The Writers’ Retreat

Loraine was excited when the offer on the farm was accepted. At a time of life when their friends were downsizing, she and Terry purchased a big old red brick farmhouse on 2 acres, on the edge of town. The opportunity came through a friend of Terry who knew the owner personally. The old man wasn’t looking for a lot of money. He only wanted the “right people” to get it. For that reason, he didn’t sign on with a realtor—choosing, instead, to let a few of his friends know of his intention to sell. Jack’s description of Terry and Loraine pleased him and they ended up with what Loraine’s dad described as “way more house than they’d ever need.”

Loraine had been trying to write her second novel—her first one was in the bottom dresser drawer under some out-of-season clothes—and was stuck. Her muse returned, the moment she saw the house. It reeked of that combination of history and mystery that gives 150 year old houses their unique cachet.

After six weeks, she had some material together and wanted feedback. Terry read it but, as he always did, reminded her that plumbers aren’t most authors’ first choice of literary critics. He was the one who suggested they host a writer’s retreat in the old house. “Invite a half-dozen of your writer buddies,” he said. “Hole up here for a weekend. Have them bring some of their work and critique each other. That way you’ll get some opinions that count.” When he volunteered to take care of the cooking, except for Saturday morning when he had an early morning golf date, Loraine jumped at the idea.

That’s why, on the first Friday morning of May, Loraine was scurrying around making the final preparations for lunch as she anticipated the arrival of her friends: Lois–the mystery writer, Dianne–the poet/songwriter, Patricia–the romance writer, Robin–the fantasy writer, and Caroline–who specialized in teen fiction.

They arrived at the old house within a half-hour of each other shortly after noon. Lunch was a noisy affair, punctuated with bursts of laughter as they brought each other up-to-date on their projects. Lois commented that the situation was a perfect set up for a murder mystery and tried to solicit volunteers for the roles of murderer and victim. But when Terry brought in a huge bowl of fruit salad, dressed with a sauvignon and creme dressing, Patricia interrupted. “Forget the murder mystery, what we have here is the perfect setup for a romance novel—one guy and six women.” At this, Terry grimaced and went on a retreat of his own, to the kitchen.

After lunch and a quick tidy up, the writers got to work. They’d each submitted a few pages of their most recent work by email. Each writer had read and critiqued the work of the others. The moment of truth was upon them. In fact, it was several hours of truth. They spent the whole afternoon offering suggestions, making corrections in facts, logic and chronology, as well as arguing fine points of grammar, and generally encouraging one another.

Terry intervened at six o’clock to announce that supper would be served in fifteen minutes. After the meal and clean up, they were weary from their earlier expenditure of mental energy. To wind down, they watched a few online videos of famous authors offering tips for writing success. These could be summarized quite neatly: be the right author, with the right manuscript, in the right place, at the right time. With that combination you’re sure to have a string of best sellers. It was hard not to be cynical.

They chatted until 9:30 when Terry brought them beverages and a cheese and cracker tray. He took the opportunity to remind them that they’d need a volunteer to prepare breakfast for them. They unanimously decided to keep Loraine out of the kitchen because she had already done her share of work organizing the weekend. Dianne offered to take charge and Terry gave her a quick tour of the kitchen to familiarize her with everything she would need.

An hour later, references to “beauty sleep” began to surface along with pointed comments about hoping to “sleep in a bit.” They decided that breakfast at 9:00 would work. Dianne promised to have everything ready for them and, one by one, they headed upstairs to the rooms Loraine had prepared for them.

Loraine was vaguely aware of Terry getting up and dressed around 6:30, but became sharply aware of his banging about in the kitchen as he prepared his breakfast. He usually wasn’t so noisy. Why today, when they had a house full of guests, did he have to make so much racket? She slipped into her housecoat and slippers with the intention of going down to shush him, when a new sound assaulted her weary ears. Someone was singing enthusiastically, but not well.

She waited a moment, opened the door quietly and stepped into the hall. As she stood there trying to assess what was going on, three other doors opened and bleary faces peered out at her. She shrugged. Lois mouthed the words, “It’s Dianne,” as she stepped into the hall. Loraine nodded, understanding now that it was the breakfast cook, not Terry who had disturbed their sleep. The others joined the two women in the hall.

Lois explained that Dianne’s daughter, Colleen, had just recorded a CD of Dianne’s songs. What they heard was Dianne singing along to the recording. What they understood was why Colleen had done the vocals on the album, rather than her mom. “What’s she doing?” asked Patricia, “It’s not even seven o’clock yet. We aren’t supposed to have breakfast for two hours.” No one had intended to be up at this time, especially under these circumstances.

They chatted grumpily, not even allowing themselves to be cheered up when Robin asked if anyone had a recorder. “She’s probably not even aware she’s doing it,” she said. “I think it would be fun to let Dianne hear her own impromptu solo debut. We could play it at breakfast.” Resounding silence followed the suggestion.

Finally Loraine, as the host of the event, volunteered to intervene. The others listened at the top of the stairs. The singing suddenly stopped when Loraine opened the kitchen door. The listeners waited for a few moments but, when it became clear that they weren’t going to hear anything noteworthy, shuffled back to their rooms and attempted to rest, perchance to sleep.

Dianne was shocked when Loraine entered the kitchen and closed the door behind her with a sharp click. She had no idea that anyone could hear her. She’d awakened at 6:30 when Terry left the house. After wasting a few minutes trying to get back to sleep, she decided to make the best of it and prepare a more elaborate breakfast than first planned. Loraine thanked her for her good intentions, but asked her to try to keep the noise down.

The dining room was quiet when they sat down for breakfast. Dianne, in particular, was subdued though everyone assured her that no grudges were held. As she tried to apologize yet again, Caroline jumped in. “Dianne, as the only person who slept through it all, I want to tell you it’s OK. See, how good they look. Everyone but me had time to put her face on!”

They laughed, noting she still had a serious case of pillow face. Then she continued. “I’d like to share a quotation. It goes like this, lightly paraphrased: “She who blesses her friends with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be recompensed with clean up duty for the rest of the day.” (See Proverbs 27:14.)