NEKLogoSmallThe Writers’ Retreat Newsletter

April 2013, Volume 13, No 2


In This Issue







Upcoming workshops and clinics:


To enroll in a workshop of your choice, please browse our Workshop Page at



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Costa Rica Discovery


I am thrilled to have discovered Costa Rica for the first time, but most importantly, I truly enjoyed my stay at two writers' retreats. I had a wonderful time, and it was an experience I will never forget. Thank you to the hosts in Ojochal and Biolley for inviting me and for creating these places for writers ... paradisiaque!


Most of my time was spent at Pierre and Renée’s retreat in Ojochal, which became my pied-à-terre for the first part of my trip. The hosts made me feel at home almost immediately. Their place was so inviting I thought of extending my stay right from the start, and that is what I did! I enjoyed writing early each morning with the sound of toucans and parrots knowing a delicious breakfast awaited me in the rancho where newly acquainted friends gathered to socialize or hear the best jungle stories in Costa Rica! 


I also spent three beautiful and relaxing days at the writers' retreat in Biolley. My time was short but fantastic. Thank you to Jennifer and Bruce for your precious time showing me around the farm, the local area, and walking me down to the river to swim in the cool waterfalls. Your homemade meals were delicious. You’ve created a very special and inspiring place to share with writers!


If you wish to write or rewrite a new version of your work without pressure and spend unforgettable moments in Costa Rica, rest assured the great hosts Renée and Pierre and Jennifer and Bruce are ready for your visit.


Visit the retreats around the world at and book your own retreat soon.


Micheline Côté, The Writers’ Retreat.



Congratulations and welcome to Suzan Erem, on-site mentor, for opening a new retreat in West Branch, Iowa.


Draco Hill Writer's Retreat is nestled into a river valley on 80 acres of timber and prairie; it is located 25 minutes from the famed Iowa Writers Workshop and Summer Writing Program. Space is available from September through March. On-site mentor, Suzan Erem is a creative nonfiction writer, poet, journalist and author/co-author of several professionally-published books including her early memoir, Labor Pains: Inside America's New Union Movement, winner of the Great Chicago Stories Contest, and the trade book Do I Want to be a Mom? A Woman's Guide to the Decision of a Lifetime.


A Journalism and English graduate of the University of Iowa, Suzan has worked as the communications director of a major Chicago nonprofit, the managing editor and publisher of a monthly news magazine and as a freelance writer for unions and nonprofits.


For more information, please contact Suzan Erem at or The Writers’ Retreat at West Branch, Iowa.


We are proud to announce the opening of a first retreat in Cabarete, Dominican Republic and delighted to welcome Kahleen T Hegedus-Beeksma, on-site mentor.



The Writers’ Retreat in Cabarete is a little piece of beach paradise, where you can really relax and focus on your writing. Casa Larimar is a spacious two bedroom, (1 king; 2 queens) two bathroom condominium unit within the prestigious Ocean Dream.


Writing services are provided by email through Splash Literary Services by Kathleen and Jamie. 
Kathleen has an MA in literature and a passion for creative fiction. She loves to get down to the Dominican Republic whenever possible to spend time writing or just beach walking. She works primarily on manuscript evaluations, including the writing retreat page evaluations. 

Jamie completed an honors BA in English and visual arts before going on to attain a B.Ed. She has taught English, art, and ESL (at home and overseas) and she brings the heart of an educator to her work as an editor. She is also a free-lance designer. 


For more information, please contact Kahleen T Hegedus-Beeksma via e-mail at or The Writers’ Retreat in Cabarete, Dominican Republic



By Suzan Erem


When I was a teenager, I would lie on my bed in the dark and imagine I could fly. I’d slowly lift off and imagine I was floating just above the ground. I could see the bare patches in the grass, the front porch gutters, the massive trunk through the thick green leaves of the sugar maple in our front yard. Then I would lift higher until I could see the roof of the house, the gravel lane to the main road, our neighbor’s place about a mile away. Finally, I would take off sailing across the landscape feeling the wind on my skin, my feet behind me lifted by air and velocity, my tears streaming back into my hair.


Then I would get up, sit at my desk, and write. It was the first meditating I ever did, and I didn’t even know there was a word for it.


Today, I’m still inspired by flight—the bald eagles and red-tailed hawks swooping across the river and buzzing our house take my breath away. The woodpeckers, nuthatches, blue jays, and snow buntings at the feeder can transfix me for … well … too long! Even our humorous guinea fowl flying up into the trees are fodder for thought. It’s a way of getting outside my body and even my head for a while; a great place to be if I want to write, so long as I stay focused and write.


Our place is called Draco Hill because our family totem is dragons, and our favorite movie is DragonHeart, voiced by Sean Connery, the sexiest dragon alive! But we also believe this eighty acres of timber, prairie, and limestone on the Cedar River is just magical enough to make you think there’s a dragon out there somewhere. If that doesn’t get the juices flowing, what will?


We’re now inviting writers to come visit us from September to March so they can enjoy the same inspiration. Iowa is fertile ground for many things, among them authors and poets. The nearby University of Iowa Writers Workshop, Summer Writing Program, and the International Writing Program are testaments to that. Plus, everything we grow at Draco Hill, where we’ve reclaimed the earth for the worms, is chemical-free. If you join us for supper, included in your stay, you’ll likely be eating something grown in our garden or raised the old-fashioned way by one of our neighbors. 


Draco Hill is home to writers who get it. Enjoy your own private space for as much or as little time as you want while you’re here. You are with people who appreciate the beauty around us just as much as we appreciate the perfect word, a concise sentence that rings clear and true, and that moment when you look up from your writing and five hours have gone by that felt like five minutes.


To reserve your private suite this fall at Draco Hill Writer's Retreat, call (319) 643-4055 or e-mail Suzan Erem at





By Louise Page


“Should I stay or should I go?” asks the song, and sometimes it’s like that with writing. Should you stick at your desk or are there other ways of dealing with knotty conundrums of form and style or dialogue and plot. Time and again, I have watched writers’ on retreat attack their writing in an attempt to move on. What do I mean by attack? Going back over and over, tinkering not changing, and thinking late nights and later mornings will help reengage their creativity. I understand that the cost of going on a retreat in both financial and emotional returns means that writers think they must spend every moment with their laptops. But good writing comes from engaging with the world, from making small truths universal, and being prepared to trust your instinct as a writer even when it means deleting hours of work.


Walking can be one of the most liberating ways of unlocking ideas. The scientist, Charles Darwin, had a special walking path constructed so he could free himself from his desk and papers and let his thoughts run free.


Working with Human and Health Science students on reflective practice assignments, I walk them around the university campus. We explore how a building looks differently depending on our perspective and if we are approaching or leaving it. Many students have never tried to break their thinking pattern from academic literary tradition and find it difficult to imagine that looking, touching, and smelling can help with their assignments.


Panicked about getting this article written on a gloriously sunny day in Ireland, my head said, “Write,” and my heart said, “Walk.” The beach beckoned, sea smooth, and untouched. My play, Rogue Herries, has just opened at The Theatre by the Lake in England, so I have had four weeks of intense rehearsal and rewriting. Beach it had to be. As I started walking, I was making all sorts of accommodations for how I would write this piece: I would stay up late, I would miss helping someone with their bees, and I wouldn’t put a second coat of red paint on a door. Then I saw Arctic terns diving for fish and found a perfect egg-shaped piece of rolled-rock crystal. I never used to understand why I always had my best ideas at the farthest point of my walk. But, of course, that’s where I turn around. Something resolves itself, and I head back to my desk. The distance doesn’t matter. This morning it was about a mile, sometimes it has been six miles.


We find more and more people are coming to Heron’s Reach for a combination of walking and writing. Though we have house hours so people can work uninterrupted, I often find myself walking with students during their mentoring time. There is no barrier of a piece of paper or a laptop screen between us. I always feel that doing things in your head is the ultimate ecological process. No electricity, no paper, ideas come and they go; the important ones stay behind like egg-shaped rock crystal on the beach.


And there’s a double reason for bringing your walking boots on retreat this autumn. Travel writer, Jill Gleeson of will be visiting in early October for a retreat about creative nonfiction based on the fabulous Dingle Food Festival. Her boots are pink and mine are red. However, we are hoping to influence your writing style, not your footwear. If you can’t wait for that, we have a couple of places remaining at the end of June on our Knuckle Down Retreat aimed at helping writers complete and revise their work. We have the interest of a small press fiction publisher who has requested to see anything that might be suitable for his press.


Louise Page, Heron’s Reach, Dingle, Kerry, Ireland. E-mail:




By Tamra J. Higgins


Are you a poet who would like to be a part of a community where you can share your work, receive (and give) supportive feedback, and spend a couple of days immersed in discussing poetry?


Or perhaps you are a reader of poetry who is not sure what it is in this art form that entices you.


Whether you are an experienced poet or new to the world of poetry, Sundog Poetry Retreat has a workshop for you.


Located on forty-six acres in beautiful north-central Vermont, SPR offers two-day workshops on particular themes in poetry. For the fall 2013 session, these include Introduction to Poetry, Nature Poetry, and Narrative Poetry. During each workshop, you will discuss poetic elements, share your work, give and receive feedback (sharing and feedback are optional for the Introduction to Poetry workshop), and partake in poetry writing exercises. Delicious catered meals (lunches and dinners) are sure to keep you energized and are included with the cost of the workshop. Time is built into the program to enjoy the outdoors, whether it is getting some physical exercise or sitting and reflecting by the pond. You may also partake in an optional public reading at a fine arts gallery in our quaint Vermont village.


To learn more about Sundog Poetry Retreat, go to Sundog Poetry Retreat  or e-mail Tamra J. Higgins, owner, Sundog Poetry Retreat at I look forward to seeing you in Vermont!




By Sharon Chinook


Writing characters who are normal enough to let us identify with them, and startling enough to keep us interested, is an eternal challenge to fiction and nonfiction writers. In fiction, our imagination can still abut the limitations of personal experience, though we strive to imagine the unimaginable. In describing reality, we encounter people whose actions, beliefs, and behaviors are incomprehensible. The writer endeavors to create a character and write a story that allows us to transcend our personal experience and understand something more about being a spirit inhabiting a body limited by time and gravity.

Sharon Chinook has been preoccupied on a daily basis with these aspects of the human experience during the last thirty years in her role as Sharon Melnick MD, a general psychiatrist. She has shared extreme experiences with multiple people, encountered both the terminal and the transformed human psyche. As part of Chinook Retreats, Sharon offers a free-hour discussion after reading fifteen pages of manuscript focused specifically to character. She is skilled at interviewing the writer about the character, or even interviewing the character itself. She has written about ten thousand, five-page novellas summarizing a person’s life to the moment where he or she seek her help. She has walked the next chapter of many people’s lives. Sharon profoundly understands the interplay of temperament, development, relationships, and circumstances to an individual’s story. Additional hours are $100 as are an additional ten pages read and returned with commentary and questions when the person is staying at Chinook Retreats.

The Guest House at Chinook Retreats is especially well suited for workgroups of three or four seeking collaborative work, or supporting one another in individual pursuits. Chinook Retreats offers true quiet, far vision, star bright night skies, beautiful and comfortable accommodations. Two miles off the highway, held snug against woods behind and open to a hundred-mile vista in the front, The Guest House and Studio contain and promote original work, and the grounds and adjacent wild lands offer ample ambling. The nearby towns include Klamath Falls, Oregon, twenty minutes north; Mt. Shasta City, California, sixty minutes south; and Ashland, Oregon, ninety minutes across the Cascades.

Sharon often tells patients that suffering is part of the human experience. If you are born into a body, you will suffer. If you have relationships, you will suffer. How we carry that suffering, how we recover from suffering defines much of our personality. It contributes to the way in which we each write our own story, make our own luck, and live our deepest truth. Sharon looks for the space between the person who walks around living our life in the world and our truest self—our soul. How much distance separates these aspects of each one of us? How discordant or congruent are these distinct experiences of “me,” of the “other”?

Even if you are not able to visit and write at Chinook Retreats, Sharon is available for consultation by phone, Skype, and the Internet, be they questions about the writer or the written word. Please feel welcome to contact Sharon at and visit Chinook Retreats page.




By Melanie Bishop


When writers seek professional development, aside from taking classes or receiving an MFA, they have three options: apply for a residency, attend a conference, or schedule a retreat. While there are some similarities between residencies and retreats, neither term should ever be confused with conferences.


Residencies exist all over the world, and they are often referred to as writers or artist colonies. They are prestigious and competitive. The most well known of these colonies are Yaddo (Saratoga Springs, New York) and MacDowell (Peterborough, New Hampshire), founded in 1900 and 1907, respectively. More recent and equally prestigious residencies include Ucross (Ucross, Wyoming) and Hedgebrook (Whidbey Island, Washington), founded in 1981 and 1988. While the colonies have unique characteristics, (Hedgebrook, for instance, is only for women, and some colonies are only for residents of that state), they are more alike than they are different. Residencies can be anywhere from two weeks to three months. Participants are housed, fed, and left alone to work.


Conferences are, to me, the opposite of residencies and retreats. They are typically held in a big hotel or on a college campus, usually lasting two to four days, though the two oldest conferences in the United States, Breadloaf in Vermont and Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee, last for ten days each every summer. You usually pay to attend a conference, and there’s a busy, steady slate of sessions to attend from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. with craft lectures, advice from editors and agents, readings from the faculty, or a critique of your work in a workshop. Conferences involve intense immersion into the profession of writing with opportunities to network. You tend to leave a conference, whether it’s a two-day or a ten-day, pumped up about the literary world and renewed in your enthusiasm for being part of that world. But you also leave a little exhausted.


A year ago, I attended a two-day retreat that should have been billed as a conference. I’d been drawn to this retreat partly because it focused on young adult literature, which I was attempting for the first time, and partly because of the location—gorgeous pictures of Lake Tahoe on the website lured me. From Friday night’s dinner until Sunday’s lunch, we did not see the outside of this enormous resort hotel. Even going from one’s room to the meals, lectures, and critique sessions, was like traveling through a mall or casino. You never saw the outdoors. You never saw the lovely lake. And while they did schedule an hour here and an hour there to write, all I could do during those rare unscheduled hours was collapse on my bed and let my brain go numb. It was a rushed, harried, packed with content, energetic thing—not a bad thing, necessarily, but certainly not a retreat.


Anyone can go on a writing retreat, from a total beginner to a published writer. You can tap into a retreat that already exists, or design one of your own—privately or with a writer friend. A retreat can take place at a remote location or a tourist destination like Santorini, Greece, or Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. Whether remote and solo or touristy and shared, a retreat’s purpose is to get away from the trappings, schedules, and responsibilities of daily life. The point is not necessarily to get some huge amount of pages written, or to attend lectures and collect business cards of editors and agents; the point is to prioritize and pamper your writer-self, recharge the senses during slow walks through a new landscape, find your own rhythm, and follow whims where they lead. After a retreat, you feel rejuvenated. You head home renewed, rested, inspired, and deeply satisfied that you also produced some new work. A retreat will cost you something, but will be worth every dollar you invest.


Melanie Bishop will be leading a retreat May 19 through May 23, 2013. Write & Play in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

You can reach Melanie Bishop via e-mail at or visit The Writers’ Retreat at The Vagabond’s House



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