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?
1. How old were you when you wrote your first writing project? What genre was it?
That’s hard to say. I was writing short stories and designing cover art when I was in second grade. I was writing screenplays and making movies in middle school. I published poetry in college. I started writing my first novel, A Year Since the Rain, when I was in my late twenties, I guess. It was a magical realism novel, and it took a few years for me to finish it.
2. Do you have a favorite genre? What draws you to it?
I like contemporary fantasy/ magical realism because I think these genres allow for an interesting exploration of human experience. I appreciate the ways that realistic characters and settings are allowed to bump up against elements of magic.
3. How does your expression differ from your poetry to short stories to novels?
I look for poetic language in everything, so I try to find something poetic in narrative work as well. Obviously, it’s harder to keep this up for 70,000 words than it is in a page of poetry, but I still look for ways to elevate the diction of my prose with poetic language. With poetry, we’re talking about a stricter economy of language—more limitations based on form and so forth. As a rule, though, my poetry plays with narrative and my prose plays with poetry. I like to explore the marriage of different forms.
4. Magic plays a vital part in your stories – is it a fascination for you?
Like I said before, I think the incorporation of magic in otherwise real settings allows for an interesting exploration of human nature and human experience. If most of the setting and characters feel somewhat familiar, I think readers can buy in a little more. Also, I think the world is full of magic, right? We all experience wonderful and terrible things that we can’t explain. These inexplicable moments are a very human kind of magical experience. That’s how I see it, at any rate.
5.How did you create the characters in your World of Muses Universe?
A lot of my characters are just conflations of real-life people. There are no direct translations of real people, but I definitely mine real life experience for characters.
6. Are there messages in your stories for your readers? What are they?
Absolutely. These messages vary, but I think that mostly I want readers to consider their relationship with the world, with other people, with creativity, and with their own experience. I’m not prescriptive in my messaging. I just want a reader to think.
7.You combine music with poetry/stories – how did this idea/collaboration begin?
I wanted to write a story that would explore creativity and the different goals artists might strive toward. I settled on musicians and visual artists (because, again, I don’t want to write things that are too close to home). When I decided to write about musicians, I started teaching myself to play guitar. I wanted to understand what I was writing, and I wanted to be able to describe it in an organic way that would provide the narrative with a realistic texture. In the long run, I fell in love with the guitar and started writing songs. I even wrote some of the songs from that novel. It’s a cool experience to play these songs at live readings. I think it lends an air of legitimacy to the story.
8.Has your teaching influenced your writing?
I’m not sure that teaching has had a direct influence on my writing. I’ve never written about a teacher or even students. I actively try to avoid writing stories that would hit too close to home in that way. So, I guess in my attempts to write stories from outside of my experience as a teacher, teaching has indirectly influenced my writing.
On another level, though, I do teach literature courses. Reading these classics with my students offers me a great refresher in these stories. I think reading and analysis of stories is incredibly important to a writer, so the fact that this is my job gives me ample opportunity to dive back into those stories from time to time.
I think that my writing has probably influenced my teaching, but that feels like a whole other conversation.
9.Has your MFA course in Creative Writing changed how you write?
I think the most important thing I’ve learned from the MFA is how to better discipline my writing. I have a better sense of how planning and outlining can help streamline a project. The MFA program also forced me to read and work in genres I was less comfortable with, and I think all of that experimentation is good for the process. We could all do with a little more of that experience with discomfort.
10.Do you have a message for your readers?
This is an interesting question. I’m not sure that I’ve ever considered the prospect of speaking directly to the people who read my books. I’ve long considered the writing to be the final word in my part of the conversation. Once a reader has read my book, I’m interested in what that reader has taken from that experience. So, I suppose if I could say anything to the people who read my books it’s this: Thanks! I hope you found something to enjoy.
12. Do you have a blog? Where are you on social media?
I don’t really have a blog that I keep up with consistently at the moment, but people can always catch up with me on social media. I’m @ThatShaneWilson just about anywhere you might care to look.
Shane Wilson is an award-winning author of magical realism and low fantasy. His two novels, A Year Since the Rain and The Smoke in His Eyes are available through all major retailers. He has also published short fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. He maintains a blog that focuses on a variety of topics including topics in publication.
Shane has a Master’s degree in English from Valdosta State University and has taught English at community colleges in Georgia and North Carolina. He has been te
Shane Wilson is a storyteller. No matter the medium, the emphasis of his work is on the magical act of the story, and how the stories we tell immortalize us and give voice to the abstractions of human experience. His first two contemporary fantasy novels as well as a stage play, set in his World of Muses universe, are currently available.
Born in Alabama and raised in Georgia, Shane is a child of the southeastern United States where he feels simultaneously at-home and out-of-place. He graduated from Valdosta State University in South Georgia with a Masters in English. He taught college English in Georgia for four years before moving to North Carolina in 2013.
Shane plays guitar and writes songs with his two-man-band, Sequoia Rising. He writes songs as he writes stories–with an emphasis on the magic of human experience. He tends to chase the day with a whiskey (Wild Turkey 101) and a re-run of The Office.
Shane’s novels are A Year Since the Rain (Snow Leopard Publishing, 2016) and The Smoke in His Eyes (GenZ Publishing, 2018). Shane’s short story, “The Boy Who Kissed the Rain” was the 2017 Rilla Askew Short Fiction Prize winner and was nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize. An adaptation of that story for the stage was selected for the Independence Theater Reading Series in Fayetteville, NC. More information about Shane can be found at: Shane Wilson Author
What attracted you to write Fantasy/Sci-fi? Did you choose it or the other way around?
I’ve always had a soft spot for Fantasy and Sci-fi, because that’s what I grew up reading, for the most part. I still read a little bit of almost everything, but these two genres captured my heart even more when I started writing in them. I’m not sure which one of us did the choosing, but I’d say we make a pretty great pair when all things are said and done.
My favorite part about writing Fantasy is the fact that I can take what I like from reality, get rid of everything else (within sub-genre tropes, of course), and replace it with something completely new, magical, dark, mysterious, and complicated enough that it provides a rich world yet simple enough that I can keep it all straight in my head. Sci-fi is a bit harder. For me, it requires a lot more research too, which I really just don’t enjoy. But it’s not enough of a pain to keep me from writing it. And that’s the part I like about it—plus the fact that I can change a few things (particularly with Dystopian Sci-Fi) about reality and augment them, so to speak, to create the types of stories that reflect what’s happening in the world while putting my own special spin on it.
What inspires you to write your stories? Where does inspiration come from?
Literally everything. Sometimes I get a spark from a dream or a movie clip, a song, a conversation with my kid. Sometimes I read a book that touches on an idea and then I start thinking about how I could expand upon it and make it my own. Sometimes, when I’m at the crossroads of taking a story down one road or the other, I’ll pick one, and the other one gets turned into a different story. Sometimes I keep writing without any inspiration at all, and the story inspires itself.
Do you prefer to write a series rather than a stand-a-lone novel?
All of my series so far were originally intended to be standalone novels. Until I got to what I thought was the end and realized I just wasn’t finished. The Blue Helix series, though, is the only series where each book can be read on its own without having read the previous books in the series. But I think they’re better if they’re read in order 😉
Right now, I’m almost finished with the first book in an actually planned series of five and a quarter of the way through another planned trilogy. That’s definitely a different process, and I’m excited to see how the results of planning series ahead of time differ from… well, not planning it at all.
Are you a plotter or a panster?
I’m a plantser—I do both. I used to be all pantser all the way until I started ghostwriting fiction in addition to writing my own stories. Then I started writing up beats for contracted novels, and I discovered that there’s definition something to be said for writing a loose “summary” of 5-10k words (depending on books length) before I dive into the writing the actual story. I don’t get stuck with where I’m headed, and that helps me write a lot faster. Somehow, though, I’ve never quite been able to stomach chapter-by-chapter outlines or intense character sketches before writing the book. In my mind, there is such a thing as doing toomuch work before the fun begins. If my plotting gets any more detailed than a few thousand words of beats, I lose interest. 80% of the fun is surprising myself with how to fill in all the blank space after finishing the beats. It’s like a giant puzzle that I get to create and fit together at the same time.
Can you tell us about your newest book? The characters and their journey.
My newest book, Sleepwater Static, is the second book in my LGBTQ Dystopian Sci-Fi Blue Helix series. This was a monster of a book to write and tackle, just like its prequel, because there was so much I wanted to say through the characters’ journey and the continuing storyline in general. And there was much potential for saying the right thing in the wrong way that I really had to pay attention to how I was writing the story and especially how I was representing different minority groups and marginalized communities through this huge cast of characters.
Sleepwater Beat focused on Leo Tieffler as the main character, and Sleepwater Static focuses on Bernadette Manney—a seventy-one-year-old white woman from South Carolina who fits a sort of “tough and uncrackable matriarch” role within the group of people called Sleepwater with the storytelling ability of “spinning a beat”. Bernadette really fascinated me in the first book, and she was the perfect character to dive into for the second in order to approach the other sociopolitical topics I wanted to explore while still making this a fantastic story with characters readers had already come to love and a whole cast of new ones.
Bernadette grew up in the South, found her independence and her freedom through standing up for what she believed in, created a family with the man she loved despite racial tensions and facing discrimination from her own family and so many others within her home state. In this book, we learn about who she was before Sleepwater was formed, how and why Sleepwater was formed, and the ways in which she’s been trying for twenty years to redeem herself after an unforgivable yet inevitable mistake drove her away from her past, her partner, and her child. This book is meant as a sort of “breath of fresh air” on the surface, where the characters stop to go into hiding and regroup (plus one Sleepwater member needs somewhere to give birth to her child that isn’t in the back of a van), and they all end up learning more about the past while trying to fight for the future. I can’t wait to hear what people think of this book, and I’m so excited to start diving into Book 3 when the time comes.
What age did you start writing?
I started writing on my tenth birthday. When I discovered that I could create a story, a situation, a relationship, or an outcome to be absolutely whatever I wanted to be, I just couldn’t stop.
Where do you write? Can you describe your writing space?
I write in my home office. I’ve had four home offices in four different homes since I started my Indie career in 2015. It’s a requirement for every new house we move into (obviously, there have been many), and it will continue to be that way for as long as I’m living in a house with an ability to keep writing.
I have a standing desk and a heavy-duty “sit in my chair all day” cushion for my office chair. Bookshelves stuffed to the brim to the point that they’ve spilled into piles on the floor, my desk, and on and in my cabinets. My office is actually the only room in the house that’s been fully “decorated”, because my husband and I have intersecting tastes, but everything he doesn’t like, I put in my office! It’s also the only room in the house where no one else but the author is allowed to enter. No dogs, no three-year-old, no husband. Okay, fictional characters may make an appearance, but I draw the line with physical bodies. I like bright colors and clashing patterns and hanging art on the wall (my own or created by friends). More often than not, it’s a complete mess, but at least I know where everything is.
What has been the highlight of your writing career so far?
I’d say the highlight so far has been writing the Blue Helix series. Sleepwater Beat got such a phenomenal response, and it really blew me away. It made me an international bestselling author, got me on live television, has been the topic of more radio-show and podcast and blog interviews than I can count, and was both an award-winning Sci-Fi Finalist in the 2019 International Book Awards and a Literary Titan Gold Award Winner this last April.
Sleepwater Static is heading very much in the same direction, and I have really high hopes for the second book in the Blue Helix series too.
Who is your favorite author and why?
It’s not just one (is it ever just one?). My list includes: Stephen King, Jacqueline Carey, George R. R. Martin, Diana Gabaldon, Neil Gaiman, Cormac McCarthy, William Gibson, and John Irving. With these favorites, I get to cover a wide range of brilliance in so many different elements of good storytelling—characterization, world-building, rich plots, expansive landscapes and history, phenomenal relationships, twists and turns, grit, beauty, humor, surreal parallels to reality… this second list goes on and on. Overall, I love these authors because even when I haven’t read them for quite some time, I find myself thinking about their books, characters, and worlds with a nostalgic longing to return. That, to me, is what makes great fiction.
Who is your most loyal supporter?
Hands down that’s my husband. Without this guy, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m with my writing right now—which is writing 60+ hours a week and absolutely loving every minute of it. And there’s the added bonus that my work as a full-time writer of fiction supports our family of three with a single income. It’s pretty much a dream come true.
He hasn’t actually read any of my books all the way through. But he knows how much I love what I do and has facilitated my ability to keep writing since the very beginning, all the way up to the point where he was able to stop working so he could be a stay-at-home dad and do more of what he wants to do during the day. So yes, it’s been a win-win for everyone. And he never misses an opportunity to tell people what I do for a living and give them my card (yes, I have business cards) with a well-timed, “Check out her books. You’ll love them.”
I sure do! I just had my website completely revamped and am in love with what it’s become. This was very recent, and I wasn’t much of a blogger on my author site, but I’ve written a few things on this new site that are more “reflections of life as a writer” and are not, in fact, fiction. But I’ll be building on that. You can find almost everything else about me and my books on my site: http://kathrinhutsonfiction.com
International Bestselling Author Kathrin Hutson has been writing Dark Fantasy, Sci-Fi, and LGBTQ Speculative Fiction since 2000. With her wildly messed-up heroes, excruciating circumstances, impossible decisions, and Happily Never Afters, she’s a firm believer in piling on the intense action, showing a little character skin, and never skimping on violent means to bloody ends.
In addition to writing her own dark and enchanting fiction, Kathrin spends the other half of her time as a fiction ghostwriter of almost every genre, as Fiction Co-Editor for Burlington’s Mud Season Review, and as Director of TopShelf Interviews for TopShelf Magazine. She is a member of both the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and the Horror Writers Association. Kathrin lives in Vermont with her husband, their young daughter, and their two dogs, Sadie and Brucewillis.
For updates on new releases, exclusive deals, and dark surprises you won’t find anywhere else, sign up to Kathrin’s newsletter at kathrinhutsonfiction.com/subscribe.
Energize mostly, I think. I can write for very long periods and get a lot of the story down in a single writing session. Of course, at other times as well I can spend hours trying to work something out and at the end of the process have only completed a short paragraph, so it does vary. It can be exhausting at times but I’ve been writing for many hours in the day and well into the night for many years now, so I guess I’ve got used to the fatigue.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
Probably the very complex plots and themes that I include in many of the novels. There always seem to be very intricate issues to resolve as the story takes shape or at the end once the main plot has been completed. It’s my own fault of course since I do tend to write about time travel, parallel universes, alternate realities and that kind of thing. Any of the novels without those elements have usually been written more quickly, if I recall correctly. However, the very complicated storylines are often what I prefer to write, so this particular brand of kryptonite will probably be with me for some time to come.
Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?
Not really. I’d probably consider it if I wanted to write and publish in a radically different genre, such as horror, romance, or thrillers for adults, for example, although that can be a tricky proposition if your main genre is books for children and young adults. After all, even if it were supposed to be a secret, the true identity of the author would probably get out somehow. I have written eight guides for aspiring writers that are for adults rather than young readers, but these aren’t under a pseudonym.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’m friends with many authors, both here in Calgary, elsewhere in Canada, and around the world. I’m also the founder of Children’s Writers and Illustrators on Facebook, which now has around 8,000 members. I’m not sure if any of them have influenced my writing, but some of them have been a great help with things such as marketing and promotion, working with ebooks, and self-publishing.
Do you want each book to stand alone, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?
Some of the published novels have had sequel potential but I was usually too busy with the next project to explore that potential fully. The most recent novels, such as the Flashback series and the Shadowzone series, have been trilogies, and I’ll probably continue in that direction. I’m also working periodically on more adventures in the land of Koronada, which features in The Sphere of Septimus, published in 2014, and two sequels to Future Imperfect, which came out in 2016.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
I would say either the writing course I took years ago with the Institute of Children’s Literature, which started the ball rolling, or Guerrilla Marketing for Writers, a book I bought to learn more about sales and marketing when I first became a published author. The book appeared before self-publishing, ebooks, and social media were well established but at the time it provided invaluable advice.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
That’s an interesting question, but apart from listening to bedtime stories as a child I’d probably have to say comic books, which I read all the time when I was growing up. Although they were of course filled with illustrations, the stories, particularly in Marvel Comics, were so good and often had such elaborate and grandiose themes, often spread over several issues.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
I wish I had an answer to this one, but I can’t think of a novel that would fit this description, my apologies.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
A dog of some kind, I think. I’ve had both dogs and cats throughout my life but have valued dogs as companions for many years and will most likely always have one or more in my life.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
I don’t have any full finished books that haven’t been published yet and the only partially finished novel is the current work in progress. I do however have many files of varying sizes with reasonably formed story ideas, crammed with notes, ideas, and full or partial outlines, along with other documents containing just a vague story idea and so on.
What does literary success look like to you?
It’s always a great feeling when people enjoy my work and tell me that, especially in person. I’ve met people in their late teens or early twenties that read one or more of my books when they were younger and it’s wonderful to think that I had some kind of an impact on their lives when they were growing up.
What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?
It depends on the book. For the time travel novels, I’ve had to conduct extensive historical research in the time period in which the story is set. The Sorcerer’s Letterbox involved extensive research into medieval England, the Tower of London, Richard III, the Wars of the Roses, and the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. The Heretic’s Tomb involved research into both the Black Death and medieval medicine. For The Doomsday Mask, I investigated the legend of Atlantis and the many theories about where it might have been located, if it existed. The current novel I’m working on takes place in the turbulent period at the end of the English Civil War in the late 1640s, so at the moment I’m researching that time period and the trial of Charles I. I don’t really research before I begin a historical novel since I have a history degree, so I’m already familiar with most of the historical eras that I’m interested in featuring in stories. However, once the novel is in the process of being written I spend quite a lot of time doing research and making sure that everything is accurate.
How many hours a day/week do you write?
I don’t really keep track but I write all the time so that encompasses much of the day and the week. This isn’t always on novels as I often edit books for other authors, write nonfiction books and articles, create content for the business market for websites, social media and other online locations, and prepare workshops and lesson plans.
How do you select the names of your characters?
For the young characters in the novels, I have a list of names I like that I think would be a good fit for a novel. For adult characters, such as the lead villain of the story, I just seem to be able to think of a name that works.
What was your hardest scene to write?
I can’t think of a particular scene from a novel, but the toughest writing I’ve had to do so far has probably been for the Flashback or Shadowzone books, mainly because the plots were so complicated.
Why did you choose to write in your particular field or genre? If you write more than one, how do you balance them?
I have many story ideas for adults but the best thing about writing for young adults is that it allows me to write about the kinds of things that used to fascinate me when I was growing up. And of course, the stories can be very imaginative if they’re for younger readers, which makes writing them so much fun. My first novel, The Alchemist’s Portrait, was published in 2003 and I began writing on a serious basis a few years before that. When my children were small, I starting reading children’s books again for the first time in many years. This made me wonder if I could write stories of my own. I started thinking that I should write fairy tales and picture books for younger children but after reading the first three Harry Potter novels, I realized that I wanted to write for the age group that those books are aimed at. I wasn’t interested in writing about the same things, such as magic, wizards, and imaginary creatures, and instead focused on themes that I was interested in, such as science fiction, fantasy, time travel, history, comic books, ancient mysteries and civilizations, superheroes, other dimensions, and the paranormal.
How long have you been writing?
The first novel came out in 2003 and I began writing seriously a few years before that.
What inspires you?
Ideas can come from anywhere and everywhere. Out walking the dog, in the car, something in a conversation, a newspaper story, a billboard, an item on the evening news, books, historical events, other people’s stories, movies, or something out of the blue. I often find myself wondering ‘what if?’ Sometimes the challenge is to stop having ideas. Some may never be used, but I try to record as many as I can. I never know when they might fit in with a story I’m writing. Even ideas that don’t seem to work right away may provide a spark of inspiration in the future.
How do you find or make time to write?
I don’t have a problem finding time to write since I’ve been doing this full time now for many years. I do struggle to find time to work on my own novels at times, since I’m so busy editing those written by other authors or I’m working on something to do with marketing or a project for a corporate client.
What projects are you working on at the present?
I’ve just published the second part of The Children’s Writer’s Guide, which like the first book provides tips and advice for all authors, not just for those that write for children and young adults. The third part of the Flashback trilogy will be published in the spring and I have a few edits to do for that one. The current novel project is the one about the English Civil War, which I’m hoping to get finished by the end of the summer. I’m also working on several children’s nonfiction books for educational publishers over the coming months.
What do your plans for future projects include?
I have many ideas for future projects and hope to be able to publish all the novels over the next few years.
Share a link to your author website.
You can learn more about me and my work on my website at www.simon-rose.com or online at the following social media sites:
Simon is a regular presenter at conferences and festivals, and served as a juror for the Governor General’s Literary Awards for Children’s Literature, the Saskatchewan Book Awards, the Parsec Awards and the Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. He is the founder of Children’s Authors and Illustrators on Facebook and was the Assistant Regional Advisor for SCBWI Western Canada.
Apart from the above, Simon also offers a wide variety of presentations, workshops and author in residence programs for schools and libraries, covering such topics as the writing process, editing and revision, where ideas come from and how writers turn them into stories, character development, historical fiction and historical research, story structure, the publishing world and more. He works as a creative writing instructor throughout the year, is an instructor for adults with the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University and Chinook Learning Services. And offers a variety of online workshops for both children and adults, including editing, writing workshops and coaching, plus copy writing services for the business community.