Monday, September 6, 2021

Writers On Retreat

 Q: You’re organizing a writers retreat with some fellow authors. Friends, perhaps? Describe the plan, the setting, the food, the drinks, and the results. And, of course, who gets murdered…


- from Susan


Hey, this is a whole book in the making. I used to fantasize about a murder on a college campus. Anyone who’s worked in higher ed will immediately understand. I did one, the third Dani O’Rourke, MIXED UP WITH MURDER, and it was somewhat cathartic. But doing one so close to my metaphoric home requires a disclaimer: None of these writers is in the least bit like any of my criminal minds colleagues. Trust me.



I found a house at Stinson Beach here in Marin that only costs a medium sized fortune for a week, which will be split evenly among the five of us even though I get the largest single bedroom, the one with the en suite bathroom. I invited a handful of writers whose work I love [here, you may think of yourselves], but they were all busy, so I scrounged around for the B-Listers, all of whom had to have sufficient resources to qualify. 


Barnaby Ogden – He authored some killer menus for a trendy place in Sonoma County and a weekend visitor from Hollywood who ate at the restaurant said, “Hey, man, you’re a natural born writer.”


Regina LeBlanc – She has a BA in Comp Lit, an MFA in Creative Writing, and is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Writers’ Conference, all between 1995-2005. She is working on a novel, her first, about a forty-year old single woman afflicted with writers’ block.


David ( The Man) Manley – His first career was as a professional wrestler, but it ended when he hit his head in the ring. He wants to write a memoir of his experience in the tawdry world of wrestling, but is having trouble concentrating.


Vince Patroccini – He recently left his book critic’s role at a major newspaper when it let all of its cultural reporters and columnists go, knows everything that’s wrong with contemporary fiction and has decided he’s ready to write his own, infinitely better novel.


I shopped at the best organic food store around, and picked up a case of Napa and Sonoma wines. I made lovely snack food for Friday night, put out three bottles of wine, and waited. 


Barnaby arrived first with a second case of wine he pilfered from the restaurant where he works. David swaggered in next and I had to tell him there was no smoking in the house and he’d have to take his cigar onto the beach as far as he could walk. Regina came with a roller bag filled with partial manuscripts she hoped we’d look at. The last to arrive was Vince, who looked like a critic with his pointy nose that could have been a weapon and pursed lips that said the world was sour. He looked around and made a huffing noise. By the end of the evening, they had polished off a half case of Barnaby’s wine plus the three bottles I had put out. 


I was up early Saturday, ready for a bracing walk on the foggy beach. No one else was up, so I left a note suggesting we meet for lunch and then talk about our hopes for the weekend. There were notes from everyone placed neatly on the counter when I got back. 


“This place is too dull, it’s foggy as hell, and the only bar in town isn’t open til 4. I’m out of here.  Send me my refund, David (The Man) Manley.”


“I’m so sorry. I realize that I’m just not ready for critiques, and I need to work more. If you do this next year, I’ll be in much better shape. Sorry, Regina. P.S. Please send refund, but I’ll help pay for the wine I drank.”


“Well, cutie, it looks like everyone’s bailing, and my boss just texted to say he needs me on the door tonight. Keep the wine and power on! Yeah, refund my share, please.”


“You lied. You said there would be writers, not these fools. By the way, I tried to read one of your novels, but it was trash, facile, and I guessed who the murderer was on page 2. If you don’t refund my money immediately, I shall write to the New York Times to expose you as a fraud. And, no, I will not pay for the wine, which that idiot stole from his employer. (I may write to them as well.) Vincent Patroccini, Critic at Large.”


So, if anyone dies at this retreat, it will be yours truly, who can’t afford to rent this seaside mansion for even a week and can’t possibly consume all the organic beets and quinoa…unless my Criminal Minds pals would like to come?





Catriona McPherson said...

That sounds like a dream come true. You grit your teeth and organise a retreat, then they all leave and it's just you. Heaven!

Frank Zafiro said...

Crank out some words, baby. And blow off paying the rent on the place. By the time the collections people catch up with you, the zombie apocalypse will be [fully] upon us.

Susan C Shea said...

Catriona, Maybe next year we really do this at Stinson, but with a couple of "keepers"?

Frank, Spoken like an ex-cop!

Terry said...

This is hilarious!

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I love beets, wine, and Stinson Beach. Count me in, Susan.

James W. Ziskin said...

Great piece, Susan! I loved it!


Josh Stallings said...

I am fully in. Writers I dig in a section of California I find magical. Long as no work gets done I’m there.