Deb: Hard to Beat a Retreat

Tutka Bay sunset, May 2010

It might be only two weeks past solstice, but the Fourth of July always feels like the apex of summer. With winter pressing its inevitable approach, I doubt I’m the only one who eschewed hitting the highway this weekend for getting work done. At the cabin, we needed new valves for the plumbing, to guard against freeze-ups. Wiring run to the generator, so it can be shut down by a button pressed – imagine! – from bed, so no one has to dash out at 20 below. And there was grass to be cut. After the rain dumped in June, the place looks like we’re farming the stuff.

Though there’s lots to be done, the cabin still feels like retreat. It might be the river, swollen with mid-summer melt. Or the explosion of flowers – purple fireweed bursting through the old river bottom, yellow avens twisted to seed, creamy paintbrush tucked next to the creek. Mostly it’s the simple quiet of a place set apart that makes doing even the most mundane tasks feel fresh and alive.

This place is good for my writing. My focus shifts. I see my work in new ways. As I negotiate the river rocks, the flaws in my novel’s first pages open up, and I see new ways to begin. My reading of Jayne Anne Phillips’ remarkable Lark and Termite deepens, and I explore ways to nudge readers inside my characters the way she does.

Retreats are good for us all. Especially writers. If a few hours in a coffee shop or a weekend of getting things done at the cabin yield new ways of seeing and knowing, how much more will unfold in a full weekend of intentional writing-focused retreat. That’s why when Kirsten Dixon offered 49 Writers a retreat home at Tutka Bay Lodge, we couldn’t have been happier. By gifting the lodging (normally $800 per night), she and her husband Carl made retreating to a world-class Alaskan resort accessible even to writers like me whose income is measured in figures a lot less than six.

Imagine our joy when internationally-acclaimed author David Vann (A Mile Down, Legend of a Suicide, (forthcoming) Caribou Island) agreed to lead the instructional part of our retreat. Visit Vann’s website, and you’ll see 49 Writers tucked into his travel schedule between the Edinburgh (Scotland) International Book Festival and the Frank O’Connor Short Story Festival in Ireland. Heads cleared from the boat ride across Kachemak Bay, lodging and meals in the expert hands of the Tutka Bay staff, inspired by the wilderness setting, our creative focus will deepen and shift under his guidance.

“In our four 90-minute craft sessions,” Vann explains, “we’ll be looking at a range of short published works (which I’ll make available beforehand). We’ll study these works for style and voice, landscape description, characterization, and dramatic structure. Authors will include Annie Proulx, Marilynne Robinson, Elizabeth Bishop, Cormac McCarthy, Ray Carver, Flannery O’Connor, Nabokov, and others. We’ll have several brief writing exercises that explore what we’ve discussed, and we’ll consider the writing process a bit, including development and revision.”

Dollar for dollar, I can’t envision a better investment in my writing than spending September 3-5 with fourteen fellow writers at Tutka Bay Lodge, soaking up all the benefits of a world-class writing retreat: an inspirational wilderness setting, top-notch lodging and meals, meaning-filled instruction and dialogue with a world-acclaimed yet approachable author, and plenty of time to think, write, and revise in the work-shifting way that happens best in fresh places.

I hope you’re inspired to join us. Registration for the 49 Writers Tutka Bay Retreat is now open, to members and non-members alike. Whether you’re from Alaska or one of our readers from farther afield, we’re thrilled to be able to bring you this unique opportunity to refresh and renew what you do. Don’t delay – we’ll be closing registration in mid-August to allow you time to prepare for one of our most exciting 49 Writers programs yet.

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