Without the luxury of travel during COVID, regular writing retreats have been cancelled, but it is not all bad news. We can create our own mini retreat at home. There will be some necessary arrangements to be made, which relate to your personal circumstances but it can be done. If you have a full household ask if it is possible for your partner to take your children out for an extended walk or to a play ground or even outside yard activities? Set times that you want to write without interruptions. This may be early morning or late evening, a time of day that you can set aside for writing. If staying in the home is too difficult, maybe drive to a secluded spot and write in a notebook to type up later. There is always somewhere you can find to accommodate writing time.
The length of time you have for your retreat will, of course, depend on what is possible for you. You may have two hours a day over a couple of days or a day or two. Before creating your retreat think about the following:
Why do you need a retreat? This might seem like a silly question but take the time to decide if the retreat has a direct purpose for your writing.
What is your goal? Again ask yourself, what can this retreat help you accomplish. Is it to begin or finish a project, a full edit, or a final read through?
Once you have identified these two points, you can plan by initially setting targets with measurable realistic goals, don’t overwhelm yourself. Depending on the time allotted for your retreat, create a daily writing plan. What are your objectives for each day? This can be writing or editing a certain number of pages, sequencing chapter content or revising scenes.
It is important to eliminate distractions as much as possible allowing you to concentrate. This should include switching off your cell phone, setting specific times for social media interactions, or even setting a timer!
The more you organize before hand the better your experience will be. Let’s look at some essentials.
Plan Your Retreat Time– use your preference – a simple sheet with goals for each day/hour, or a whiteboard with retreat objectives or notes in a day planner.
Tools – these can include a notebook, laptop, post-its, record cards, mood board, a print out of your manuscript, reference books or research sites bookmarked on your search engine. Everything that you need to successfully accomplish your goal.
Snacks& Water– the brain needs to be fed and watered as you delve into your project. Have plenty of water and easy nibbles handy.
Space – designate a space where you will work, where you and your tools will not be disturbed.
Rewards – how will you reward yourself for accomplishing your set goals? Decide how, it can be going for a walk, or thirty minutes on social media, or relaxing reading a book.
Remember this time is ultimately for you and your writing, a time to invest in your craft.
I’d love to hear your experiences with a home writing retreat.How did you achieve it?
This is a character interview with Evan from my speculative fiction novel, Life in Slake Patch.
1. Tell me a little about yourself (where you live, who you are, what you look like.)My name is Evan and I live in the male compound, Slake Patch, on the prairie plain. I am a Second, as my eldest brother is the First. As such I am bound to compound duties only, rather than tending to the livestock on the plain. I am twenty-two years old, muscular, blonde with blue eyes and my fellow Slake inhabitants look up to me as a champion wrestler within the patch.
2. What do you like to do in your spare time?I love wrestling and spending time with my best friend, Greg. He and I came to the compound together at the age of six, as is the custom to live with our fathers and other men.We attended lessons together and were paired for chores for some time.Is there something more you would like to do?I would love to escape the compound to ride across the plain, but currently it is not allowed. Our only trip outside the patch is to the central food store in a horse drawn cart.
3. Do you have afavorite color and why?We do not have much color in our lives apart from the designated one for our bunkhouses to identify each working group. I am not particular about colours to be honest, although I love Kate’s long auburn hair.
4. What is your favorite food? Why is it your favorite?A thick piece of steak between two large slices of fresh cornbread is perfect. The softness of the bread soaks up the steak juices.The meat helps build my muscles and strength.
5. What would you say is your biggest quirk? I’m unsure what to say about this,if you ask around you might find the other men find it odd I spend a lot of time with an elder named Jacob.He is my mentor, friend, discoverer of information and more of a father figure than my own.
6. What is it about the antagonist in the novel that irks you the most, and why?Aiden and his Tribe use violence as a way of trying to change our way of life, the order and laws of our society. There is always a more diplomatic means to resolve conflicts. He and his follows also berate young women, which I find abhorrent. Women are to be obeyed and cherished.
7. What or who means the most to you in your life? What, if anything, would you do to keep him/her/it in your life?I am deeply in love with my tryst, Kate, and would lay down my life for her. If it was in my power I would change the once a week visiting rule to spend more time with her.
8. What one thing would you like readers to know about you that may not be spelled out in the book in which you inhabit?That I am open to new ideas as long as they do not harm others. I believe the matriarchy is right to rule the way they do.
9. If you could tell your writer (creator) anything about yourself that might turn the direction of the plot, what would it be?In truth, I altered the plot several times during the creating of my narrative. Some twists to the original were by my suggestions.
10. Do you feel you accomplished what you wanted?Yes, I do. I managed to find solutions to changes that improved our way of life.
Do you have a question you would like to ask Evan?Put it in the comments.
How important are the arts and your creativity to you?
Life is nothing without the arts. Think of what we do to relax: listen to music, watch movies, read books, go dancing. And yet, when it comes down to a budget crisis, these seem to be the things that are cut because they’re considered somehow “non-essential.” I beg to differ. They’re life-affirming and allow us to share the human experience through the eyes and imagination of others. You can’t put a price on that. As for my own creativity, it’s present in almost everything I do.
How did you come up with the idea of the title, Music from a Strange Planet?
The book title for my short story collection is from one of my stories. In that story, “Music from a Strange Planet,” a talented and precocious girl wins an award for her composition called “Music from a Strange Planet,” a contemporary orchestral piece based on the convergence of cricket choruses. I, too, was a little girl who loved insects and nature (still do). There’s an undercurrent of insect references in the collection and small references to music throughout, so I thought giving the book this title would convey a sense of wonder and suggest to readers that they’ll be entering the particular, idiosyncratic worlds of a variety of characters in a particular moment in their lives. The “strangeness,” to me, is not so much weirdness, but points to a sense of mystery.
What drew you to write short stories rather than longer narratives?
In writing, in both poetry and fiction, I’ve always been a minimalist. I like writing and reading works that are succinct, compressed and convey a distinct mood in a few words or pages. I do read novels, but because I’m so attuned to concision, I find them wordy, even if they aren’t! I’m a writer whose problem is not wordiness but a tendency toward spareness. That, however, is why I love to write and read short stories. They’re a leap into a crucial point in a character’s life. We usually meet the character at a turning point and sometimes at the end there’s a sense of closure or development and sometime there isn’t. Some readers dislike short stories for that reason. That’s why I love them.
Where do you find your inspiration?
In many art forms! When writing’s going slowly, or when I’m not writing, I turn to the writing, music, art, dance of others. Or I slip into the garden and merge with the plants. I read critical works or essays about writing, I pore through literary journals. I subscribe to art and décor magazines, and garden design magazines, so I get a dose of creative ideas and people from all angles. A lot of my friends are also musicians, poets and visual artists so they inspire me with their own creations.
What exactly is a short story?
First of all, I wish we had a different term for the short story. These two words sound a bit dismissive to me. Not that long ago, the short story was denigrated as the shorter, lesser cousin of the novel. But rather than saying what it isn’t, here’s my take on what a short story is. It’s compact, it implies, it suggests. It contains subtext that requires the reader to work a little harder to unlock its meaning. Every detail in the story works hard to point the reader to the underlying context: setting, back story, character history, tone, imagery. It’s brief and intense and often does not give the reader closure. A novel is expansive, its narrative, plot and cast ever-widening. A short story goes in the opposite direction: inward and compressed. It doesn’t explain. It allows the reader to experience an intense event in a character’s life which often ends in a moment of awareness.
Your stories and poems deal with deep inner perspectives and emotions – what draws you to these topics/themes?
It’s characters themselves who draw me toward their stories and so unknowingly to certain themes or emotions that are operating in my subconscious.
Does your music influence your writing or vice a versa (or is it a symbolic relationship)?
Yes, it does! I’ve written several flash and poetry pieces that were inspired by musical recordings. And I’m a musician (voice and piano).
With regard to poetry, music does subtly influence my writing. Lots of people have remarked that my poetry is “very musical,” but by that they don’t mean it’s “rhymey.” I simply have an inherent and ingrained sense of melody, rhythm, pacing, and it shows up when I write. In prose, for example, I’m very particular about how a sentence reads and sounds, how it unfolds, whether it needs to race ahead or proceed slowly, how it reflects the character’s voice or emotions. Every sentence, in that respect, is like a tiny musical score that can influence the reader.
You designed the cover of your book. How did this come about?
A few years ago a social media whiz friend of mine told me that as a writer I should be on Instagram. Since I don’t have a cute dog or a photogenic cat, I wondered what I could post about. Because Instagram’s mostly a visual medium, I came up with the idea of collaging my writing. Except that I didn’t know how to collage! So the self-imposed crash course began, and I really started to enjoy dealing with visuals for a change. It was fascinating to choose a very short excerpt from a poem, flash or short story and illustrate it in paper. I continue to challenge myself to try different approaches and now have a small following, which is both surprising and pretty delightful. When my Caitlin Press publisher Vici Johnstone learned about my collages, she asked me if I would be interested in collaging my own book cover! I said yes, and after five or six trials, arrived at the illustration of a woman transforming into a caribou, which seems to intrigue people. It’s also based on a character in one of my stories.
Where do you write?
When cafes were open before the pandemic, I often went for a coffee, took my teeny-tiny Moleskin writing journal with me and found inspiration among the hubbub of chatter and clatter. I always write first drafts by hand and never, ever, at a desk. I prefer to slump on my small sofa in the living room or go out to my back garden studio and write from a low-slung chair while the birds twitter outside.
Just how tiny is your writing journal and why?
There’s a story to this! A few years ago I attended the Disquiet International Literary Program in Lisbon. On the first day, we each got a gift bag from the organizers which contained, among other things, a very compact writing journal. At the time I always wrote in a lined 8 X 11-inch coiled workbook. I scoffed that I would never use such a tiny journal. Off I went that afternoon to a café to write, except that I had forgotten my usual workbook. I wrote in that tiny, unlined book. I loved it. I have now filled over 40 of the compact Moleskin journals. In fact, all the short stories in Music from a Strange Planet were composed in them!
A writer’s not a writer without readers. Thank you, readers, for making my book come to life in your own imagination. And many thanks for the interview, Mandy.
Barbara Black writes fiction, flash fiction and poetry. Her work has been published in Canadian and international magazines and anthologies including the 2020 Bath Flash Fiction Award anthology, The CincinnatiReview, The New Quarterly, CV2, Geist and Prairie Fire. She was recently a finalist in the 2020 National Magazine Awards, nominated for the 2019 Writers’ Trust/McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize and won the 2017 Writers’ Union of Canada Short Fiction Award. She lives in Victoria, BC, Canada. http://www.barbarablack.ca, @barbarablackwriter and @bblackwrites.
We enjoyed warm temperatures and sunshine this weekend, so I took advantage on Sunday afternoon to not only clean out the old planters and pots ready to plant, but also to delve into my current read – Latitudes of Melt. It is a wonderful story of life in Newfoundland’s southern shore and a mystery of a foundling. Folklore, magic and mystery always draw me to a story.
When I finished The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers by Terry-Lynne DeFino, I messaged her asking if she would love to have such a place to live. This is her answer:
Terri-Lynne answered: I would 100% retire to the Pen if it existed. You don’t know how many times I’ve looked longingly through Zillow, at Bed and Breakfasts up in Maine, thinking, “If only…” Sister writers and I do take a beach house once a year; our own writer’s commune. Only a week! But a small slice of heaven. Thanks for writing! Terri-Lynne
It is always such a treat to connect to the author of a book you have loved reading. If you ever want to ask me anything please do through this blog’s contact page.
Have you ever contacted an author and received a reply?
I have a personal letter from Stephen King above my writing desk, it is very precious to me as you can imagine.
. You have written several different genres. Do you decide on the genre before writing or decide which one it fits after writing?
Both! For most of my books, I knew the genre going in. The Hidden Springs series – historical western romance. The Celebration series and Seasons of Love – contemporary romance. Tempted – erotic drama. But with Finn-agled, my cozy mystery, I’d intended to write a thriller. However, the moment Finn Bartusiak took shape, I knew her antics were way too humorous for anything other than a cozy.
What draws you to the genres you write?
I wish I had an easy answer to this one. For the historical westerns, it’s because I love that time period. The other stories just came about on their own. When I wrote By Dawn’s Early Light, the first in the Celebration series, I knew it would be contemporary romance for no other reason than I needed a break from historical.
Do you plot your series’ book by book or as a series arc?
To date, book by book. Usually, the storyline in one leads me to the next. The exception to this is the thriller series I’ve planned. I can’t go into details, but as it stands now, it’ll be a trilogy with the main character’s background as the series arc. Of course, that’s what I say today. By the time I get around to writing those books, I’ll have changed my mind a dozen times.
Do you decide on a theme/topic for your series before writing book one?
Only in the most general sense. I know how the story will begin – more specifically, the opening paragraph or two, a vague sense of the plotline, and how I want it to end, although it rarely happens the way I think it will. Once my characters take hold, they author their own destinies. I’m merely their transcriptionist.
How did you come up with the idea of your side stories?
Side Stories came about after a discussion with a guest on my podcast, Word Play with Kristine Raymond. Aside from writing books, he’s also a college professor and told me that he encourages his students to explore the stories that happen off the page. Between the chapters, so to speak. I thought it was an intriguing concept and added it as a feature on my website, though, to date, I’ve only written one.
When and why did you start your The Felonious Scribe podcast?
The Felonious Scribe was a collaboration with author Dawn Hosmer, who writes the most amazing psychological thrillers! We thought it would be fun to answer questions from readers pertaining to murder, mystery, and mayhem – eh em, on the page, of course.
We recorded five episodes of the show, which can be found on YouTube, and then moved on to different projects. Dawn currently hosts a podcast called Unravel the Binding with her daughter, Jesi, while I’m working on my next book.
Who has influenced your writing the most?
This will sound like a copout answer, but every book I’ve ever read has influenced my writing in some way. How an author tells a story – their voice – is the determining factor in whether or not I choose a particular book, and I believe that has a direct bearing on how I tell my stories.
Do you have an author hero?
All those who took the chance to send their stories out into the world for readers to enjoy – and critique. Because one doesn’t happen without the other, and criticism can be soul-crushing. And, that’s what authors’ stories are, including mine. A piece of our souls.
Where is your writing space? Can you describe it?
I have one room in our house that is furbaby-free (I type sardonically while looking at the cat who jumped over the baby gate before falling asleep in my lap). It’s a combo room – part office/part library/part craft room/part whatever else I can stuff in here. Personally, I think the hubs is afraid to step foot in it which is how it became my space. Lol.
My desktop sits atop a messy desk covered with scrawled notes, pens, and notebooks. It’s a wonder I can find my keyboard.
Where can readers find your books?
Links to all of my books can be found on my website – www.kristineraymond.com. They’re available on all major platforms (and a few minor ones, as well).
Do you have a current release? Can you share what it is about?
My most recent release is Finn-agled, the first book in the Finn’s Finds cozy mystery series.
Running an antique store in the fictional seaside town of Port New, Finn Bartusiak is quite happy with how her life is going – until both a coded message and her high school crush figuratively fall into her lap on the same day. With murder, intrigue, and pierogis – what’s not to love?
This was such a fun story to write, and I’m currently working on the second in the series, Finn-icky Eaters.
Is there anything you would like your readers to know?
Thanks to my readers, both new and existing, for taking a chance on my books. I hope you enjoy them. And thanks, Mandy, for hosting me today. This has been fun!
It wasn’t until later in life that Kristine Raymond figured out what she wanted to be when she grew up, an epiphany that occurred in 2013 when she sat down and began writing her first novel. Over a dozen books in multiple genres later, there are a multitude of ideas floating around in her head thus assuring she’ll never be idle.
When a spare moment does present itself, she fills it by navigating the publishing and promotional side of the business. When not doing that, she spends time with her husband and furbabies (not necessarily in that order) at their home in south-central Kentucky, gardens, reads, or binge-watches Netflix.