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Planning a Writer’s Retreat

A few years ago, I wrote this post and was looking it over recently as I found myself searching for a spot in my busy life to GET AWAY and just WRITE. The advice here is still relevant and if you can find a way to take time with friends and spend a weekend writing, I promise you will walk away with so much more than just pages…

Your Writing Retreat

I’ve listened to friends go on and on about writing retreats for years. Holing up in a hotel for a weekend to escape family demands and meet a deadline. Taking off for a family cabin with a group and spending a weekend plotting. Finally it was time to dive in and here is what I learned:

Common Goals

1) Find friends who share your goal for the retreat. If everyone is on the same page (literally)–writing pages or plotting or critiquing–then things will most likely run smoothly–as no one is interrupting another’s pursuits. For our weekend

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, the four of us all had books in progress that needed to be jumpstarted after the holidays. So our goal was simple: Pages. Lots of pages. We wrote on our own, we used group sprints (1k words in one hour) and took breaks together to unwind, chat about road blocks, to share music tracks. Then it was back to the pages. Relaxed, yet productive.

The Perfect Spot

2) This, I think can be the hardest part. Finding someplace easily accessible and affordable. Jane Porter and I lucked out at a charity auction and won a big condo in Palm Springs. The place was amazing. Far more than we expected–it was so perfect. Two large bedroom suites, an individual bedroom, big living room, dining area, big patios. Perfect–because everyone found their favorite spot and hunkered down to write. We were not shy about moving furniture around to suit our mood–including taking the dining room table out on the patio so we could eat and write outside. I loved the patio off my bedroom–bright light, privacy and fresh air. Perfect.

Think family cabins, house shares, off season rentals. Ask around and check with friends as to where they’ve gone. The perfect spot is out there waiting for you.

Planning

3) Collaborate ahead of time. We had a flurry of emails the week before–on goals, expectations, food, groceries, and it all came together quite effortlessly. At least it felt that way. We shared cooking, making coffee and tea. We took turns with those chores and were respectful of each other’s time.

Breathe

4) Clear your head and keep a clear perspective. Too much writing and togetherness, especially for writers–since we are usually solitary creatures–can be a bit stressful. Take breaks. I went for walks. I went to mass. Closed the door on my room. And bit my tongue a few times. Anyone who knows me, knows that is me showing huge restraint. In other words, it is only weekend. And if things bubble a bit, well, consider that is writers being writers and it is after all, only a weekend.

Write

5) Come prepared to work and share and learn. I had my scenes all mapped out, my notes in order and my pages with me so I could take additional notes as needed. I had them all in one of my Levenger Circa notebooks. I tend to think this is the way everyone writes–only to discover that everyone of us worked so very differently. The coolest part of the weekend were the times we each shared our writing process and explained how we work. Fascinating and so amazing. And yes, I will share what I learned.

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Friday Reads–Getting Caught Up

I have been on a total fantasy reading kick. Maybe it’s in anticipation of the return of Game of Thrones. But one thing is for sure: I read one and then I dive into a whole series. Come along with me…

So when the Nebula Awards were announced a few weeks ago, I realized I’d only read one of them (The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal–which BTW so belongs on this list), so I ordered up Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik (since I’m a fan of hers already, having loved and adored Uprooted) and also Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse.

I devoured Trail of Lightning. The book grabbed me from the first few pages with tremendous world building and a cast of characters that hit all the notes. This is a take on the post Apocalyptic world that we haven’t seen as readers–at least I haven’t–and it is a gripping

, page-turning story. The next one—Storm of Locusts—comes out April 23rd, so you have time to read the first one and do what I’ve done: pre-order the 2nd one.

In the category of finishing up series, I couldn’t stop myself and dug into Assassin’s Quest by Robin Hobb. This series is so good. I mean, so very good, and the last one had me in tears by the end. There are more books in this “world” so I, of course, got my hands on them and they are patiently waiting for me in my overflowing TBR.

Speaking of series

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, don’t hate me but I got an Advance Reading Copy of Protect the Prince by Jennifer Estep and LOVED it. I think I liked it more than the first book, Kill the Queen. I’ll review it more in depth closer to its release in July, but I just wanted you to read the first book so you are ready for the second one.

See a theme here? Because I’m thoughtful like that. LOL.

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April 1st

I always smile when I see this date. You see, April 1st has a different meaning for me–not the day of pranks and foolery, but the day I began my publishing career.

Not the day I sold, but the day I turned in the manuscript of Brazen Angel for the Dell Diamond Debut contest. To me, April 1st is the day it all began.

Brazen Angel

Now there is a HUGE story behind my first book, and you can find it here. Go read it

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, then come back. I’ll wait.

Brazen Heiress

And this year, I wanted to remember it all over again. The Brazen series has all new covers, AND they are back in print editions, something they haven’t been in a long time. So whatever your jam, ebook or print, try the series that launched my writing career.

Brazen Temptress

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This Rake of Mine for $1.99

Sorry to say, but this promotion has ended. Make sure to sign up for my newsletter (top right hand corner of this page) or keep an eye on this blog for new sales.

That’s right! This Rake of Mine is on sale for a short time for $1.99.

If you haven’t read this reader favorite (and when I say ‘reader favorite’

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, I mean READER FAVORITE), now is your chance to fall in love with Mad Jack Tremont.

(And meet that other heart breaker, Captain Thomas Dashwell, who stepped out the sea and in  one page completely stole the scene, the wretch!!)

This book has quite the avid following, which might explain the Starred Review in Publisher’s weekly, the RITA nomination and a bunch of other accolades that I am far too modest to drag out.

Okay, I’m not modest in the least, but immensely lazy will work.

So modesty, or therein lack of, aside, now is the time to grab your e-copy of This Rake of Mine.

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Release Day Read: The Huntress

I got the privilege of reading an advanced copy of Kate Quinn’s exquisite new historical fiction, The Huntress. You might recall

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, I raved about her previous book, The Alice Network in a December post about incredible books to give as gifts.

Now I get to rave about The Huntress.

The story revolves around a pair (soon to be trio) of Nazi hunters chasing after a murderess who has disappeared into the ether after committing heinous crimes in the waning days of WWII. The trio of stories weave together a thrilling and poignant story of war, loss, and finding one’s self amongst the ruins and aftermath of unthinkable tragedy.

I loved every page.

If you adore great history

, wonderful characters and a strong, compelling story, The Huntress is a book for you.

Thank you to #HarperCollins for an advanced copy of this book. This review is my own opinion.

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Newsletter Winner!!

Congratulations to Lauren G. of Baton Rogue–you are the winner of my February newsletter contest. Thank you to everyone who entered!

And to those of you who aren’t on my newsletter list–what are you waiting for?? Sign up at the top of any page on my website.

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Fantasy Vacation

I went on vacation recently and took this huge stack of books, thinking I was going to have a ton of time for reading. I always pack way more books than I can read–but you never know when you might need an emergency mystery, or A Duke in Shining Armor.

It’s been known to happen.

While this stack is a nice mix of all my favorites–romance, mystery, historical, and fantasy–I found myself reaching for and diving into the fantasy books–Robin Hobb’s second book in her Farseer series, Royal Assassin, and A Reaper at the Gates, the most recent book by Sabaa Tahir.

Both books have all the things I want in a great fantasy book–amazing world building, well-crafted characters, and great writing. These are books that invite you into a new world and take you on a journey.

Royal Assassin is the second book of Robin Hobb‘s I’ve read. Her writing is rich–in that it takes time to read. This isn’t a book you skim and forget. This is a book that is meant to be read. A story to be entered, to be surrounded by the words and the characters she’s created.

I fell hard into the Farseer landscape, literally headfirst, when I discovered Assassin’s Apprentice, and I fell in love with Fitz. He’s a heart wrenching kid lost in a dangerous court who has to learn to survive. I saved Royal Assassin for my vacation, knowing that I would want to have all the uninterrupted time I could get to read it.

Boy, was I glad I did. Well worth savoring. Fitz grows stronger

, faces new adversaries and old, still very dangerous ones, and the supporting characters continue to surprise and delight–Patience, the new Queen, and Burrich–who steals my heart whenever he steps on the page.

I have the third book, Assassin’s Quest on my shelf. Usually I like to read series I’ve fallen in love with one at a time, a few months apart

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, if only to treat myself. I’m not a binge reader. But I’ve already queued this book up to the top of the pile.

Sabaa Tahir‘s Ember in the Ashes series continues with A Reaper at the Gates. Often times with YA series, the first book is fabulous, but then the series on the whole falls flat as the author rushes the next two books out.

Not. So. Here.

This series started off with a bang and hasn’t stopped. Her characters have grown with each book and the stakes keep getting higher. Each book is a roller coaster–and this latest in no exception.

Tahir reveals a big twist in this latest installment, which I kick myself for not seeing it coming, but it was one of those, OMG moments in reading. You know the ones we readers live for?! Yeah, you know.

If you haven’t read this series yet, start with An Ember in the Ashes. I actually would recommend binging this these. I know I just said I don’t usually, but this series is where I would make an exception. There is a lot going on here–lots of stories, so reading them back to back will keep things straight. Just settle in and go for an amazing ride.

Next up, some romance reading. Lorraine Heath, Laura Lee Ghurke’s new book, Governess Gone Rogue, and a Loretta Chase. After all the fantasy wars and battles and magical things, I need a little romance.

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Confessions of A Little Sale

Hey folks, just a quick note to let you know that the ebook of Confessions of a Little Black Gown is on sale right now for $1.99. Confessions of a Little Black Gown

Yes, you got that right, $1.99!

Can I say that this cover still makes my heart beat faster. I just LOVE this cover. And the heroine, Thalia Langley? I have a little secret about her. Or rather a Confession….

She got her name because I have a penchant for eavesdropping. Sort of like Thalia herself.

I have utterly no shame about listening into conversations taking place in public. I adore them. I get some really interesting tidbits from the next table over at the coffee shop.

The way I see it, if you sit down next to a writer you are fair game.

So there I was writing away, nearly minding my own business, when two young women sat down at the very next table and started gossiping about their friend, Tally.

Tally this

, and Tally that. I felt horrible for Tally.

And then what happened? Tally arrives and they greeted her like she was royalty. All their mean, snakey gossip and then this fake love fest. Oh

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, Tally, how wonderful to see you.

I wanted to spill my latte on the two of them.

But the better revenge was to take this great name, Tally, and turn her into a heroine readers would love and cheer for.

And certainly not gossip over.

So that is the story behind Tally’s namesake. And you didn’t hear it from me. LOL.

According to the powers that be, Confessions of a Little Black Gown is on sale only until January 28th.

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3 Books to Give This Christmas

Oh, good heavens, how do I pick?! Which three books, of all the books I’ve read this year, would I recommend you give (or get for yourself)? Well, after due consideration, I suggest:

For the Romance Reader

You just can’t miss with Laura Lee Guhrke! Her Lady True Love series just keeps getting better and better and The Trouble With True Love is no exception. While it came out earlier this year

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, if the romance reader on your list missed it, they’ll be glad you didn’t.

My other pick: Bellewether by Susanna Kearsley. Just a lovely, beautiful story that will keep you guessing until the very end.

For the Eclectic Reader

A Gentleman in Moscow. Everyone on your list should read this elegant, amazing story. Read it just for the words. Amor Towle’s writing is a master class in elegance. And this story–so wonderfully charming and beautiful. It is the book I cannot stop sharing.

My other favorite? The Alice Network, a WWI timeslip story that moves between the war itself and the years after WWII. Heart-wrenching at times, and at others filled with humanity and a mystery that must be unearthed.

For the Fantasy Reader

Finally, maybe you have someone on your list who loves a bit of magic, a bit of fairy tale, a bit of adventure? I thought I had this category all wrapped up until Thanksgiving weekend when I read, Uprooted by Naomi Novik. What a fresh and unique fairy tale story that surprises all the way through. I was thrilled to have two long flights to just sit and devour this book. Give it for the holidays. And get a copy.

Okay, so that was five books. But it is impossible to stop once you start… You know

, when you really love a book–you just want everyone to read it.

What books would you recommend giving this holiday season?

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Are You Over Halfway? Or …50 yard and 3rd Down

If not, no worries. Believe me, the second half of a book is always quicker to write, especially with that shining light of “The End” glowing ever closer.

And if you have absolutely no clue what I am talking about then you aren’t neck deep in NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I’ve been dabbling in it this year, but only from the sidelines as a coach and teacher. No offense, but it is a lot more fun to watch from the sidelines like some NFL coach.

Here’s me:

“Yeah, Writer, I know that hit must have hurt like hell–who would have thought your characters would just sit down and go on strike. Now remember, you’re the author. You control their destiny. Now shake them up and get back out there.”

Insert high five here, and watch me nod my head in encouragement as I send the tired NaNoWriMo writer back out into the darkness that is the middle of a 50,000 word quest for glory.

Oh, you’ve got to love the view from the sidelines.

So as I stand here, mid-month, mega-phone in hand, (Good God, no one in their right mind would ever give me a megaphone) I offer these three pieces of advice for all you caffeine addicted, hopped up writers who have made it thus far:

1) Conflict – If you are stalled out

, then most likely you’ve run out of conflict. Either your characters have solved all their problems, or you haven’t made the stakes high enough, challenging enough to last through the entire book. Go back and revisit the impetuous, the problem that is/or was the grease that moves your story along and see where it ran thin. Think of conflict as Two Dogs, One Bone. What is the bone between your protagonist and their goal? Gnaw on that and see what comes of it.

2) Change – Your characters should be changing throughout your story, but most notably they will go through these four stages: Denial, Resistance, Exploration, and Manifestation. (If you time, go give this episode of Writing Excuses a listen wherein Mary Robinette Kowal presents DREAM in a clear and easy 15 minute lesson)

Then ask yourself, where are your characters on this continuum? What are the lessons and skills your character is going to have to have to solve the problems they are facing. Your job as the author is to guide them through the specific events you’ve handpicked to teach them those lessons. Get them working!

3) Plotting— When you get stuck and can’t find your way out of the darkness of your story with a flashlight and a map, then take a blank piece of paper and write down 20 things that could happen in your book. Then write 20 more. Keep writing down everything you think of, no matter how crazy or ridiculous. Just keep brainstorming. The pieces of your story are there inside your head, you just need to root around and find them. I talked about this last month in in this blog, 3 Tips to Crush NaNoWriMo.

And remember, when you get to Thanksgiving and there are only a few days in November left, pumpkin pie is considered to be quite the creative impetuous. I’m quite sure of that.

Would Coach Elizabeth ever lie?

If you have any questions

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, please add them to the comments or shoot me a tweet!

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