Why a Novel Retreat?


As I’ve gotten to know Nancy Sharp Wagner over the course of my participation in the Novel Retreats, I’ve also gotten to know her story. Not her novel, alas, because she wasn’t in my small group, but rather the story of how these Novel Retreats were born.

Because I’m always a wee bit lazy, I asked her to write it for me, so here’s what she said …

nancyThe Novel Secrets in 3 Acts Retreat Series came into being because I had this draft of a novel that I knew needed work and I really wanted to attend Darcy’s Pattison’s Revision Retreat. Unfortunately, the timing never seemed to work for me. I spoke with Nona Morrison (our Nebraska SCBWI RA) about the possibility of bringing Darcy to Nebraska to do the Retreat here. I told her I would be happy to organize it if she thought that it was something our SCBWI members would be interested in attending. She, of course, loved the idea and said she would help me in any way she could, so I contacted Darcy to see what our next step needed to be.

That was where I ran into my first stumbling block. Because, in order to host Darcy, I needed to find at least eight folks who had written a novel for children. What I discovered was that even though I knew lots of folks who wanted to write a novel, I was having more difficulty finding a group who had already written a novel.

Then, in the fall of 2006, I attended an SCBWI event in North Dakota, where Elaine Marie Alphin was presenting. Elaine did an afternoon session on brainstorming character and plot, and I asked her if she would be interested in expanding that session to an entire weekend. My idea was that I would organize and host two Retreats. Elaine would present at the first one and get us started brainstorming the characters and outlining the plot for our novels, and then (six or eight months later), Darcy would present her Revision Retreat. Elaine loved the idea and said she would be happy to be the presenter for Act 1.

While Elaine and I were speaking, Jean Patrick (RA for the Dakotas SCBWI) and Alexandra Penfold (editor for Simon & Schuster) joined us. Before I knew it, the two Retreat series became a three Retreat series, with the focus of the final Retreat being submission packets and formal manuscript critiques by both an editor and agent.

When I was setting up the first set of Retreats, I was just hoping that I would get enough folks so I wouldn’t have to cancel the Series. But not only did we fill the three Retreats, I had folks asking me when the next set of Retreats is going to be held. I’ve heard nothing but wonderful comments from the participants, who also encouraged me to keep the Series going.

So, that is the plan right now. I will keep the Series going at the St Benedict Center as long as I see an interest. Elaine Marie Alphin will be presenting again at Act 1, Darcy Pattison will lead Act 2, and the third and final Retreat will have an editor and agent attending. Those names will be announced as soon as I have them finalized.

I have also heard from a few of our past participants about how difficult it was to leave, knowing that Act 3 was the “final” retreat, so I have been brainstorming ways we can continue to support each other on our writing journey.

I’m mulling over lots of suggestions for a Reunion Retreat. It will probably be very informal ”” just us writing and sharing our drafts, again held at the St. Benedict Center. There would be no presenters so the cost should just be the cost of rooms, meals and your own travel.

Another suggestion was to create a book club for our group. Using our Novel Retreat Yahoo! Group as our “meeting room,” we could read and discuss various books online from the perspective of writers. I am really open to ideas for the organization of this. We could all read the same book and discuss it–OR–we could choose a genre (or an author or an agent or an editor) and each of us read different books in that genre (or by that author or edited by that editor or represented by that agent), and discuss similarities and differences we note in each.

Each Reunion Retreat might look different, as I hear new ideas and different needs from the participants.

Thanks for letting me share my story, Becky! I hope to see lots of new faces at our next series of retreats and some familiar ones at our reunions!

What do you think about the Novel Retreat in 3 Acts idea?

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