Friday, July 04, 2014

And Then the Lights Went Out

Today is the last full day of my writers retreat in Vermont. Last night, we had two hours of severe weather -- which seems to have been happening all over the Northeast. I hate storms so I retreated to my bedroom while my inn mates enjoyed a fabulous meal and a lively discussion. (However, I did not go hungry. Dinner was brought to my room). The storm knocked the power out, and so we spent the evening by candlelight and then with sporadic power provided by the generator. At some point during the night, the power came back on -- but not before I had written for about an hour of that time holding a small flashlight under my chin so that I could see the keyboard. I had just finished what I was writing when my computer battery went down. 

This inspiration had come from a conversation that happened at dinner after I retreated to my room. One of our hosts had asked if I had ever incorporated my fear of storms into my fiction. The answer is, yes. Lizzie Stuart, my crime historian, is not fond of storms and a couple of times this has been relevant. On the other hand, Hannah McCabe, my near-future police detective is not a wimp. Good thing, because she's dealing with all kinds of weather as her 2020 world experiences climate change. But, as I started to say about inspiration -- after the storm, when several of us had gathered at the coffee/tea station -- someone suggested we should all write a storm-themed short story for tonight's communal sharing of our work. I don't know if everyone did when the power went down for an hour again, but the suggestion reminded me that I had an idea that I had been playing with for a while for a Lizzie story. That was how I came to pound out several pages in the dark with a flashlight under my chin. 

I should say this urge to write came after I'd spent the day writing and re-writing the three and a half page first chapter of my 1939 historical thriller. I shared the synopsis and outline during our after dinner readings on Wednesday evening, and buoyed by the feedback I'd gotten about my plot (complex, but made sense), I was ready to plunge in. Or, at least, I was after I fell asleep and woke up yesterday morning knowing something about my protagonist that gave me the first two paragraphs of the first chapter. I also knew -- a question I had been asked during the plot discussion -- what forces would be driving him to get involved in a pursuit that could cost him everything. Of course, the flip side of that question was what forces might make him initially reluctant. It turns out what I came up with in my sleep should also handicap him as he goes up against a villain who is willing to do what is required to carry out his plan. 

Aside from fiction writing, I've gotten some work done on the proposal for my non-fiction book about clothing, appearance and crime. I discovered it wasn't really a good retreat project because I couldn't finish the chapters away from my office -- even though I brought along two boxes of articles and another of books. But I did get the proposal itself sketched out and I outlined the chapters.

One of the best parts of the retreat has been sharing time with a congenial group of writers. Although we are writing everything from memoir to literary fantasy, we've discovered that we blend easily and are able to offer useful feedback. 

It's been a week well spent. I hope I can carry this creative energy home with me tomorrow. 

Happy 4th, everyone! 

P.S. Sorry not to include photos. I intended to get them last evening, but then the storm came. 


Rick Blechta said...

A great post. I didn't think retreating could be so exciting. Hope your neck isn't stiff today!

Eileen Goudge said...

Sounds like a memorable experience. "It was a dark and stormy night..."
I happen to love storms, as long as I'm indoors under a roof that doesn't leak.