by Alex

I’m out of town this week at this writers’ retreat: www. RGB was talking about synchronicity this week – here’s one for you.

I’ve been to this retreat once before – it’s a fantastic thing. Any North Carolina writer who applies for the Artist in Residence program can spend up to two weeks a year at Weymouth. (Sorry, no photos – there’s only dial up, here! Which means much, much more writing gets done, of course…)

I got sucked into this wonderful program by the Raleigh mystery writers (I should say goddesses or divas!) I hang with: Margaret Maron, Sarah Shaber, Diane Chamberlain, Katy Munger, Kathy Trocheck and Diane Chamberlain. We’re more a regular lunch group than a critique group, but when we go on retreat, which we’re starting to do frequently, we convene at night to brainstorm on any problem that any one of us is having (and of course, compare page counts).

Weymouth is an amazing place – a 9000 sq. foot house on 1200 acres (including several formal gardens and a 9-hole golf course) that’s really three houses melded together. It was a “Yankee Pleasure Plantation” in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the fox hunting lodge of coal magnate James Boyd. James Boyd’s grandson James rebelled against the family business to become, what else? – a novelist. Boyd wrote historical novels and his editor was the great Maxwell Perkins (“Editor of Genius”), and in the 1920’s and 30’s Weymouth was a Southern party venue for the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, and Thomas Wolfe. That literary aura pervades the house, especially the library, with all its photos and portraits of the writers who have stayed at the house.

It’s a fantastic place to write – pages just fly. And for me it’s particularly great to be here because I’m presently writing another haunted house story – two professors take a group of psychically gifted students into a house with a history of poltergeist manifestations. And Weymouth is the model of the house I’m using, so here I am, inside my own novel.

The synchronicity I mentioned before is that the other mystery writers scheduled a Weymouth retreat months ago, and we came down to the house on the very day that my characters were moving into THEIR haunted house.

I’m telling you, writing is a little scary.

More than a little scary, in this case. My pages are going well, but I am writing about a haunting, after all, and every time I turn around there’s knocking on the walls (the pipes in the kitchen), weird manifestations (a team of horses trotting by with a buggy on the road outside) and rooms that are just literally too creepy to go into after dark. Last night I had to go all the way back upstairs, across the upstairs hall and around to the front stairs to get to a room I wanted to go to because I was too freaked out to cross the Great Room in the dark.

It’s good, though – I wake up with whole scenes in my head. And given my deadline (talk about scary) it’s being lifesaving to have this turbocharged atmosphere to work in.

I’m lucky – unlike authors with children and day jobs, I don’t have that much to have to escape from in my regular life – I write full time and theoretically I can do just as much or more at home as I could on retreat, because I have all my books and files and library all around me. But this whole experience has sold me on the writers’ retreat thing. There’s nothing like committing to nothing but writing for a certain number of days. The work you get done is exponential, and your subconscious gets loaded up with all kinds of new images that will undoubtedly work their way into some other story.

But if you don’t hear from me next week, you’ll know why.

The house got me.

8 thoughts on “Retreat

  1. billie

    Alex, how funny – I was there all last week!

    It’s one of my favorite places on earth to write – the first time I stayed there was in the winter a number of years ago and I was the only writer in residence. I had a panic the first night but thereafter made my peace with the ghosts and was fine.

    Last week, knowing that the furthest bedroom up by the veranda was going to be used by a friend who doesn’t like ghosts, I went into the room before she arrived to let the ghost, who I suspect is James Boyd’s brother, know that he was to leave her alone. He had tormented a number of writers who stay in that room, several haven’t been back as a result.

    She said she slept the best she ever has at Weymouth this trip. His only act was to line up her clogs one night after she’d kicked them off – she woke and found them neatly lined up just under the bed!

    I often use that room when I’m there and ever since the first stay, he’s been good to me. Last trip I lost my only hair band and when I woke up there was not only a new one on the dresser by my hairbrush, but it matched the outfit I had set out for the day.

    I love that house. And its ghosts.

    Have a great writing week down there. If you need WiFi one day, Frankie’s (one of the coffee houses) has it. 🙂

  2. pari noskin taichert

    Oh, Alex,What you’re describing — except maybe the scariness — sounds like pure bliss. I’ve often thought of just renting a hotel room and disappearing for days to get writing done, to live totally in that world w/o obligations and disturbances.

    This year, in October, I’m considering going to a two-week writing master class in a small town on the Oregon coast. It would be early morning to late evening writing, learning, writing. I know it’s not the same thing as you’re describing, but it also sounds so wonderful to stretch my skills — for 14 days — to live, breathe and work writing.

    It’s also a little scary, but if I can swing it, I’m going. It’ll be the first thing of this nature — affirming the need to rejuvenate and develop more skill — that I’ve done since I signed my initial contract with UNM Press.

  3. Louise Ure

    What a great week, Alex. And a great house.

    If I were to find the same kind of retreat, the key for me would be no access to the internet or television. I can be such a slack tart sometimes.

  4. Allison Brennan

    I’m sufficiently jealous. Sounds absolutely wonderful. I’m going to Chicago next week and am actually hoping for a snow storm (after I get there) so I have an excuse not to go home and just write! LOL

  5. J.D. Rhoades

    “weird manifestations (a team of horses trotting by with a buggy on the road outside)”

    :-). Lynn laughed when she heard this and said “Welcome to Southern Pines, Alex.”


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