So here we are, three women who think of themselves as writers despite a paucity of publication successes, promising to not talk from nine o’clock in the morning until three in the afternoon, even though we’ll be sitting only a few feet away from each other for much of the five days we’re in the cabin. A little like being in a nunnery, except that as evening approaches each day, so does the wine, the good food, and the glow that comes from knowing that what you have just read aloud has been really listened to.
Oregon Writers Colony Retreat. None of us know what to expect, but we have goals. Peggy will smooth out her mystery and write a couple of short pieces. Elizabeth will set aside her career as a technical writer and begin a journey into personal writing. “Is it all right if I make up a few things in a memoir?” she asks at one point. Peggy snorts. “It wouldn’t be a memoir if you didn’t.” And I have brought with me three critiques I’d hidden in a drawer after I glanced at them and got mad. And an idea about a horse.
The critiques have to be met face-to face, not out of the corner of one angry eye. My novel Solarium has been read, critiqued, and rejected by an agent who, in my post-rejection depression, I referred at “my teenage almost-agent,” a title based on her first name, popular in 1990. “We need to get inside your four women. What are they feeling as they begin their risky task? Do they even like each other? Are they afraid?” Amberly is right, I discover as I read my novel one more time, her words clearing away through the fog of loving one’s writing too much. I make notes, including one to myself to stop being so snarky to people just because they are fifty years younger than myself.
Then I look at a critique I paid for when I bought a screenwriting CD. This critic wrote that my plot point in Wednesday Club comes ten pages too soon, that the turning point, if there is one, needs to come about two-thirds into the script, and I need many more reversals. I had set this critique aside because it exhausted me just to read it. I have Cynthia Whitcomb’s book at my side, and with the help of my two advisors, I spend a day cutting up scenes, rearranging them (like cleaning messy drawers, satisfying) and throwing in a reversal or two (I think).
On the last day, I file those two old projects for future attention and pick up a pen and write Marshall, a Hero. It is a picture book (or will be, maybe) about a tiny horse who wears Adidas and learns to guide Jim up escalators, down New York streets, through all aspects his owner’s life. A true hero. Getting Marshall on paper makes me feel like a writer again.
When I get home, life is in full advance, as usual, phone calls, appointments, the dishes, me compulsively clicking onto my email hoping for good news about queries. At odd moments, I savor the remembered silence of three writers in retreat, writing.