A Genie, A Wish & A Retreat to Better Fiction

My Novel-In-Progress (NIP) is full of baby-boomer nostalgia. Do you remember the TV show I dream of Jeanie? You are showing your age. But if I could conjure up a genie, and a wish to be granted by a hottie like Barbara Eden, I’d have one for writers. It would be to give them the time and resources to attend an extended retreat and escape their daily lives for a week or a long weekend and focus on their craft.

That nasty day job that pays the bills pulled me away early from the Writers’ Retreat Workshop in San Antonio this year. So I asked the very talented, soon-to-be published author, Camille Di Maio to fill me in on what I missed.

Writers Retreat Workshop 2015
By Camille Di Maio

The Setting

We were psychologists, realtors, nuclear scientists, grocery store cashiers, and ex-cons. We hailed from Texas, Utah, Florida, Canada and Korea. We wrote romance, horror, suspense, literary tales, and in a category all its own – stories of psychic pet birds. We understood the battles – the rejections, the procrastinations, the writer’s block. We understood, too, the prize – publishing a novel.

For eight days and nights, we lived in a lush retreat setting, and thrived in a boot camp of words. Writing is often thought of as a solitary event. But, like any endeavor, a community of those who understand is an essential component to success and to keeping your sanity. WRW proved just that.

The latest Writer’s Retreat Workshop was held at the Oblate Renewal Center in San Antonio, Texas, amongst record-breaking rains and saintly surroundings. This was my first time, and it won’t be my last. WRW was packed with a schedule that was aptly described as “stunning”. Early birds were treated to pre-breakfast discussions about writing. Morning classes consisted of excellent instruction in characters, scene, and themes. Afternoons were free time to work on our novels, but were interspersed with excellent opportunities to meet one-on-one with people who had the compassion and experience to help us become better. Our post-dinner haze was welcomed with wine and cheese and shop talk about dark fiction, writing sexy scenes, and analyzing “Thelma and Louise” as a model for scene details. And, night owls competed far past bed time for word counts that encouraged our fingers to fly without the obstacle of over-thinking.

The star of the show was New York super-agent, Donald Maass. His instruction was nothing short of genius, and under his guidance, my mousy little protagonist might just start a riot in her pivotal scene. I didn’t know she was even capable of it. He gutted our writing down to its deepest emotional level, and like a magician, showed us how to produce feelings in our readers like a rabbit out of a hat.

Carol guided us in writing prompts that were so useful, that I don’t think I can ever write about a character again without taking them through these steps. I remember when…I broke when…

Jason honed in on story problems during our one-on-ones, and brainstormed with us. Each writer walked away with a stronger plan under his guidance.

Richard instructed us on a variety of things, but my take-away was information about the publishing industry, and what intrigues editors.

Matt brought a history with short-stories, and helped us understand how they can be important even when we are writing novel-length work.

And Les. Well, I never thought I’d read a book called “The Bitch”, but it now sits on the top of the pile of books on my nightstand. Les Edgerton is a legendary writer, with a rap sheet, nationwide hairstyling accolades, and eighteen published books published. He didn’t sugar-coat his opinions about writing and publishing, but he definitely engendered a friend-for-life enthusiasm among this band of artists.

A week has passed, and I am back in my real life. My four children need me for this and that and my husband encourages me to take time off from our active business to write. He jokes that when my career takes off, he can be a kept man. The friends I made at WRW are special to me in a way that no one else could understand, and I am grateful for the social media that makes it easy to keep in touch.   I will rejoice in their successes, as they will celebrate mine, and together, we will produce fiction that will make you cry, make you scream, make you feel. We will come together again in a year, along with those who will join us for the first time, and create new memories that will feed our souls and strengthen our craft. Until then, happy writing. We’re rooting for you!

Camille Di Maio is a Realtor in San Antonio, and a homeschooling mom of four. Her life-long dream of publishing a novel came true when her agent called and said that she had gotten a book deal with Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon. The contract arrived while she was at WRW, and she signed it among her new friends. Her novel imagines the lives of Eleanor Rigby and Fr. McKenzie from the classic Beatles song, and will be released on May 31, 2016. Follow her on Twitter @camilledimaio, or on Facebook at facebook.com/camilledimaio.author

And now, another really great bad sentence from the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, circa 2016. It comes from Stephen Lewis Davis, Sacramento, California:

“Penguin, damnable penguin,” Cooperman muttered bitterly, staring hard into the maelstrom of cheap gin and bargain basement vermouth swirling hopelessly in the low ball glass he held in his pale, doughy hand, the shards of rapidly melting ice crystals cruelly reminding him of those endless winter nights in the Antarctic weather station, and of Kwakina, with her lithe, lubricious figure, and tuxedo-feather form.

A Writing Retreat with Donald Maass

May 29, 2015

The Right Kind of Fiction Author Video

May 29, 2015

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