Once upon a time, there were five memoirists who met online through their writing websites. One of them, Janet Givens, who had a rustic log house on Chincoteague Island, Virginia, invited four blogging friends to join her for a writers’ retreat: Kathy Pooler, Joan Rough, Shirley Showalter and me.
According to Janet, “It was grand.” At the end of the week, we all agreed. Now, you ask, what made the week so special?
First of all, the spacious log house was charming:
And there is an enclosed porch where we ate breakfast overlooking a canal and the shimmering Oyster Bay facing east.
All around the house were clever or catty sayings on wooden plaques:
That’s right: Everyone behaved!
As we began, we did have a plan to include the clichéd 3 F’s and a W: food, fun, fellowship – and writing, of course. In a joint effort, Shirley recorded on paper how our days might unfold.
Every day, we enjoyed breakfast together, one day with French toast oven-baked by our host Janet with Joan beaming her blessing:
Then we had writing time and do-it-yourself lunches with afternoons for more writing or walks.
One fairly warm day, we all took a hike into the Assateague Preserve to see the world-renowned ponies, made famous by Marguerite Henry’s Misty Books. According to one friend’s pedometer, we logged about 3 miles walking the beach and side trails.
And we enjoyed the exhibit at the Visitors’ Center:
Other Days, we wandered along the main road in Chincoteague. As we explored, we found some interesting sights.
And a mailbox replicating the house of the owner in the distance:
Every evening, we had healthy meals: Chicken chili, frittata, stuffed sweet potatoes, pasta fagioli. This night, Joan is helping Shirley serve broccoli soup with Waldorf salad.
After dinner from Tuesday – Saturday, we gathered on the comfy sofa and chairs close to the wood stove. From 7 – 9:30 one of us had the spotlight with an opportunity to get feedback on our writing or blogging. As a beginning memoirist, on Tuesday night, I got clarity about the focus for my story. Distributing a preliminary outline, I asked, “Where in all this muddle is my true story?” Happily, I got wise words from three women who’ve already published memoirs (Kathy, Janet, and Shirley) and one (Joan) with a book poised for publication.
After struggling through revisions, my room-mate Kathy, gestures her approval of my story blurb and synopsis:
On Sunday, our last full day together, we joined Janet at the Sundial Book store for her author talk/book signing.
Afterwards we bought books and other gifts for our loved ones. Leaving the store, we spotted the theatre marquee across the street . . .
. . . and behind the store, outsized LOVE chairs by the bridge. (Think Lily Tomlin dwarfed in a big chair here.)
Finally, we gathered again to celebrate the productive week and our deepened friendships as we watched back-to-back episodes of Downton Abbey. As the week ended, we all wrote off into the sunset.
* * *
Our story, like Downton Abbey, proceeded in chronological time but with some flashbacks, like many good stories.
My version of The Week at Chincoteague is based on a variation of the story model by PIXAR, the moviemaker who tells perfect stories like Toy Story I and II. Since 1995, their storytelling wisdom has spawned many a tall/true tale. Yes, Shirley shared this link with me last week, which I pass on as a template for your own story. Here is the PIXAR prompt page.
My husband Cliff designed the cover for our photo albums of the week:
In today’s post title, I promised you a Wonder, and here it is:
Five writers, none of whom had met all the others, retreat to a magical island for a WONDERful time, honing their writing skills and deepening friendships.
Click HERE for more information on how to reserve Janet’s log house for a writers’ retreat or your own family vacation!
We love words! Share some of your thoughts here . . .
Coming next: Purple Passages and a Weather Forecast
This is delightful, Marian. You have a way with words, as \”they\” say. And we \”wrote off into the sunset.\” Priceless. As was our week.
As the \”mother\” of this grand idea, I as one of the chic-lets thank you from the bottom of my heart. And as we can see, the ripple effect is still going on.
What a wonderful post! And what an amazing week you had–a perfect combination of relaxation, natural beauty, friendship, and work! Thank you for sharing it.
You\’d fit right in, Merril, and add your unique historical flavor to the mix. As evidenced in your on blog, you know about the importance of all four ingredients, work and relaxation of utmost importance. Janet has edged you out as \”first commenter\” today, but we\’ll give her some slack as she was our hostess. Ha!
Thank you, Marian. Yes, work and relaxation–and food and friendship–all of equal importance!
( I\’ve just started reading Janet\’s blog, and I will check out the others today.)
Awww…you made it to Chincoteague in the most delightful way! Thank you for sharing with all of us who visit Plain and Fancy Girl.
As a teacher and writer who loves to travel, you would fit right in. Do I see a visit to Chincoteague in your future plans? I hope so. Unlike Texas, I didn\’t see farm animals like you often feature on your posts, but ponies in a special preserve. Thanks for the comment, Georgette.
What a fabulous retreat! I am sure you all came away refreshed and full of ideas. Everyone needs to do this from time to time. Thanks for sharing.
It was a refreshing change and time for re-charging too. I admire you and your husband\’s bold move to Spain for a fresh outlook and new ideas for your children\’s books – what\’s not to like!
Marian, your photos and story of your wonderful week, your new fellow writer-friends, meeting in a terrific setting…..it all makes me think \”what a swell idea.\” How interesting that the five of you connected through your blogs. Now, friends for a lifetime, I am sure. Good for all of you.
Thank you, Beverly, my partner in another online journey, Write Your Memoir in 6 Months. I think we both know polishing our stories will take far longer than six months, but we are on our way. Happy to see you adding your thoughts to the conversation.
Once upon a time you became a storyteller, Marian. And every time you blog, your skills get stronger and your audience gets bigger. These images and words document our time together so beautifully. Thank you. I felt as though I was trudging along country roads with you again.
And my favorite? The picture of the $500 piano. OBO.
Keep writing. I\’m so glad we have become friends.
Your encouragement from the very beginning, subtly through your image on my blog instructor\’s powerpoint and powerfully in words and voice since then attest to your influence as friend and mentor.
Best wishes as you begin your respite on Ash Wednesday as T. S. Eliot says in his poem; \”Teach us to sit still.\” I\’ll be thinking of you sitting on the red chair soaking it all in. (I\’m guessing there will be withdrawal symptoms – ha!)
Oh, Marian, you have captured our week so beautifully through your signs and photos. It\’s a fantastic photo journal of our precious week in the sun. As I said before, what I loved the most among many things was the incessant laughter that rang out. Laughter truly is the best medicine! Thank you for this \”keepsake\” recap.
And I\’ll treasure your keepsake alongside the others\’ accounts of this special week set apart \”out of time.\” I hear your caring nurse voice in the observation about laughter. So very true!
That does look like a grand get-away. What fun! Every time I hear the name Chincoteague, I think of the children\’s book: Misty of Chincoteague. Looks like a lovely place.
Even in winter, the island is enchanting. I\’m guessing you read the Misty book as a child. It has brought many to Chincoteague, where the biggest thing going is the tourist industry, which does not encroach on the environment at all. Thanks for stopping by today Cynthia.
Your question about the whereabouts of \’my true story\’ in the midst of all this, is my question often these days, as I gather, write and sometimes tell \’history\’ and memoir.
Anyhow, I took a big breath after reading about this gathering to a place I also read about in my childhood. I\’m partial to sunsets, so, I especially enjoyed that video.
Thanks for reading and clicking on the video, Dolores. I collect sunset photos in a folder on my desk-top, so I know what you mean about the allure of sunsets.
If you take some letters out of \”history\” and \”memoir\” you get memory and misty, both ingredients of the journey of remembering. Best wishes as you explore your own life story.
Marian, What a pleasure it was to be with you on Chincoteague and the sharing that we did. Life certainly is a puzzle at times and I think writing your memoir will go a long way in helping you figure out some the more mysterious parts. I hope we get to spend more time together in the near future. If you are ever up this way, you\’ve got a place to stay!
Thank you for your generous offer for accommodations in Charlottesville. We just might take you up on it.
Many of the emotions in your memoir parallel mine as our chapter exchange proved. It\’s nice to know I am not traveling this journey alone. What a writing partner you are – huge thanks!
WoW! I felt like I was right there with you. Fabulous blog post. I\’d love to retreat there and write! Working on it 😉
Thanks, Liz. That\’s the goal: Drawing the reader into the story, which I am sure you succeed in doing in your children\’s books. Thanks too for being such an enthusiastic partner in our six-month course. Cheers on your novel path toward memoir-writing.
Thanks for sharing this delightful time with us! It sounds like a serendipity experience! 🙂
You\’re right – serendipitous it was. Even the weather cooperated: Kathy, who had to make connection to her airport in Albany, NY, made it just in time before bad weather cancelled flights. Some would call it a God wink!
Joan Rough\’s view of our week, introducing her relationship to each of the five: http://joanzrough.com/the-gifts-of-friends-and-time/
Marian — I followed the recap of this wonderful event on a few of the other blogs today, too. Oh what a MIGHTY FINE time you each had! I thoroughly enjoyed reading the written descriptors and joy-filled photographs.
We\’ll just have to meet sometime – who knows, maybe on a retreat like this. As you played hop-scotch between blog posts, you got a full picture of our experience, each from a slightly different point of view. I love the image and question on your blog today. Readers, in case you haven\’t meet Laurie yet: http://tuesdayswithlaurie.com/2015/02/17/burned-out/
Marian — I wish you gals had taped your laughter. That, alone, would make my heart sing!
I wasn\’t aware of how much we laughed until Kathy mentioned it. Now it\’s ringing in my ears – hahahaha!
Marian … this is now the third blog on the week at Chincoteague .. how lucky you all were to get to meet each other and get to know each other in 3-D!
How wonderful it would be to see you too in 3-D. Interestingly, everyone matched her online persona, but more vividly.
Oh and Mary, how lucky YOU are — there are two more to go! (I hope you hear the lilt in my voice.) And I hope you know your ears should have been burning that week. We five have learned a lot from many of you \”elders\” out there (in going before us only; not in age, oh no) and you are one of them. So, let me speak for all when I say Thank You. And who knows, if you\’re not off touring Tazmania next year . . .
I\’ll chime in with Janet here. \”Writer\” has many variations and you\’d add to the hues. Okay, that\’s sort of a mixed metaphor, but you get what I mean. I think Janet has started a trend here that can only grow over time – WomenWritersWave!
Marian what a wonderful discription of your retreat. You did it in such away that you made me feel as if I were there with you all. The place was beautiful and peaceful. So happy for you to have that experience. I would love to have your creative way you have in putting it together. Thank you for sharing this with us.
I could say the same about your gift for entertaining and flair for making good food – and lots of it! Thank you for the compliment though. You never know what you are going to find here, and I\’m so glad you visit often.
I have so enjoyed this post . What a fab idea and what lovely ladies you are . What could be better than a perfect setting ( love the log house wish I lived your way ) and writing on everyone\’s mind . It has to be complete bliss .
You are the first to use the word \”bliss\” to describe our week, but I think we DID have blissful moments, many of them. When you visit \”across the pond,\” we\’ll have to meet too, Cherry.
Yes, the delightful way women support each other. I hoped to hear more about your group retreat. Love the photos. Love the humor.
I recently attended a day and a half retreat with nine women in my mythology class. We\’ve known and loved each other for many years, but there were still small moments of misunderstanding, ruffled feathers, and hurt feelings. Did you get through a whole week without that? Or maybe because we\’ve known each other for so long, we dare to confront those blips in our happiness head on.
Yes, we got through the whole week without that, but it was our first time together and there were 5, not 9 in the group, which increases the chances for confrontation exponentially. I was surprised and pleased that in the moments of serious critique when writing (e. g., voice, focus, content) was pointedly challenged, the writer in question was fully receptive. Never did I feel phoniness or suppression of true feelings in our interactions. I guess you would call it a miracle.
Sounds like you had a wonderful time. Thank you for sharing!
That looks like so much fun! Love that replica mail-house!
Oh, Fiona, I am sure you would have taken a photo of it too probably from a different angle and with a sharper lens. Thanks for noticing.
Sounds like the perfect break to me 🙂
It was delightful and gave my writing a real boost. You\’d enjoy the countryside and the canals along the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Virginia. Thanks for reading today, Marie.
What an invaluable experience you had Marian. Thank you for sharing it with us and the lovely pictures that went with it. How lucky you were to get some sage insight from some wonderful memoir writers. 🙂
I consider the experience a high honor and a gift from God. Because of them, I found a focus for my memoir. There\’s a long road ahead but I have a point of light to aim for. Thanks for being part of my cheering section, Debbie.
You know I am! Yes, what a gift! I look forward to reading it when it\’s done. 🙂
What a beautiful retreat. Productive. Creative. Relaxing. Fun. It looks like you had an excellent time and met excellent mentors and friends along the way. 😉
That\’s it exactly! While I was struggling to find the focus of my memoir in a one-sentence summary and blurb, the others were working on Scrivener and polishing final drafts. Sort of like being a first-grader in a fourth-grade class though I wasn\’t treated as a junior in any way. 🙂
You\’re no first grader when it comes to writing – first class all the way. 😉