Monthly Archives: May 2015

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

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

Literary agent and novel guru Donald Maas spent time with writers in San Antonio last week (May 2015) counseling, critiquing and instructing for the Writers’ Retreat Workshop. It’s a fun, but intense week, for Fictionistas. Since video is what I do when I’m not involved in literary malfeasance, I decided to put together this clip about the retreat with the one, overriding take-away from Donald’s workshop.



It’s all about making your readers feel.

Click Here.

The thought about how the art of fiction is all about what you make your readers feel struck a chord with me. And Donald wrote about it as the key to creating The Great American Novel that truly is great, in his book Writing 21st Century Fiction.


As for writing Bad Fiction, at least that one bad opening sentence for the Bulwer-Lytton Contest:

With her interest in dime-store novels finally fading and Christmas just days away, little LIzzy Borden sat quietly in the corner and crossed “tomahawk” off her Christmas list, writing instead the word AXE, carefully in her best penmanship, which made her mother and father so proud.

An Awesome Retreat for Fiction Writers

If you don’t count my attempt to write a total ripoff of the Hardy Boys at age twelve, I started getting serious about writing fiction shortly after moving to Austin twenty-five years ago. That’s when I discovered writing instructor Gary Provost in the pages of Writers Digest. WD We lost Gary back in 1995, but the writers’ retreat workshop he co-founded is still going strong and going on this week in Texas.

I am a graduate of the workshop from a couple of years back, shortly before publishing my first novel Live At Five. I wish every budding author could experience something like that, a week of writing and socializing with other writers. It’s fiction summer camp for adults. So on this 20th anniversary of Gary’s passing, I created this short video tribute to Gary with Writers’ Retreat Workshop co-founder Gail Provost Stockwell and current director Jason Sitzes.

It also provides one of Gary’s favorite tips for new fiction writers:

I will grab more video from the 2015 version of the Writers’ Retreat Workshop in San Antonio and share some newfound knowledge from one of the instructors next week.

In the meantime really great bad sentence to start your novel:

Hard-boiled private dick Harrison Bogart couldn’t tell if it was the third big glass of cheap whiskey he’d just finished, or the way the rain-moistened blouse clung so tightly to the perfect figure of the dame who just appeared panting in his office doorway, but he was certain of one thing…he had the hottest mother-in-law in the world.

Sneakers, Panhandlers & Why I Play the Lottery

People who are not afflicted with the DNA of serial dreamers are smart enough to avoid playing the lottery. The odds are astronomical. Not quite as bad as the odds of getting an agent and certainly better than getting a New York publisher to bite on your novel these days. But I play the lottery and I can blame Freddy.

More than fifteen years ago my wife and I took a trip to New Orleans. Somewhere near Cafe Du Monde we were approached by a skinny little panhandler in a dirty and torn t-shirt who said, “Five bucks sez I can tell ya where ya got your shoes.” I looked down at my generic Converse sneakers and wondered what was the catch. So I negotiated with the guy, who said his name was Freddy, and told him that I wouldn’t commit to the bet, but I’d grease his palm if I liked the answer.
He said, “Ya got them on your feet.”
Lame as that was, I gave him the three singles in my pocket. (It wasn’t worth the $20 bill I had left.)

Five or six years later I was visiting the folks in California. My buddy Dave and I went up to The City for lunch on Fisherman’s Wharf. We strolled along the Embarcadero and stopped at a plaza on the edge of the San Francisco Bay to gawk along with all the other tourists at the jugglers, the mimes, the human statues and musicians. We were standing there, trying to get a smile or even a blink out of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz when I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Ten bucks sez I can tell ya where ya got your shoes.” Apparently inflation had hit Freddy the panhandler too. It was the same skinny little dude in the same t-shirt.

I cut a deal. Ten bucks, but he’d have to give five to the Tin Man if I could tell him where he got his shoes, and I would get to go first. I studied his battered Nikes and said, “Ya got them on your feet, dude.” I won’t repeat what Freddy said but hey, I got a smile out of the Tin Man at last.

I am not making that up. So what are the odds of getting hit up by the same panhandler with the same schtick more than five years and 2,275.8 miles apart? What are the odds of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment in time to have that experience just once, let alone twice in a lifetime? Imagine the thousands of possible deviations, delays and decisions that could have come between me and Freddy 2.0. Really, now?

I don’t have a clue what the odds might be, but Freddy made a believer out of me. And so I buy lottery tickets and hope that one day, as I am handing my dollar to the convenience store clerk, little Freddy the panhandler will be sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear. Let’s get lucky; baby needs a new pair of shoes.

As the foeman’s axe descended, Ragnar Thyorvaldsson thought — quickly, but with uncannily prescient anachronism — that his paltry contribution to this raid would not be recorded in the great sagas, or even a minor tale, but at best he might be remembered centuries hence only as “third oarsman” in the Boys’ Own Book of Viking Adventure Stories.

Paul Dawson, Vancouver, BC, Canada