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



Hey dear readers,

I probably shouldn’t post here in my current lower-than-a-snake’s-belly state, but I need someone to talk to. I feel like such a loser…a loser to end all losers. On the first full day of the retreat, I went to take some photos for the blog and discovered I’d brought my camera, an extra battery, the battery charger…and no memory card. Oh, I have other memory cards, but not the one for my actual camera. I figured it was, oh, I don’t know, INSIDE THE #$&*!@ camera, but it wasn’t. And my camera is a Sony, so it will only take Sony cards, which this place is too remote to have. So that was strike one, and The Boy is a camera guy, so guaranteed I will never live that one down.

Before lunch, Josh and I decided to walk to the lake, which is literally less than five minutes away. Apparently there’s a very particular path you have to take, though–otherwise, you’re walking through someone’s yard and they get kind of irritated after a while with all these writers cutting through. The sign that you’re on the right path is NACL carved onto a little piece of wood off to the side. Josh and I were given directions. We went down what we thought was the correct path. No sign. We went to the path on the far right, which ended up being a driveway. By then it was time for lunch, so we gave up. When I had my meeting with Susie, we went to the lake, so she showed me the correct path. Where was it? Right in the MIDDLE of the two paths Josh and I had chosen! And there was the sign, plain as day. I should have taken that as a sign.

But no. After a very exciting meeting with Susie, which I will tell you about when I’m in a better mood, I decided to walk to town. The walk back is all uphill and supposed to be quite challenging. The round trip is one and a half miles. No problem. I left at around 3:30. I finally made it back here at 6:40, and it’s not because I’m a slow walker. I got lost. For hours.

I am so embarrassed. It was such an easy trip–I can’t believe I got lost. I made it to the town just fine, but on the way back, I neglected to take this little dip to the left. I went straight and ended up on a road parallel to the one I was supposed to be on. Since I was on a different side of the road than the one I’d taken to the town, I didn’t find it that odd that nothing looked familiar. Finally, I got to a school and I knew I would have noticed that. Problem was, I didn’t know where I’d gone wrong. I turned around and started walking back the way I came. I saw a sign pointing the way to Highland Lake Road, which is where the retreat centre is, but when I looked down that way, it was just some guy’s junk pile. I kept walking on the parallel road. Now nothing on this road looked familiar, either. I went back to the sign and walked through the guy’s yard, hoping that Highland Lake Road was somewhere beyond his junk. Nope. Went back out and kept walking the way I had been. I found a man who told me to go back to where I’d seen that sign and go down a different road–Devlin Road–to the end, and then turn right. He told me I had about two miles to go. By this time, it was six pm and we have dinner at six-thirty. I wanted to get back in time for dinner so no one would have to know what a moron I am.

I rushed down Devlin Road, remembering Vern’s words about how fast the vehicles go and how he wouldn’t want to walk this route at night. It was getting dark. My hips were killing me…I’d worn sandals, not expecting to be on a four hour walk. Oh, and I was starting to have to pee in the worst way, as you can imagine. At the end of a very long road, I turned right. I thought I remembered that the retreat was at 10 Highland Lake Road, so I was thrilled when I saw a sign for Highland Lake Road and actual numbers at every driveway. This brought new life into my step, which was good, because once again it was a steep uphill climb. Number 3 was followed by 5, then 7…we were looking good! And then…17. WTF??? I walked as far as 19 before conceding that this was not the way to the retreat centre. On the way back, I ran into some kids and asked them for directions. Once they realized what I was talking about, they told me it was in the other direction from what the man had told me. They also offered several times to give me a ride. With their assurance that it was “just over that hill”, I thanked them kindly but said that I’d (groan) walk. I started off in the direction they’d indicated. The numbers on the driveway signs were really high…138, 131, which puzzled me. Then I realized that they were at least decreasing, so I must finally be going in the right direction. When I’d walked for quite a while with no sign of the retreat centre, I was starting to get a bit teary. Maybe it was that little road I’d seen a while back? I backtracked to it and went about halfway down, but saw nothing familiar. Nope. Back to Highland Lake Road. I walked for another ten or fifteen minutes and was almost losing hope when I saw it! It was 110 Highland Lake, not 10.

Brett had been out looking for me. Susie was a little worried. I felt like such a dork. When I was a kid, I got lost walking from my grandma’s farm to my aunt’s. I saw a yellow and brown house that looked just like my aunt’s and started walking across fields of rye to get to it. Once I realized it was the wrong house, I was lost. What should have been a fifteen minute walk took over two hours, but I eventually made it. My family thought it was the funniest thing they’d ever heard, especially my cousins. They made fun of me for years. Just when I thought I’d lived that down, I have to look like a complete idiot in front of a whole new group of people. They were nice about it, but I could tell they thought I must be pretty stupid. I feel stupid. I feel so humiliated.

There’s supposed to be a bonfire tonight, but I don’t even want to show my face. I will most likely suck it up and go down, but this has turned into a day when I should have stayed in bed…or Winnipeg.

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  1. Mystic_Mom

    Firstly – I highly doubt anyone thinks you are stupid, and those laughing voice we hear from our childhood do not get heard outside of our memories by anyone! Trust me…really! Enjoy your retreat, turn this day into an adventure for a character and help her work through her feelings about it…chin up girl! You’re not only fine, you are super fine! Laugh a bit at the situation, laugh gently at yourself and be proud – you did figure it out and you did make it back. Fodder for a new story, first person!

  2. Story Teller

    Thanks, Shanyn. That’s really sweet, but they do think I’m a bit of an idiot. One of the guys here has been teasing me the same way my cousins did – “do you want to take my cell next time?”, etc. I know I’m over-sensitive about it right now, but I’m still so ashamed. I wish I wasn’t so stupid about directions. I really try, but it’s like I don’t have the slightest clue where I’m going half the time. I’m sure I’ll feel better tomorrow, but right now I really want to come home. 🙁

    Thanks for your kindness.

  3. Kim

    You’ll be laughing about this in 2 days. Well we’ve all been there.. no doubt. A day of intellectual lows. And you’ve been invited to a big retreat and the pressure is on to live up to the reward you’ve been given. So no doubt you’re being extra hard on yourself, perhaps even more so than usual. So go open up that novel and bask in the words that are yours and the story you have created and start to feel better. You will. tomorrow is another day.

    And if all else fails. Eat ice cream (or chocolate) or whatever guilty pleasure you desire.

  4. Story Teller

    Thanks, Kim. I really appreciate that. I so hate feeling this way, and knowing it’s going to be a continuing joke.

  5. Kim

    Milk it for all its worth. Make fun of yourself. Then they’lll stop.

  6. Stephanie Baffone

    Hi Holli,
    I love that you had the courage to share this! Your transparency I’m sure is what endears you to your readers.

    Try not to be so hard on yourself. You have no clue what dumb things the other participants have done in their lives and I guarantee they all have a story to tell. 🙂

  7. Story Teller

    @ Kim – I was doing that at dinner tonight, poking fun at myself and brushing it off when anyone asked if I was okay. I hope I’m strong enough to do that again tomorrow, but I don’t know. I think there’s a lot of pain that’s being recalled about my family laughing at my one goof up for years. Literally YEARS. I’m sure my claim to fame at this retreat will be, “you know, that girl who got lost”.

    @ Steph – thank you for your wonderful, encouraging comment. I wasn’t sure if I should write about it, but so often this blog is happy-happy, and life’s not always like that. I’m trying to lead an extraordinary life, which means taking risks. And taking risks means I sometimes fall flat on my face. Now even more people know that I can be a bit of an idiot, but maybe that will make them feel better the next time they make a dumb mistake. And I really needed to talk to someone who “knows” me, even if through the blog. The people here have no idea who I am or what I’m feeling, and I certainly don’t want to cry in front of them. 😉

  8. Jocé

    I second that, or rather fourth/fifth it — you are courageous. And also wise, “a trouble shared is a trouble halved” in this case it is down to an eighth of its dimensions already 🙂 You can bet you are not the first, and certainly won’t be the last to get lost in that confusing landscape. And as one of the earlier commenting friends said – it is all fodder for a fiction writer. I’m a believer that everything happens for a purpose. Sometimes it is hard to fathom the porpoise at the time ☺ [Actually I’m doing just that – pondering the cosmic reason why I fell flat on my face on Portage Ave in the middle of day on Saturday. The left side of my face took the full brunt of impact with flagstone and now I have a nasty blue black bruise and black eye. But it could have been much worse – haven’t broken anything, not even my glasses. And I can still talk and eat – so that’s a good sign.]
    Take care Holli… I’m sending vibes of happiness your way.

  9. Story Teller

    Thanks, Jocelyn. I am starting to feel better with a little help from my friends. 🙂 So sorry to hear about your fall–that’s terrible! It must have hurt so badly – did you trip?

    I guess I can certainly write about how scary it is to be lost, especially when you’re really not sure that you’ll be able to find your way back.

    I can feel your positive vibes, all the way here in the Catskills. Thank you. 🙂

  10. Maxine

    Aw, Holli! Hugs!!!!!!!!!!! It’s really not that bad, and I’m not just saying that because it wasn’t me. Call it an adventure into the unknown. Call it a series of crazy events. Call it “your day of the stupids” (that was said with love, I promise!). Call it whatever you want, but believe me when I say that this bothers you more than it bothers the other people at the retreat. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all done stuff we’re not proud of, or embarassed about (just ask Chris. We both have plenty of those moments! lol)but life goes on and people forget. The bigger a deal you make of it, the more people will think that they should make a big deal about it. The more you hide out and isolate yourself from those great people, and this once in a lifetime experience, the more you`ll regret it when you`re not there. Wallow when you get home and worry about it then. Not now. Not when you should be enjoying this `time of your life“. And if all else fails, go look the soul of Patrick Swayze and start practicing your pechanko. The end of summer bash is coming up sweetie! Take care, and have fun!

  11. Story Teller

    Thanks, Max. That’s really sweet. I think I do need this one night to be on my own, but I’ll put on a brave face again tomorrow, I promise. I definitely have a knack for making mountains out of molehills when I’m really upset, but it’s hard to turn things around when you’re in the midst of it.

    I really appreciate the encouragement…and the hugs!

  12. Story Teller

    PS – found out that at least part of today’s adventure wasn’t my fault! I checked the info package about the retreat, and it lists the address as 10 Highland Lake.

  13. Julius Csotonyi

    You should not feel stupid or like a loser in the least! First of all, this place is just laid out weirdly, indecipherably. In some ways, that’s probably what adds to its attraction as a retreat. It would probably look comparatively boring if you knew what was just around the bend, or worse yet, if there was not bend, but just a crosshatching of roads. I know that right now, you probably have some hard feelings for the place in some corner of your mind (maybe every corner), especially as it ended up making you feel humiliated. But perhaps once you get some sleep, you can open your eyes on it from a new vantage point. I don’t know how much time you have there, but perhaps setting out at some point with the deliberate intention of getting lost could be fun, in an exploratory way. (Perhaps bring enough food and water with you just in case.) Granted, I’m seeing this not from the point of view of having become lost, but I like places that have hidden bends and lanes and such. It could be interesting to explore. But it certainly would have been more pleasant to discover the place without having to lose your bearings inadvertantly!

    OK, about the camera — wow, that kind of feeling of forgetting a crucial part seems very familiar; I’ve done this sort of thing. A vaguely similar fate befell me last year on a trip to the Balkans, when Murphy had decided that the middle of post-war southern Europe (Croatia, Bosnia, etc.) was the appropriate place to claim the functioning of my lens, my main lens, the one I use for everything. You know, that part of Europe where you simply cannot find even a vaguely comparable replacement for hundreds of miles around. My one saving grace was that my girlfriend at the time (now my wife, and indeed my saving grace in so many ways) had nearly an identical lens for her nearly identical camera (great minds think alike), and she was very cooperative and generous in sharing the lens. Nevertheless, I let the malfunctioning of my failing lens get to me more than I should have from time to time, and this was the one thing that I regretted the most from an otherwise magical trip. If I could take one thing back, that’s it. I wish now I could go back and stand next to her and simply soak in that beautiful sunset instead of fuming over the #@&*ing lens. OK, at least I could shoot a little, whereas without a memory card, you could not. But whereas it’s extremely frustrating at the time, maybe this could ultimately be a good exercise in a zen-like soaking up of the landscape visually. I know that when I’m concentrating on shooting, I’m sacrificing so much of the experience of just being there. I hope that inspiration will hit you now that you’ve made it through the negative initiative experience!

  14. Story Teller

    @ Julius – thank you so much. You see now why I missed you? 🙂 I don’t blame the Catskills in the least. It would be easier on my heart if I did. I’ve been blaming myself and my own stupidity. I agree that getting lost can be fun, especially when dinner isn’t mere hours away and people haven’t sent out a search party. There was even talk of 911! Now that would have been REALLY embarrassing.

    Sorry to hear about your lens, but I get what you’re saying. And I’ve noticed the same thing when I’m shooting. You miss so much of the experience. I just wanted some basic photos of the people here, my room, etc. that I could bring back with me. But it won’t be the end of the world if it doesn’t happen.

    Thanks for your support and friendship. Your comment was a great virtual hug.

  15. Chris

    I know it doesn’t seem this way now, but you have nothing to be embarrassed about. You found your way back home, and you did it without a cell phone, without a map, without GPS… without all the technological advantages that most people use to find their way in a new place. You rock! And remember… you didn’t have to be rescued – you made it back.

    You know, I still get lost in Winnipeg and I’ve lived here my whole life. I’d be scared to go someplace I’ve never been before without a map, so already you’ve got bigger cojones than me. Give yourself full credit for being brave enough to go off exploring on your own without any guides, maps, or bread crumbs to find your way back. So what if it took you a little longer… you still made it back on your own. And you totally rocked the trains getting there. You didn’t get off at the wrong stop like I would have. 🙂

    I’m proud of you, Holli. Getting lost is part of the fun of having adventures in strange new places. I really hope you can make it out to the bonfire tonight; don’t beat yourself up for something that happens to everyone. Either way, a good night’s sleep will put things in perspective. It’ll all be better in the morning.

  16. BionicPerry

    Ah Holli! Don’t worry about it. Like someone already said, you’ll be laughing about it in a day or so.
    Also, just remember WHY you’re there: you’re not there to learn walking, you’re there to relax and work on your WRITING.
    Just explain to people you wanted to find out how it felt to be lost to give your characters some real emotions…yeah, that’s it! Heh-heh!

    Enjoy the rest of the retreat knowing the little faux paus is behind you! 🙂

  17. Elspeth Cross

    Oh, Holli. I’m glad you made it back okay. Being lost is scary but you did everything right in getting back. And the typo definitely didn’t help.

    Embarrassment isn’t fatal, although we often wish it were. We all have moments like that. And it’s all up from this point out. Can you tell your fellow retreaters you were verifying the title on your other novel? 🙂

    Like Perry said, if you are going to laugh about it later, you might as well start now. Don’t let this stop you from your daily walks or from having a great week!

  18. Story Teller

    Thanks, everyone. I really appreciate your kindness and comments. You lifted me out of a really dark place last night. There are good people at the retreat, but it’s too early for us to be friends, so it’s easy to feel very alone when something like this happens. I did the right thing by opening my soul up on the blog.

    I feel better today, even though I know at least one person for sure is going to make some stupid jokes about it. If I was a religious woman, I’d say God put him here to test my patience. My patience is always being tested, and I don’t have too much of it to go around.

    I will post a happier blog this evening, I promise, but for now I want to make up for the useless wreck of yesterday by working on my rewrite so I’ll have something to show Susie.

    The one reason I can’t be flippant about getting lost and make it out like I did it intentionally is that people were quite worried about me. Brett went out and looked for me. If I told them that I did it intentionally without letting them know, I would really look like a jerk. So that’s why I was honest about it.

  19. Susie

    I thought you were very brave. If it had been me, I would have been discovered and back much, much sooner, but it would have been because I would have bawled and thrown myself at the first person I saw.

    “I’M LOST!!” I would have screamed. Then I would have used their phone to call the fire dept, police and ambulance (just in case). And that would have been on the way there.

    You were brave and calm. I pick you over me in an emergency any time.

  20. thefish

    Hey Holli I agree with everyone else. And anyone who makes fun of you probably spent the day with his/her butt in a chair or doing something which does not remotely resemble adventure.
    GOOD FOR YOU for going out side your comfort zone. You now know more about that area than many others at the retreat and not knowledge you get from looking at a map either.

  21. Story Teller

    @ Susie – thank you so much, but how embarrassing that you read that post! 😉 Well, now you know why I wasn’t at the firepit.

    @ “the fish” – I actually was thinking of you the other day, and how you always made me feel better about myself when I was a kid. You always turned every negative into a positive, and believed in me more than I could ever believe in myself. You’re still that way, encouraging me from afar. Thanks, Vin.

  22. TS

    I think you’re brave for posting what happened. Going through such an incident is one thing, but admitting it is another.

    I, another photo buff, completely relate to your memory card experience! When I went to Churchill, I beat myself up over only taking one card (luckily my largest). I vowed then and again I would never do something so stupid.

    (Also recall I’m type A++ uber-control freak and anything else you want to pile on top of it.)

    This past weekend lo and behold, who forgot the extra memory cards – AGAIN! This time was not as fortunate, as the smallest card was in the camera.

    No matter how much we think we have control over our lives, I really wonder if we do.

  23. Story Teller

    @ TS – thanks for your comments. It helps to know that other people–even those I know to be intelligent and organized–make the same blunders.

    I’ve learned a lot from Josh, who got lost yesterday the exact same way I did, except realized he’d gone the wrong way a lot faster. He admitted it, but didn’t seem to beat himself up over it at all. It was just “oh well”, shrug, move on. This emphasized that I am way too hard on myself, and not to any benefit, either. Yes, I’ve certainly had people beat up on me and make me feel bad about things for years, but I don’t have to carry on that job for them. If anyone should be able to forgive us for our mistakes, it’s us.

  24. Lisa

    The way I see it is if you didn’t get lost you’d have nothing to write about – look at the dialogue you have created in the comments section. It’s been a great read as I catch up on your blog!

    (Oh, and p.s. I would have peed in the bush..;0)

  25. Story Teller

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for your comment! Yes, as far as comments go, this was my most responded-to post thus far. Who knew getting lost would create such a response?

    I considered the “communing with nature” option, but all the NO TRESPASSING signs discouraged me. This is the States, where people carry guns. I held it. 🙂

  26. TS

    LOL I agree with the “pee in the bush” response. F’ the signs! Nature calls 😉


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