10 Things I Learned by Attending a Writer’s Retreat

I’m thrilled to welcome Soul Mate author Julie Doherty to the Power of 10 series. Today, Julie shares her retreat experience and her latest release, Scattered Seeds.

Here’s Julie!

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1. There may be something wrong with me.

Not everyone would call sitting at a desk for five days straight a “vacation,” but when you’re a writer with responsibilities, it can be tough to carve writing time out of your day. Booking a retreat means giving yourself the gift of time—large blocks of it!—and shutting out the world.

The non-writers in my life would cock a brow if they knew how I spent valuable vacation days last week. I think it’s fairly obvious by my pasty skin that I didn’t go to the beach. I didn’t bring back postcards or foreign foods, and I’m not emailing a new European pen pal. If anyone asks where I was, I might blush to admit I shut myself away in a Christian retreat center to type 9,000 words. Maybe I’ll just say I helped a German widow recover her loved ones from Indian captivity and leave it at that. Technically, that’s no lie.

2. There really is something wrong with me.

Eh-yeah, the glazed eyes in many rooms taught me I’m not a brilliant conversationalist and not everyone enjoys research. I’m afraid I’m going to have to accept that as a writer of historical fiction, I shall always be the most boring gal at the dinner party. I can’t tell you what movies just released (or released last year, or the year before), and if you paid me twenty bucks to name more than three candidates in this year’s presidential election, I couldn’t do it. But, darlin’ I can tell you which plants are edible and how to make “pocket soup” from the 18th century. Trust me, when zombies attack, you’re going to want to know me. Then, I’ll bore you. A lot.

3. Sunrise is beautiful.

I don’t see it often. ever. I personally believe waking before 8:00 a.m. is some kind of sick torture. I’m required to rise early, of course, because I have a day job and a one-hour commute. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I awoke at 6:00 a.m. (without an alarm!) every day at my retreat. Yes, I was that excited to get back to my story.

4. I excel! (at wasting time)

Like many writers, I spend a fair amount of time blaming everything—and everyone—for my lack of writing time. So, what’s the first thing I did after check-in? I connected to Wi-Fi. Yep, there I was, scanning social media and checking my Amazon rank on the hour. (NEWSFLASH: doing so does not improve your book’s rank.)

5. Drones sound like giant bumblebees.hg

Not going to lie to you. Some weird stuff happened at this retreat, including having a drone hover outside my bedroom window. Creepy. Of course, because I was at a writing retreat, I began to imagine how I could use it in a plot. I’m pretty sure I could have hit it with my longbow. Too bad I left that at home.

6. I write more words when held accountable.

The theme of our writing retreat was “It’s All About Me.” The coordinator advised ahead of time that if I wanted to just chill out all week, that was fine. There was no pressure to produce at this retreat. But, of course, we’re writers. We thrive on pressure, and most of us are pretty competitive. I certainly didn’t want to show up for dinner with zero words under my belt.

When I became tempted to nap, the thought of everyone else working hard kept me on task. It paid off. I managed to write over 9,000 words at that retreat, bringing my work-in-progress up to 30,000 words.

7. Hotel patrons can be really inconsiderate.

We shared our venue with a Greek wedding, a men’s retreat, and a very large “couples retreat.” The latter group was super loud, and for some reason, they liked to do laps in our hallway and gather in the stairwells closest to us—to maximize the echo, I believe. They were aware of our reason for being there, because one of them shouted (just outside my door), “There are writers in this hallway. They are writing!”

Um, check that, fella. They were writing until you showed up on Wednesday with the rest of The Louds.

It worked out well for me, because I was writing some fairly violent stuff this week. When you get to the part where people die, blame the folks in the hallway.

8. Left to my own devices, I am a swarm of locusts.

I took a giant box of my favorite snacks, and not the healthy kind. By the third day, I had devoured a full-size bag of Middleswarth BBQ chips, a pack of Nutter Butters, half a big bag of M&Ms, some fruit roll-ups, and almost an entire giant box of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish.

Holy. Smokes.

9. Drunk people will swim in anything.

We’re having a very cold spring here in Pennsylvania. In fact, I witnessed snow flurries outside my hotel window. Did that stop two drunken wedding guests from stripping to their underpants and diving into the swan pond? Nope!

Probably being treated for giardia and pneumonia this week.

10. I love where I live.

The drive from my home in Juniata County to the retreat center in Ligonier, Pennsylvania always makes my jaw drop. The roads cut through the ridges and valleys of the beautiful northern Appalachians here. I took the time to savor the views and stopped at the historical markers, like this one, which had me scratching my head:

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The ridges are steep here with rock outcrops jutting out over a natural ravine. It would have been the perfect place for Shawnee warriors to ambush white settlers and traders. I suspect the name Shadow of Death has its roots in Psalm 23: Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.

I loved the idea so much that when I got to the retreat, I included something about it in my current work-in-progress:

The journey back to Carlisle had been uneventful except for small bands of Indians encountered past Fort Shirley in a ravine called Shadow of Death by the locals. He went several miles out of his way to avoid a group of them gathered around a campfire only to meet five warriors hauling home a freshly killed bear. Luckily, they took no pains to remain silent, and he was able to hide with his horse in the thick laurel along Aughwick Creek until they passed.

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Log Line

A father/son duo trades poverty in Ireland for the harsh Pennsylvania frontier in an all-or-nothing attempt to recover fortune and lost love.

Blurb

In 18th century Ireland, drought forces destitute Ulstermen Edward and Henry McConnell to assume false names and escape to the New World with the one valuable thing they still own–their ancestor’s gold torc.

Edward must leave love behind. Henry finds it in the foul belly of The Charming Hannah, only to lose it when an elusive trader purchases his sweetheart’s indenture.

With nothing but their broken hearts, a lame ox, and the torc they cannot sell without invoking a centuries-old curse, they head for the backcountry, where all hope rests upon getting their seed in the ground. Under constant threat of Indian attack, they endure crushing toil and hardship. By summer, they have wheat for their reward, and unexpected news of Henry’s lost love. They emerge from the wilderness and follow her trail to Philadelphia, unaware her cruel new master awaits them there, his heart set on obtaining the priceless torc they protect.

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Book Trailer

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNzrVFnl9Ts

Bio

Julie is a member of Romance Writers of America and Central PA Romance Writers. When not writing, she enjoys antiquing, shooting longbow, traveling, and cooking over an open fire at her cabin. She lives in Pennsylvania with her Glasgow-born Irish husband, who sounds a lot like her characters.

Where to find Julie…

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon Author Page


10 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Deciding to Write a Novel

I’m thrilled to welcome Soul Mate author Julie Doherty to the Power of 10 series.

Here’s Julie!

JULIED1. IT IS A CRAFT THAT MUST BE LEARNED AND PRACTICED

Confession time: I am not, and never have been, an insatiable reader. As a child, I loved Ingalls-Wilder’s LITTLE HOUSE series, and in my teens, I discovered the Brontës and Jane Austen. Our family had little money, though, to spend on books, and I rarely thought about using the school library for fun reading. The library was only a place to study, copy stuff verbatim out of encyclopedias, and ogle the smart boys.

I’ve been a storyteller my whole life, though, so when someone suggested I write a book, I thought, Why not? How hard can it be?

Um, it’s pretty hard, and it might surprise you (like it surprised me) to learn that you don’t just sit down and fluidly pen a story. There’s a craft to it, something a practiced reader knows intuitively from the many hours spent with a book in her hands.

My first completed novel was a disaster, but that didn’t stop me from querying every agent and publisher in Jeff Herman’s “Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents.” Amid the rejections stuffed daily into my mailbox was the response of one agent who’d written notes in the margins of my submission. “Head hopping . . . Whose POV are we in?”

WHAT? I knew then there was more to writing a novel than merely telling a story. I began anew, picked up every how-to book I could get my hands on, and—TA DA!—I started reading. I’m glad I did. Every book, good and terrible, teaches me something.

2. WRITING TAKES A LOT OF TIME

Pick up any book and look at the page. See those words? Yeah, those made it into the final product. For every one of them, there were buckets of others that didn’t. Still, someone wrote all of them, and that took time, the one thing most writers lack.

If you want to write books, you have to carve time out of your day to do it. If you have a day job or a family, this can be problematic. You might need to sacrifice sleep, lunch hours, even picnics, family reunions, your favorite television shows, and . . . clean pants. Eventually, your loved ones will complain, and you’ll need to figure out how to balance your real life with your dream. When you do, email me your secret. My husband is starting to complain about the scant fare at our establishment.

3. YOU WILL FACE REJECTION

Repeatedly. So much, in fact, that you will begin to think you should throw your laptop off a cliff (with you still holding it) and give up writing forever. Don’t. They are a necessary part of your journey, because they force you to reevaluate. Should you be lucky enough to receive a rejection that offers more than “Sorry, not for us,” see it as the gold it is. Even though it’s a rejection, the agent or editor who sent it saw something in your writing that made her want to personalize her response and maybe even give you some direction. That’s a foot in the door. Wedge your size 8.5 stiletto in there and pry that baby open. Use every bit of hope as fuel, make adjustments, and one day, you’ll have a contract.

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4. A CRITIQUE PARTNER IS AS NECESSARY AS BREATHING

It can be hard to show your work to someone, and even harder to have it returned with red marks all over it. But a good, honest critique partner is something you can’t live without. You need that second set of eyes. A regular critique partner will know you and your work so well she’ll even tell you when you’re straying from your voice.

You will need to review your buddy’s work, as well. A lot of us struggle with this, because we don’t like to hurt feelings, or we think we aren’t good enough to offer anyone advice. You have to get over this quickly. Comments on another’s work aren’t a personal attack, and you can word them nicely. “While this is a great sentence, I think it might read better without so many adjectives.” You may find that critiquing another’s work is one of the best ways of learning what works, and what doesn’t.

5. UNLESS YOU WRITE A BREAKOUT NOVEL, THERE WILL BE NO LONG LINES OF READERS WAITING TO SEE YOU AT THE BOOKSTORE

This should be your ultimate dream, but the odds of it happening on your first try are pretty slim. You will have book signings, but they’ll be sparsely attended, and mostly by your family. They are wonderful just the same.

6. MOST OF THE PEOPLE AROUND YOU WILL SEE YOUR WRITING AS A HOBBY

Until my first contract, just about everyone I know saw my writing as a hobby. This can be a downer and make it hard to stay focused. It also means fighting for your writing time, since those around you will ignore the boundaries you try to set. You need to believe, though, because if you don’t believe, who will?

7. WHEN YOUR NOVEL DEBUTS, YOU’LL THINK YOU’VE MADE IT

And you have! Sort of. But because you’re freshly published, you won’t understand that now the real work begins!

8. YOU’LL SPEND AS MUCH TIME MARKETING AS YOU DO WRITING

Unless you land a contract with one of the biggies, you can expect to market your own books. Small presses do what they can, but it’s not much. Your release will debut and sales will be pretty good, because everybody who loves you will support you with a sale. You’ll relax and start calculating how many books you will sell in a year based upon the current rate, and it will be exciting! You’ll allow yourself to think about that old dream again, the one with the huge line waiting to see you at bookstores. Unfortunately, around the three-month mark, if you’ve done no marketing, your book will start slipping in rank, and several months later, you’ll realize you need to get the paddles out and yell, “Clear!” to find your book’s heartbeat again.

I’m at this point now with my debut novel. I’ve done two blog tours, advertised online, sent press releases off to local papers, visited my local library, dropped off cards just about everywhere I can think of, purchased a Google Adwords campaign, Tweeted, Facebooked, blogged . . . it wears a writer down. But by your second book, you’ll have figured out what works (and what doesn’t), so you’ll be smarter and less burdened next time.

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9. YOU WILL GET BAD REVIEWS

I was not prepared for how deeply my first bad review would affect me. No joke, it sent me to therapy and nearly ended my marriage. It wasn’t so much the content of the review, which was quite positive in parts. It was the way in which it was delivered, and it was, after all, my first.

The thing about a book (even yours) is that not everyone will love it. If you don’t believe me, look up your all-time favorite book on Goodreads or Amazon and check out the 1-star reviews. Those people hated the book you love.

When you get your first bad review, you will want to defend yourself and your work. Don’t. And don’t let Aunt Freda defend you, either. This will be hard, because it will seem like some of the reviewers either didn’t read—or skimmed—your book.

Remember why you write. Is it for praise? No, it’s because you love telling stories. So, tell them. If praise comes as a result, smile and strut around for a while. If not, consider whether there’s anything valuable in the critical reviews and then get back to your work-in-progress.

10. YOU WILL STRUGGLE

If you’ve read 1-9 above, then it should be clear that the road to publication is a bouncy one. You’ll tire of working non-stop for little return. You’ll miss your family, clean clothes, a tidy house, and cupboards that are filled with food, not research papers and writing books. You’ll look at the money and time you spend on your dream and wonder if it’s really worth it. Someone will post a bad review and you’ll throw your stack of unread “Romance Writers Reports” against the dining room wall. That’s it! You’re quitting! You’ll storm out of the house and go for a walk and a good, long cry. Halfway around the park, you’ll notice young parents sitting on bleachers watching Little League practice. The guy on the top row isn’t watching his son. He’s watching the single mom three rows down. And your mind begins to wonder . . . will he ever get the nerve to ask her out?

And then you know. You’re infected. Diagnosis: terminal writer.

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Blurb

In twelfth century Scotland, it took a half-Gael with a Viking name to restore the clans to their rightful lands. Once an exile, Somerled the Mighty now dominates the west. He’s making alliances, expanding his territory, and proposing marriage to the Manx princess.

It’s a bad time to fall for Breagha, a torc-wearing slave with a supernatural sense of smell.

Somerled resists the intense attraction to a woman who offers no political gain, and he won’t have a mistress making demands on him while he’s negotiating a marriage his people need. Besides, Breagha belongs to a rival king, one whose fresh alliance Somerled can’t afford to lose.

It’s when Breagha vanishes that Somerled realizes just how much he needs her. He abandons his marriage plans to search for her, unprepared for the evil lurking in the shadowy recesses of Ireland—a lustful demon who will stop at nothing to keep Breagha for himself.

Trailer

Bio

Julie is a member of Romance Writers of America and Central PA Romance Writers. When not writing, she enjoys antiquing, shooting longbow, traveling, and cooking over an open fire at her cabin. She lives in Pennsylvania with her Irish husband, who sounds a lot like her characters.

Where to find Julie

Amazon | Goodreads | Twitter | Facebook | Website