NEKLogoSmallThe Writers’ Retreat Newsletter

July 2010, Volume 10, No 3


In This Issue



· HILLHOUSE MENTORING: An organic and respectful approach to working with words






Upcoming workshops


August 16th and 23rd, 6-8 pm: The Bones of Prose

Cost: $45

Location: Morrisville, Vermont

Register online on our workshop page or email Julia Shipley



September 10-12, 2010: Writing Biographies: Bringing Historical Characters Alive

Cost:  $200

Location: Hopkinton, Rhode Island

Register online on our workshop page or email Lynne Anderson



October 6-7, 2010: Script Consultant Clinic  (see

October 8-10, 2010: Screenwriting Clinic: Making a Good Script Great

Cost:  $800+

Location: Cascade, Colorado

Register online on our workshop page or email Linda Seger



Work-trade opportunities


Work-trade opportunities at The Writers’ Retreat


The Writers’ Retreat welcome applications for the following projects (virtual or on-site) in exchange of services:


· Writing coach and editor: Revision of a non fiction project (How to book) written by the owner of The Writers’ Retreat.  Priority will be given to students enrolled in MFA program in creative writing.


· Computer programmer: The person will work on updating/expanding The Writers’ Retreat Web site and shall have knowledge of MySQL, PHP programming, and information security.


For those interested in a work-trade project, send us an e-mail:

· E-mail subject: Work-trade

· E-mail a letter of interest including services you would like to receive in exchange of yours

· A summary of your resume (no longer than one page)

· To: (no call please). You should expect a response within 7 days if you are selected; we will not contact the persons not selected.

- Micheline Côté, The Writers’ Retreat.


Shape your Vision into Reality with The Writers' Retreat! 



We are proud to announce the opening of two new residential retreats in Pulaski, Tennessee and Hartfield, Virginia


Pulaski, Tennessee:  The Writers’ Retreat at HillHouse farm is an elegant and spacious farm house on thirty-four acres located 90 minutes south of Nashville outside the town of Pulaski. Retreat operators and full-time writers Ron Heacock and Karen Walasek offer full service to their guests including writing support, two private rooms with fireplace, three custom made gourmet meals, and access to the farm’s trails and grounds. You will find more about them and their retreat in the article below.


Karen Walasek is the author of three fiction novels and several non-fiction essays and animal stories. Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers throughout the US and Canada. She has done writing workshops such as “how to write a love letter” at seminars and writers conferences for the last 20 years. She is currently attending Goddard College for her MFA in creative writing. Ron Heacock is currently working on his second novel, a young adult story about pirates and magic.


For more information or to secure your private studio, please contact Ron or Karen at or visit their Web site at HillHouse Farm Retreat, Pulaski, Tennessee.


 Hartfield, Viginia:  The Lake House Writers Retreat in Hartfield, Virginia sits directly on Healy’s Mill Pond in an area of rich farmland and small towns, a place to relax, renew your spirit and refresh your brain! The retreat features 3 rooms and cozy common area with lake views; writers have access to a full kitchen or residents may take advantage of the Concierge service pertaining to delivering full meals to the retreat. This option allows writers maximum time to focus on their projects, and keeps hunger from interrupting their train of thoughts.


Charlyne A. Meinhard is a management consultant with 20+ years experience. She is Adjunct Professor at the University of Richmond.  She is author of two business books, a frequent speaker and workshop leader. She is an experienced coach for presentation skills, developing training workshops, writing strategic plans and business proposals.


For more information or to secure your private studio, please contact Charlyne at or visit their Web site at The Lake House Writers’ Retreat, Hartfield, Virginia.




By Karen Walasek


When I was in third grade I read every horse book I could get my hands on. Yes, I was one of “those girls” who would later join the horseless horse club in seventh grade and win a horse judging contest based on pictures of animals long before I had ever had the opportunity to sit in a saddle and have a living, breathing, grass-eating hoofed creature taking its first steps below me. Whoah!


I remember my implicit faith in words was so powerful that it surprised me to discover that reading thousands of words in books (which had faithfully escorted me into another dimension where I could ride into the sunset) did not immediately translate into muscle memory, and would not, therefore, keep me in the saddle and off the dusty ground.


I have always been a writer. Even when I only thought of myself as “merely a reader” (of girly horsey books no less) I was a writer-in-progress. It takes a certain innate trust in the imagination; an almost irrational belief in the transformational power of words, to be a creative writer. I currently live in a place (both physically and metaphorically) where everyone knows that the act of writing is sacred. Writing offers us the lessons of the blank page. It is a magical undertaking where performing a most intimately personal activity unfolds universal truth. By writing, we become both the student and the teacher.


So why is it, we are always so eager to take a red pen and shred a piece of work and the psyche of the writer (no matter how hardened they claim to be) before we have even given the work the justice of reading it through to the last page? How is it we’ve become so impatient with ourselves as writers that we’ve forgotten why we create in the first place?


The organic gentle approach to mentoring at HillHouse is a very different process than most workshop/line-editing, left brain/right brain creative encounters. We read the whole manuscript (story, poems, or script) and discuss the big picture long before anyone even thinks about the nitty-gritty of line edits. Mentoring becomes the elusive bridge between the open-door/closed-door processes of creation. This allows a writer to gently discover the structure from within a piece of work. The best words for the job surface like top cream, and we discover we have the patience to stick with the project for as long as it needs it. Mentoring helps a writer hone the effort into an act of deep expression which both humbles the creator of that expression; and in turn, the work becomes that which the outside world can easily understand. In other words, the writing evolves into the best that it can be, and the artist shines brighter because of the process. Organic mentoring leaves a writer feeling nurtured, satisfied, and ready for the next step. If a writer ever feels defeated, we have missed the mark. Our job is to naturally inspire the creative process for any individual who becomes our guest.


Karen Walasek is an MFA, Creative Writing, candidate at Goddard College with graduate work in Interdisciplinary Art. A home-school pioneer, who fostered three highly creative humans into adulthood incorporating natural self discovery (long before home-schooling became a household word) Karen has been sharing the secrets of gentle nurturing for most of her adult life. She holds a BA in creative writing (also from Goddard) and has facilitated creativity workshops throughout the US and Canada. HillHouse Writers Retreat was co-founded in 2005 with husband writer/musician, Ron Heacock. Nestled in the Southern hills of Giles County, Tennessee, HillHouse Farm specializes in providing custom gourmet sustainable meals. Guests have often claimed a HillHouse dish or dessert to be the best they have ever eaten.


As a summer special, free mentoring will be offered to writers who reserve their stay for any 2010 date that is booked before August 15th.To find out more on this innovative mentoring approach, contact or visit HillHouse Farm Retreat, Pulaski, Tennessee and book your stay.




By Charlyne A. Meinhard


“Now, THAT’S a good idea!”  I said out loud as I park in front of my house this morning.


“Those little trees that grew from acorns that fell in that juniper grove have been there so long I bet some of them have strong roots by now,” I muttered disgustedly.  Time to go cut them off as usual. But, wait!  Trees… Roots… TRANSPLANTS!


I’ve had enough failed attempts at gardening to stay away from anything fancy. This time, though, I’m motivated to find transplants for The Lake House Writers’ Retreat.  Clean out the junipers AND get trees to plant in The Lake House yard.  I feel positively powerful for thinking of this brilliant idea!


It’s 12:30 pm by the time I head back outside. 


“Where are you going in this heat now?”  my husband demands from the living room sofa. “It’s 90 degrees now, and its going up to 100!”  He’s addicted to the Weather Channel so I never lack for the latest prediction.


I’m ready for his challenge. 


“Out front for just a bit.  I’m doing an experiment to see if the ground is damp enough to let go of the roots of those little trees among the junipers.  If I can get some with roots, I can use them at The Lake House and save some money!”


We did have a little rain yesterday, so this is plausible enough to pass his test.  And I clinched him with the “save some money” point. 




“I’ll be back in soon.” I’m out the door before he can object further.


If it’s not easy, I won’t do it, I tell myself. 


I carry my electrolyte drink, my cloth gloves, and a bent metal hoe—the only garden utensil not already moved to The Lake House.


Outside, I look up.  Thank goodness this part of the yard is still shady.  The sun hasn’t gotten around here yet.  This had better be quick. 


I tug at the first little oak tree.  The leaves strip off in my gloves, and the naked stalk springs back like a wire.  Go figure, I think disgustedly.


OK, try again…   again….  These are pesky little trees.  When I can’t grip them, I break them off at the groundline, or at least low enough for the junipers to cover up. 


I see a little maple!  That would be some nice shade at The Lake House.  Let’s get to the roots of this!  I dig with my hands, hoping the dirt won’t come through the cotton gloves and ruin the manicure I gave myself last night. 


Boy, these roots go far down.  Oh, wait.  Those are more juniper branches.  How far down do they go?  Try the hoe.  Nope--no use.  Back to fingers, and I dig and pull.   Yes! Got it!


Salty sweat rolls down my forehead and stings my eyes.  Sunglasses would just be in the way, I think, squinting and congratulating myself on my wisdom for not wearing them. 


I spot a cedar. Oh, yeah!  I can find a great place for that in The Lake House yard. This should be easy—I’ll just P-U-L-L-L-L.  No?  C’mon hoe. This is just dirt--you can do it!  If only I had my trowel ….


I pick up a stick and scrape a deeper tunnel in the dirt around the cedar.    I am NOT going to let these roots defeat me.  This is worth working for.  This is just how women dug up things in the early days.  If they could do it, so can I!  IF I HAVE TO STAY HERE ALL DAY….


I straighten up to stretch my back, wipe my pounding face on my arm, and survey twenty feet of junipers still ahead.  If I had a heart attack right here, who would know?  I wonder.  I glance at the cedar tree in front of me, and notice, for the first time, that the next “tree” has three leaves.  And the next, the next……nestled throughout the rest of the juniper grove!


“Leaves of three, let it be,” my friend just quoted to me last week.  Whenever I ask for gardening tips, Dorothy laments her ongoing problems with proliferating poison ivy. 


I really can’t get all that poison ivy out today, I despair, and, y’know what?  I’m not making very good progress on getting up these seedlings by their roots!


Then it hit me—there is a difference between Persistence and Fool-Hardiness! The Wisdom is, the saying goes, in knowing the difference.


I decide that my mission here in the junipers is Fool-Hardiness.  I have tools, but not the right ones.  I have time, but the sun is shortening this rapidly.  I have motivation, but without preparation I cannot overcome all the obstacles to follow through to get results.


Okay, not a good plan today. But I am NOT DEFEATED. Next time, I’ll be prepared.  Besides, this will make a great story for other writers!


Just like gardening, writers need:

--the tools,

--the time,

--the motivation,

--the preparation, and

--the knowledge to overcome the obstacles.


Writing can be lonely, hard, frustrating.  But writing can also be freeing, creative, and joyous!  Isn’t that what connects with our readers? I believe that no matter what genre we are writing, our readers most desire to be transported, regenerated, inspired. They learn from our mistakes, or our characters’, as well as from the wisdom of our experience. I’ve learned that my writing gets the best results—flowing from my motivation and moving others—when tools, time, and preparation meet to overcome the many obstacles that can stop our writing.


That’s why I’m opening The Lake House Writers’ Retreat to other speakers, writers, and workshops.  I want to share an inspiring place with the right tools useful for writers, but without the distractions that become obstacles to writers. I’m glad to be part of the network of The Writers’ Retreat. I hope to meet you this fall.


You can contact Charlyne with questions about The Lake House at 804-382-5054 or  and visit our retreat at  The Lake House Writers’ Retreat, Hartfield, Virginia.





By Julia Shipley


Picture this: I am 25 years old, and I am living in a monastery of Passionist nuns, because they need a gardener and I need a distraction-free place to write. Every morning, before picking up my trowel and buckets, I write and revise poems. Then all day long I plant, water, weed, and harvest vegetables for the Sisters and about 10 other families that live nearby. I am always tired. There are smudge marks from my dirty fingers in my journal. I have no social life, but, I tell myself, I am making progress as a writer. Except for the lack of companions, and the absence of nearby cultural events, I think this arrangement of having a simple room in which to write, near woods and fields, is ideal. Besides, where else could I find a situation like this?


Ever since that summer I spent raising potatoes for the nuns and poems for myself, I’ve hungered for that proverbial room with a view, in a lovely setting with no interruptions. I’ve tried motel rooms, bed and breakfasts, and libraries; I rented a stall in a horse barn two years while working on my MFA. And here’s my verdict: a space apart from the unceasing cries and demands of the little (and big) things in life that want unending attention is damn hard to come by.


I knew when I bought this place, that before and after I finished chores (though, actually, chores are never done), I could sit down in this serene house to concentrate on writing. Now I spend all the spring and summer days trucking my wheelbarrow out to the fields, tending to vegetables, chickens, cows. Then I tend to my poems, essays, and articles in the early mornings and long winters.


The final line of one of my favorite novels, Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels, reads: “I see I must give what I most need.” Thanks to the guidance Micheline Cote, the founder of the Writer’s Retreat, I began hosting writers in the summer of 2008.


 The Writer’s Retreat in Craftsbury, Vermont is exactly what I want in a retreat: rural, but not scarily remote (there’s cappuccino and the New York Times available nearby). Quiet and serene, but if I want a sense of culture and camaraderie there’s a live music venue in walking distance, and theatres, art galleries, and a farmer’s market nearby. And also a balance of secular and sacred: one can hear the sound of a passing tractor and the dreamy flute song of the hermit thrush.


With more charm than the austere monastic room I once used, this sweet efficiency apartment, attached to my 1840’s farm house makes a great space for writers in search of solitude, a reprieve from their busy lives.


Over the past three years, I’ve hosted poets, novelists, memoirists, historians, doctoral candidates, food writers, screenwriters, and reporters who came to stay for anywhere from a week to many months. One of the recent guests wrote, “How often in a life does one find exactly what is needed? I did. The words flowed. My spirit flourished.”


My father always says, “A joy shared is doubled.” I am a retreat operator because it feels wonderful to offer writers exactly what I need as well: a quiet place where we can roll up our sleeves and get down to work in our own creative gardens: writing.


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





By Adilah Barnes


Back in the mid-1990’s I co-founded the Los Angeles reading group, Circle of Sisters: A Reading Circle. Over the years, this eclectic group of spirited women have committed to read countless books of different genres: from full-bodied memoirs to fluffy romance books, and back around the corner again to embrace genres richly steeped in mystery and history.


Some books have been outstanding page turner choices. However, whether a brilliant read or not, the group critiques the book thoroughly over dinner. I especially enjoy a read that evokes different responses from the women - and even an occasional heated and visceral discussion.


As a reader, I begin my books by reading the outside covers and proceed page by page from the beginning of the book. I thought most people read this way until I became an author and began to receive feedback on how readers stayed with my book.


I was amazed to learn there are a myriad of ways in which readers may choose to approach a book.


Some say they begin a book traditionally from the opening page, while others open the book randomly and land where they fall. If pulled in, they may then go back to the beginning and read the book in its entirety.


Still other readers eye the table of contents and choose chapters that most appeal to their literary pallet. They may flip flop around until they decide to go back and start again chronologically, thus allowing the book to build chapter by chapter.


Perhaps the most horrifying discovery I made in speaking with a reader was that she actually began my book by reading the last chapter first!


I have come to learn early on in the first few pages whether the writer is going to transport me. If not, I generally push ahead forward anyway, hoping for the best and determined to get through to the end. Conversely, as I snuggle up to a good read, I welcome the author to guide me.  I love unexpected twists and turns and I always want a good book to continue. Sadly, though, I release a good read as I slowly savor the last page. The trick of a good writer is to leave the reader wanting more.


Perhaps the most difficult element for some writers is finding the right ending.


I have read a number of books that held me until I got to the last page. I feel cheated when an ending just does not fit, and the book ends abruptly. It almost seems the writer surrendered at the end, and just wanted to get the book done!


As writers, we must pay as close attention to page one as we do to the very last page of our writing.


One element that contributes to holding me as a reader is the writer’s attention to detail. For example, I recently read the book Half of a Yellow Sun by Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. My senses were totally activated as I smelled, tasted, heard, felt and saw all the images that were so craftily placed in front of me. Set during the Nigerian Biafran War of 1967-70, some images were pungent and distasteful, yet some were absolutely beautiful. All were as the author intended.


This writer understood the pay-off of detail in her writing.


I always go back to the subject of the senses because it is in this reservoir that we can tap into and deepen our choices of language and imagery. The more we can unlock our own inner senses, the more we can hold our readers page by page. It is not enough to describe an object by its name. The reader wants to know colors, texture, weight and size given in descriptions.

The reader wants to see and feel.


A useful exercise is to consciously choose times were we use all of our five senses: really seeing what surrounds us, really hearing the sounds that invade our space – tasting, touching and smelling our environment. Much can also be discovered by taking a sacred walk alone inhaling nature, passing a restaurant with aromas begging to be identified, or by listening to others speaking in conversation as we pass them, trying to make sense of a phrase we may have just heard.


These reflections can fuel our writing.


Let us keep stripping away the veneer of the obvious to find greater detail in our writing that titillate the question: “Have I conveyed all that needs to be said?”


For more information, contact Adilah Barnes at The Writers’ Retreat in Sharpsburg, Georgia.





By Lynne Anderson, Ph.D.


The Panther Orchard Writers’ Retreat will be hosting a writers’ workshop September 10-12 entitled Writing Biographies: The Art of Making Historical Characters Come Alive. Author and presenter will be Dr. Marla Miller, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 2009 she was awarded the Patrick Henry Writing Fellowship from the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience. She is author of the newly published Betsy Ross and the Making of America (2010), the first scholarly biography of the legendary (but dreadfully misunderstood) Philadelphia craftswoman believed responsible for our nation’s first “stars and stripes”.


I recently had a chance to interview Marla about her work as a biographer. Below are selected questions and answers. To learn more, consider attending the workshop in historic Hopkinton, Rhode Island.


You are a historian; what prompted you to write biographies?


Actually I never intended to be a biographer, but almost all of my projects have been biographical.  My first work emerged from an encounter with a powerful source, the diary of a never-married woman in early America who used the pages of her journal to work out the pain and ostracism she felt as a “spinster” in a society that had no role for women outside marriage and family.  After writing in a biographical mode about her life, I turned to the question of how she supported herself. Dickinson was a gownmaker, so my research led to a study of women in the needle trades.  The book that resulted (“The Needle’s Eye: Women and Work in the Age of Revolution”, UMass Press, 2006) examines three ways that women worked in clothing production—as gownmakers, tailors, and tailoresses—each through the eyes of a single practitioner. The project seemed to lend itself naturally to a biographical approach.


Your first book length biography is Betsy Ross and the Making of America. Why did you choose to write a biography on this American icon?


“Needle’s Eye” opened with a discussion of the mythology that surrounds early American women and their work. In popular historical imagination the colonial “goodwife” cooked, cleaned, dipped candles, made soap, spun yarn, wove it into cloth, and then sewed it into clothing.  Of course no individual could do all that work for her entire family by herself, then or now. In reality, women participated in economic relationships just as complex then as they are today.  The notion that they didn’t reflects a wistfulness for an imaginary time before women “went to work,” a notion that is problematic because it implies women who work for wages now are somehow deviating from the historical norm, that there was a golden age when they didn’t. 


Popular culture perpetuates these myths, and of course Betsy Ross—a self-employed upholsterer recast in the legend as a simple “seamstress”—is a big part of the mythology surrounding our American heritage. But when I looked into the historical literature, I was dismayed to find that there was no scholarly literature on the woman’s actual life.  As a historian passionate about gender and artisanry in early America, I feel lucky to have been the first one to write about the historical Betsy Ross..


In reading your biography on Betsy Ross I was astonished to learn how central she and her extended family were to many key events of the American Revolution? Did this make it easier or harder to write her story? Why?


Oh, easier, to be sure!  It was exciting to see her just a handshake away from so many key figures, and to be able to place her in the proximity of so many important events. And it helps the whole story make sense – it’s no wonder that she would be caught up in the rebellion given her circle of contacts. And her connections as an upholsterer make it plausible that she had a role in designing and manufacturing some of the first flags for the American cause.


As you point out in the book, there are conflicting stories surrounding Betsy’s life. Perhaps this is true for many people who become the focus of someone’s efforts to write a biography. How does a biographer sort out fact from fiction?


I’d like to say that there’s some real litmus test that can be applied, but in truth a lot of it is instinct. To be sure, it is not a house of cards where “might haves” and “could haves” become “probably dids”—but after ten or twenty years in the archives, one starts to develop a feel for the period. You get a sense for things that seem more or less likely given what else you know about the many people and contexts involved. In the same way that years in the field enable a curator to distinguish an original Rembrandt from a copy, historians develop a feel for the lives and times of their subjects  - and that helps.


For more information on the Writing Biographies workshop with Dr. Marla Miller (September 10-12, 2010) or to reach Lynne Anderson, owner of the Panther Orchard Writing Retreat in Hopkinton, Rhode Island, email



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