The writer’s life can be a solitary one – and it sure helps to spend time with fellow writers over laptops and strawberry-rhubarb pie. That was the recent experience shared by four YA authors – Marie Lu (Legend), Jessica Spotswood (Born Wicked), Andrea Cremer (Bloodrose), and Beth Revis (A Million Suns). The women had already become well acquainted this past February while taking part in Penguin’s Breathless Reads tour, part of an annual promotional campaign that launched in 2010 and focuses on different YA novels with each outing. While sharing their stories with audiences in bookstores and libraries across the country, the four authors also developed a strong camaraderie. When the tour ended, it was important to all of them to stay in touch.
So when Cremer proposed the idea that they all meet at her parents’ home in the Central Lakes region of Minnesota for a writing retreat, they were determined to make it happen. The lakeside setting and creative energy that each writer brought to the experience resulted in a reunion that surpassed their expectations.
Andrea Cremer, who says she has “a secret mission in life to convince as many people as possible that Minnesota is not a frozen wasteland,” so she was naturally delighted to share her family home with Lu, Revis, and Spotswood. Their time together was filled with good food, many card games, glasses of wine, and laughs – but most important, plenty of writing. The authors worked until sunset every day, sometimes writing outside, and then moving indoors if it got too hot. “When one of us got stuck, or had a question or a plot crisis, we would pause and brainstorm ideas,” Cremer says. She also describes a moment when all four authors were working on especially “steamy scenes: “We’d huddle around a laptop and read. There were many gasps, oohs, and giggles, and an occasional ‘whoa!’ ”
Revis especially values the friendly pressure that comes with working alongside other writers, as well as having the opportunity to swap stories about the craft and about publishing. “Talking with fellow writers is not the same kind of conversation you have with your editor or your agent. We could write scenes and get instant feedback on them from our peers,” she says.
For Spotswood, the writing retreat was as rigorous as it was fun: “When I sat there in front of my laptop and stared at other writers being extremely prolific, I felt the gym-like pressure to work, too,” she says. “So our Breathless retreat resulted in a great deal of productivity.” She also notes that one of the biggest highlights of the experience was having the opportunity to sneak a peek at the other writers’ works in progress – in particular, gleaning insight into what lies down the road for characters in the authors’ respective series.
Lu also appreciated the chance to “see each other’s work more tangibly,” she says. Though she’d been to writing retreats in the past, this was the first one she’d attended with friends – an experience that she found deeply rewarding. Typing right alongside the other authors felt both natural and very motivating, she says, and post-retreat – even during those “long blocks of time [spent] in complete hermitage” – she feels a “deep sense of comfort” in the bonds she’s formed with Cremer, Spotswood, and Revis.
The four have been through a lot together, from surviving multiple, increasingly cutthroat games of canasta to exploring the worlds of one another’s fiction. It’s guaranteed that they will stay in touch throughout the year, and they have plans to make the retreat an annual event. Next time, they might swap out the playing cards for fishing poles. “The non-Minnesota ladies have shown curiosity about ice fishing,” Cremer says. “Braving a Minnesota winter will be a true test of mettle.”