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


Hello dear readers,

Okay, it’s official. I’m nervous as hell. At three-thirty in the morning, I’ll be on the way to the airport for my journey to the Catskills.

I’m finding the travel portion of the trip to be the most unnerving. Once in Newark, I have to take two trains to get to Port Jervis, where Susie will be waiting. I’ve never taken a train before, and apparently things are going to be crazy because of the long weekend. Somehow, I have to squish myself and a suitcase onto these trains, which are going to be standing room only. I am feeling very small town girl right now.

Did I mention that airport security in my city takes their cue from the Gestapo? Seriously. They completely overdo everything. On my last trip, I was proud of myself for taking only the bare minimum in my carry-on. There was a book, a few magazines, my journal, some medication, and my iPod. All the liquids were in a small baggie, as ordered. (I don’t get this rule–if I’m carrying some kind of gel explosive, wouldn’t it be just as dangerous inside a baggie as outside? It’s not exactly difficult to open a Ziploc bag.) Just before I went to security, I stopped at the little convenience store at the airport and bought a couple of bags of chips, a chocolate bar, and some peanuts. Oh. My. God. A security guy dragged me over to the side and went through everything, in excruciating detail. He flipped through every page in my journal and shook it out. He examined each sealed bag of snacks, holding each one up to the light and turning it over and over. He went through all of my magazines while I stood there, exasperated. I’d arrived early, but I still almost missed my flight. At the Toronto airport, I put the very same bag with the very same contents on the conveyor belt and was waved right through. I know the security of our airplanes is very important, but Winnipeg–there is such a thing as overkill.

Anyway, I received a note from Susie that made me feel better about the whole retreat experience, and I thought I would share it with you.


“I’ve never been a participant at a retreat, but I have facilitated quite a few. The retreat is really truly whatever you make it out to be. It’s a good idea to have a goal.

It is YOUR retreat, and every writer has the same attitude, it’s THEIR retreat. So, it’s your opportunity to “retreat” from your life and focus only on your work. To discover and begin the process of working on your weaknesses, discovering what kind of writer you want to be, of contemplating what you want to write about in future.

Mostly it’s an opportunity to do work, uninterrupted by life, with access to a professional, successful writer, who is very very old and has seen and done it all (me), ha ha. I’m not your editor, but I am your “reader.” I will read what you give/gave me, and will tell you gently and with affection what I think, without ever telling you what I would do, or how I would write it. In the communal moments, there will (hopefully) be much discussion about the various industries we work in, talk of agents and support networks, the granting system, the future of publishing, and I think we’re going to watch a couple of movies, ha!

Participation is completely voluntary. You don’t have to watch movies or listen to anyone’s sad tale of rejection, you can use the communal time to read, to meditate, to shower, walk outside, hook up (good luck). But it is part of the “retreat.”

You will be exposed to ten other writers — the others are playwrights of varying success, but one of them has just been nominated for a Gemini.

I always leave a retreat (and I’m just the facilitator) feeling a renewed sense of myself as a writer, and I get so pumped and motivated. It’s wonderful for the spirit. I’m starting a new novel in the next couple of weeks and so I’m really looking forward to that feeling. You’re going to love it.

And it’s very relaxed. No one will care if you smoke cigarettes or don’t, or are vegan or not, or if you’re 16 or 60, or fit or not, or if you have a publishing deal or not, or whatever or not. It’s about the work, everyone is there for the same reason, and it’s glorious. As you can see, I like a retreat.

Holli, you’re going to love it, you’ll make new friends and you’ll go home and write another book in record time!!”

Let’s hope so! If all goes well, I will post again tomorrow evening and tell you how I survived my day of travel and what my first impressions are. I can’t believe that at this time tomorrow I’ll be on my way. Gleep! I’m off to pack!

Have any of you ever gone on a retreat? If so, what was your experience like?

Thanks for reading!
1 part newsletter, 1 part unnerving updates,
2 parts sneak peeks of new projects.


  1. Lisa S.

    Have fun, Holli! I’m sure you’ll have an amazing experience and journey.

  2. Kim

    Oh you got randomly selected for the extra special screening. Was this a US flight. That happened to me on the way to Tucson. You stand on a mat and an arrow on a screen points up or down and that is how they screen you. Did you get to be “naked” viewed in the fancy new x-ray?That is the extra special treatment.

    Enjoy the retreat. It will be amazing

  3. BionicPerry

    Very cool Holli. I know you’ll enjoy it. Have fun and write and relax!

  4. Chris

    You’re going to have a great time! You’ll be making friends and swapping scary stories around the firepit before you know it. 🙂

  5. Story Teller

    Thanks, everyone! So far, so good. @ Kim, no, it was a flight to Toronto, and they didn’t really screen me personally, just my bag. I didn’t have to stand on a mat or anything. US Customs was a snap on the way here…we’ll see how Canada is on the way back.

  6. Kim

    Myself and my boyfriend at the time got searched like that but none of our other group. Although I wonder if we were deliberately “randomized” as he had to go through homeland security b/c he isn’t a Canadian. but yeah, they flipped through my books and searched our bags…. exactly as you described.


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