level in the window of Rite Aid, but the reverberations of that poem might follow me all the way back home and leak into my dreams that evening. It’s so exciting to see this kind of private soul-wrought writing basking out in the open where anyone, Anyone! can read it.


April Ossmann’s manuscript consulting: As a writing teacher for all ages and abilities, I spend a lot of energy thinking critically, and providing thoughtful comments and feedback on others’ work. Then, when I turn to my own work and submerge myself in the creative process, I sometimes feel at a loss for how to evaluate it, how to guide myself through the revision stages, and how to know where this piece fits into a larger body of work. Then I discovered April Ossmann. The former executive director of Alice James Books, she has since developed her own business as a manuscript editor and consultant. In 2009, I received a grant from the Vermont Arts Council to work with her and learn how to “think like an editor.” Thanks to her services, I will never be the same. She is one of the most insightful and perceptive mentors I’ve ever encountered. My poetry has grown stronger, deeper and richer from implementing her feedback and suggestions, and as a result, I’m also a better teacher to others.


Nothing Happened and then it Did by Jake Silverman: Though I received a MFA in Creative Writing and Literature, I am obsessed with narrative journalism, where stories are fortified and amplified through research, interviews, facts and analysis. I am currently completing a book of essays about small- scale farming, a book that is informative, even educational, as it is rich in anecdote and personal stories. But as we all know from the James Frey debacle, “memory” and “truth” can be sticky, relative terms. Jake Silverman balances the urge to fact-find and to report with the urge to explore and to stretch a story in this compelling book. Open to the table of contents and you’ll see the chapters lined up under one of two columns: “Fact” and “Fiction.” Despite ricocheting between these two extremes, there is narrative consistency—from chapter to chapter Jake takes you through the “moonscape” West Texas and Mexico, as well as the swampy south and elsewhere on his quest to become a Real Writer and “make something of himself.” However some chapters are a kind of “embedded reporting” on his career- finding project, and other chapters are pure hokum, and the beauty of this book is: it’s hard to tell which is which. I had to keep flipping back to the table of contents to be sure. As I tend my own essays, balancing my piles of research against emotionally influenced perceptions, it’s inspiring to find a wacky way to handle the business of making meaning.


To reach Julia Shipley at The Writer’s Retreat in Craftsbury, Vermont, send an e-mail to




By Lynne Anderson, Ph.D.


It was not snowing yet, but it would be soon, a blizzard, by the smell of it. The land lay covered already in trampled snow. The land here flew away from your eyes, gone into the black horizon without leaving one detail inside the eye. Stubble through the snow, sharp as razors. Crows picking at nothing. Black river, frigid oil.


This setting for Robert Goolrick’s first novel, A Reliable Wife (2009), is bleak and foreboding - long winter months of dark skies, frozen ground, and enforced proximity that makes residents of this isolated rural town in northern Wisconsin do very strange things. From the beginning, the setting is a major character – interwoven with the plot, aiding the action, and in harmony with Ralph Truitt whose solitude was enormous in that vast and frozen space in which he lived his life.


In good fiction a setting is always more than a setting – never just a backdrop for other elements in the story. Setting can move the action, influence how a character feels and acts, set the tone for emotional response and growth, and help readers feel immersed in a specific place and time.


Situating a story within a specific locale and time period, however, requires knowing details about its life and language to make the tone, atmosphere, descriptions, interactions, and dialogue feel authentic to the reader. Getting it right may require research – not the least of which is actually being there, or at least being in a close facsimile. Goolrick’s bleak small town in northern Wisconsin emerged from two major sources of inspiration. The first was a book of 19th century photographs and newspaper clippings by Michael Lesy entitled Wisconsin Death Trip (1973) – a visually disconcerting book that reveals the physical hardships and surprisingly erratic behavior of life in rural northern Wisconsin in 1896. The second was time Goolrick actually spent in rural Wisconsin during harsh winters when he worked in advertising.


Panther Orchard Retreat provides writers with access to a myriad of locales in which to set their stories. Below is quick peek at five within a twenty-mile radius.


Historic Hopkinton. Two miles from Panther Orchard Retreat is the historic center of Hopkinton, founded in the 18th century by Quaker families fleeing persecution in Massachusetts. Historic 18th century homes sit on the corners of this charming crossroads and farms lined with New England stonewalls populate rural roads that radiate like spokes on a wheel.


Misquamicut Beach. Nine miles away is Misquamicut Beach - the longest beach in Rhode Island and a popular destination for surfers, swimmers, and sunbathers. Since its purchase in the 1890s from the Montauk Indians, the beach has undergone periods of destruction by hurricanes and rebuilding by town residents. It now provides a modern pavilion with shade gazebos, bathhouses, hot showers, and a boardwalk.


Watch Hill. Thirteen miles away is the seasonal resort community of Watch Hill with its scenic harbor and gray-shingled mansions. Important landmarks include the Watch Hill Lighthouse, originally built in 1745, and the Flying Horse Carousel – the oldest continuously operated carousel in the nation. Adding to the seaport ambiance is a long sandy spit known as Napatree Point leading to the ruins of Fort Mansfield.


Mystic Seaport. Sixteen miles south is the living history museum of Mystic Seaport with its collection of historic tall-masted sailing ships and 19th century coastal village with shops demonstrating trades required for operating a sailing fleet. Mystic Seaport also houses the Preservation Shipyard, where vessels are preserved using traditional tools and techniques.


Foxwoods Resort Casino. Twenty miles north is Foxwoods, one of the largest casinos in the world, with slot machines and gaming tables for blackjack, craps, roulette and poker. Owned by the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, the resort complex also houses a dizzying variety of restaurants, theaters, arcades, hotels, and spas.


You can reach Lynne Anderson via email at or visit Panther Orchard Retreat at Hopkinton, Rhode Island



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