Last week I had the pleasure of heading out to beautiful Pelee Island. No, I wasn’t buying wine (well, okay, I did buy some wine) and I wasn’t birding (though all those wild turkeys were cool). I spent seven days on a writer’s retreat at the Pelee Island Book House, and I can’t recommend it enough. This isn’t a sales pitch, though I’m a big fan of Dawn Kresan, who owns the Book House – she’s a fabulous poet the all ’round cool woman who used to own Palimpsest, my publisher, and even designed my book cover. It’s more of a “damn, I’m enthusiastic and need to share my enthusiasm” sort of thing.
There were a few reasons it was such a great experience, and part of that is just the nature of a retreat itself. I must have written well over 5,000 words (I wasn’t keeping track, really) and had some major breakthroughs. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to work with long stretches, being so used to small slivers of writing time. Turns out, yes, it’s all good. Of course, much of it was the environment. When you have to take a 90-minute ferry ride to get somewhere (on top of a 3.5 hour drive) you certainly feel like you’ve left the daily world grind behind. The House is on the shores of Erie, and between the crashing waves and constant birdsong, it was like natural white noise; accumulated stress faded quickly. It’s a big cottage, so there’s plenty of room; even with three fellas in a bedroom, it never felt crowded. The rest of the house is laid out in such a way that we were all able to stake out our spaces and work uninterrupted if we chose.
Of course, we collaborated, read, talked and socialized. Having like-minded people in the House was invaluable. I was able to just wander up to people and ask actual writing questions. People respected each other’s work and each other’s space without being distant and unapproachable. There was a little summer camp syndrome – you know, a small group of people in close quarters for a short time, sharing an important experience, tends to stoke bonding that’s fairly intense by normal adult life standards.
Thanks to Dawn and the eleven incredible writers I met and befriended. Oh, and there was also, you know, hangin’ with Margaret Atwood…but I’ll talk about that next week.
In the meantime, a great show today with Claire Cameron, the best-selling author who took the time to join me and discuss her latest novel, The Last Neanderthal. Enjoy!