Pull back the curtain and see how a suspense writer puts the thrills and chills together.


Day One

Good morning, dear readers,

It is difficult to describe how beautiful the Catskills are. I know, I know–as a writer, I’m supposed to be able to describe anything, but wow! Rolling mountains covered in blue-green forests. The mountains slope into deep valleys that are caressed by the sparkling Delaware River. It’s truly breath-taking. The road here from Port Jervis is winding and treacherous…if you’ve been to British Columbia, this is like BC on acid. Today is warm and sunny. It still feels like summer here, especially compared to home, where we’re already experiencing fall. Unless it’s raining, we’ll be eating all of our meals outside at a big communal table.

We have a female chef named Morgan, and the meal she prepared for us last night was incredible. There was a vegetable and grain pilaf wrapped in greens and served with a lemon thyme sauce, homemade pita chips, two kinds of homemade bread, green and yellow wax beans, fresh fruit–grapes, strawberries, and watermelon, and two kinds of cheese. One of the artistic directors here is an organic farmer, so all of the produce we eat comes from her farm.

The men greatly outnumber the women. Most of my fellow retreaters are playwrights from Edmonton, with Vern and Warren splitting their time between Toronto and New York. One of Warren’s plays was just nominated for a Gemini award. He is very accomplished, and also very friendly. Everyone here seems to be very kind. I am impressed by how much reverence the playwrights give the novelists. Since I’m one of only three novelists in a retreat of ten, I was thinking we’d be the outcasts, but the playwrights are actually very appreciative…even awed…by how much work it takes to write a novel. I think the novel-writing community could learn a lot from this attitude–supporting and celebrating each other instead of dickering over which genre is best or debating literary versus commercial.

There’s a general spirit of trust here. No locks on the doors, and this includes at least one of the bathroom doors…the one with the bathtub! Anyone who closes his door is left in peace. Vern, the retreat organizer, gave a speech last night where he said the purpose of this retreat is to “Rest, write, and reconnect”, but he emphasized that he doesn’t care if we write a word. Thinking time is writing time, he said, which is so true. He doesn’t want us to be human typewriters, caring only about output. That’s a relief. After all the work of the last couple of weeks, I am due for some rest. My plan for this afternoon is to walk into town–a very hilly, somewhat dangerous walk of 1.5 miles one way. I’d like to get out and walk at least once a day.

Some highlights so far:

  • Seeing the Brooklyn Bridge and the Capitol building from the air
  • Learning that the great horror writer Susie Moloney will squeal and run away if she sees a moth 🙂
  • Ducking the acorns that fell with surprising violence onto our dinner table from the trees above
  • The great beauty of this place
Thanks for reading!
1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.


  1. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    I love this bit – “Thinking time is writing time.” It’s so true and yet I know I often feel guilty if I’m not actually “writing.”

    Sounds like it’s going to be a wonderful learning experience. Enjoy! 🙂

  2. Story Teller

    Hi Madeline,

    Yes, I liked that, too. There’s been times when I’ve just had to stop writing for awhile, and I’ve gone for a walk or had a bath. That’s been when I’ve come up with my best ideas. It’s so true, and yet we’re so hard on ourselves when we take a break.

    Thanks for your kind comment.

  3. Kim

    Sounds like a dream come true.. I will look forward to your daily reports. It would be hard to come out of a first draft and go right into a second draft. A little thinking time would be good.

  4. Story Teller

    Thanks, Kim. Glad to hear someone is interested in them! 🙂 I usually have more thinking time, but it’s been a few years since I wrote the first one hundred pages, so that’s helping. I also have come up with a new novel idea since I’ve been here, so I’ll be working on fleshing that out, too.

  5. Jocé

    I was so excited to see the curling corner (which tells me a new post is waiting) on your blog icon on my ‘top favourites’ screen. Couldn’t wait to read today’s episode ☺ It all sounds so wonderful – a feast for all the senses. And I too love the comment, “Thinking time is writing time.” It is good to be reminded of that, it is something I had forgotten.
    You are obviously already in the groove – with the ‘new novel idea’ surfacing; that’s what it is all about, isn’t it? And I’m sure walking stimulates the process. Have a great week. Cheers, Jocé.

  6. Story Teller

    Aww, that means so much to me, Joce, especially right now. I really needed that encouragement – thank you so much. And as for walking…well, I should be well stimulated by now! 😀 Love and hugs to you.


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