I went on my annual pilgrimage to Valley Mills with my writer friends for the Heart of Texas writers’ retreat.
The place we go isn’t fancy. There are cobwebs in the rafters, and the floor slopes across the back room from the bathroom to the back door. There are 3 bunk beds, providing room for 6 to sleep, and a double bed at one end of the front room. (There’s a kitchen at the other end.) There is no heat unless you light the propane heater–and we didn’t light it. It got COLD that first night…but warmed up later. My friend Belinda and I went out a day early because we both had the day off. And it was wonderful.
There’d been a lot of rain lately, so the tank (man-made pond, for you non-Texans) right behind the cabin had water running into it, and out of it–into a pretty good-sized waterfall not too far away. Lots of limestone makes for lots of waterfalls. When there’s enough water to fall. This was the first time the tank’s been full enough to have a good-sized creek running out of it, and the water sang to us the whole time we were there.
We critiqued my synopsis (B came up with the perfect last line for it.) We wrote our morning pages. Belinda and I are going through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron together, and we were bad. We wrote our morning pages together, and we kept stopping to talk. It took us a couple of hours to finish. By the time we went into town for lunch and got back to the ranch, the other participants were starting to show up.
Friday night, we had 7 there by the time everyone got off work and came out. We ate sandwich for supper. (One great BIG sandwich in a ring, we cut into sections. We ate that sandwich a couple of days.) We critiqued the chapters of the people who sent them–four of us. We talked plot for the chapters we critiqued. I got too loud.
Four of us spent the night, one more came back around 10:30 a.m. And we did some writing drills–the ones where you take an assortment of items out of a bag and write a scene that includes all of the items. We plotted stories for me and another lady. B and I walked around the tank and down where we could see the waterfall from the front side. Sort of. Then we jumped the creek to get back. I took off my shoes and socks, in case I fell in. I didn’t have walking shoes, and I almost slid out of the backs of my clogs climbing the back side of that tank, because clogs don’t have backs.
We spent some time writing on our own stuff. B and Diana (the middle person in this second picture–Belinda is on the right and Shelley on the left) went into town to get Diana some water, and brought back pizza for supper. After supper, we watched the movie “Twilight” and then analyzed its plot points. We used the plotting method from the Save the Cat book by Blake Snyder, and found it interesting that the main plot was the romance between Edward and Bella, and the subplot was the bad vampires. Most movies are the other way round. We talked writing until midnight or so, and it felt like we’d hardly got started.
Of course, after sleeping 3 nights on those bunk beds– they weren’t bad, but they weren’t the best beds in the world either– we weren’t exactly looking our best. Belinda did not want her picture taken. I haven’t seen all the pictures taken of me. I’m hoping I can cut myself out of the worst ones… Yes, I forgot to take my camera. I forgot my sleeping bag–you think I’d remember my camera? (The beds had clean sheets and blankets that worked just fine.) I remembered all the critiques I’d printed out, and my notebook for the morning pages. The important stuff. (Also my toothbrush and blow dryer.)
Sunday, we got up and did some other exercises, then cleaned up, threw away our trash, divvied up the remaining groceries (I got the Fritos, a package of bagels and the blueberry cream cheese), hugged everybody good bye and went home again. We’re going to try to do this again in the spring, so we can have a spring and a fall retreat, more than just once a year.
So now my synopsis is fixed, my partial’s been critiqued, and I’m printing it out to send off to the agent. I really like retreating…