The Writing Retreat

  1. We did our share of tourist-tripping and still managed to get writing done.

The lovely poinciana tree in Linda’s front yard.

Margaret and I managed to write, at least a little (she got more done than I did) each morning. Much of my writing was revision. I had brought a story for Marta and Margaret to comment on, as well as a story for the full writers’ workshop on Saturday (mainlanders participated via phone).

Marta, our writing teacher, arrived Tuesday evening. That was a challenge for her. The Mamalahoa Highway, which encircles the big island, runs parallel to Kilahuea Avenue. The connecting street to Linda’s house, Haihai, intersects Kilahuea. Unless you know exactly where to make a certain turn to get onto Kilahuea, you are doomed to drive back and forth on Mamalahoa like a 1950s fly fisherman searching for Brigadoon. Marta’s GPS was no help, and kept advising her to turn right at places where there was no right turn. Malicious GPS!

Fortunately, Marta is resourceful and she had a cell phone.

Linda, our host, in front of a miniature of a church made by her and another island artist.

On Wednesday morning we critiqued my story and talked a little about issues with our writing. We also helped Marta with an “elevator pitch” for her latest book, since she thinks she’s going to have a battle with her high-powered New York agent who (basically) wants her to turn it into a YA fantasy romance, which it is not.

This “elevator pitch” thing wasn’t an exercise, but it could be turned into one, and it’s a useful one; for your own work, literally to rehearse for agent speed-dating or something, but also as a technique to see what you think the essence of your story or book is.

On Thursday, Marta gave us a powerful exercise. We interacted with a piece of sculpture through a series of emotional filters – joy, anger, love, jealousy, delirium (a state of mind or condition rather than an emotion – and a fun one to try, and a difficult one!). We had two minutes for each filter. It was hard, but not as hard as Friday’s exercise.

This Victoria Whitehand sculpture was the focus of one writing exercise.

I didn’t do very well with the filter exercise, frankly, but lucky for me, I can revise. I turned the exercise into a piece of flash fiction in which a character whose relationship is dying shares her emotional states through her interaction with a work of art. It’s not a great story, but it’s a story.

For Friday, Marta had found four art images from the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art. We had a chance to look at the pictures beforehand. Then we chose an image and wrote a complete story… in fifteen minutes.

You want a challenge? This is a challenge. We both managed to do it. We both managed to do it twice. My second story was stale, in fact just a pale copy of a story I wrote last summer, but I really like the first one, and it’s morphed into a piece of surrealistic flash fiction that I’m calling “Strays.”


Molly, who greeted us joyfully every morning. Molly also visits people at a hospice program once a week.

The people, the location and the lodging all combined to support a genuine writing retreat, and I would be glad to do this again next year. Linda is an ideal host, and the layout of her house, with a private sitting room, is perfect for a small group. The addition, which is what Linda rents out, has three beds, but a fourth person could sleep on the futon in the sitting area. We colonized Linda’s part of the house because she has a beautiful koa wood work table, and one of us needed an electrical outlet. At the end of the visit, when Marta explained that we needed a longer table to work, Linda said she had two folding work tables. Those would have been fine in the sitting area. Maybe next year.

Fletch, a bit more reserved than Molly, also provided encouragement during the visit.

There’s also something about Hawai’i, at least about the big island, that feeds creativity. I think it may be the volcano. No, I’m not joking or working an extended metaphor; the big island, the youngest island in the chain, is creating itself daily, molten rock and minerals pouring up through the rifts and spilling out onto the surface, making new land. It’s hard not to be inspired by that.

This entry was posted in Hawaii, View from the Road. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Writing Retreat

  1. Terry says:

    It sounds like you had a productive workshop. You describe it so beautifully. Obviously you trust the people you were with, as you tried new story starters and finished the assignments. You’re lucky to have had this experience.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *