My best beloved Alex Haist and I spent last week on the Writing Excuses Retreat – which, this year, was on a Caribbean cruise. I was looking forward to the cruise and the workshop itself, but I mostly needed to be in the middle of the Caribbean for a week with my novel and zero internet. Here are my somewhat sleep-deprived thoughts on the experience:
The Ship. The Independence of the Seas was big, full of exceedingly friendly staff and a surprising variety of patrons, and had many lovely places to write. We usually ended up in this one:
We had an interior cabin, which was awesome – it was DARK in there with the lights off, and I slept beautifully. I can see the charm of having an ocean view, but we didn’t lack opportunities to see the water, so I was delighted with my vampire coffin. (Also, the cabin stewards made us adorable critters with spare towels when they cleaned the rooms. Alex took this as a challenge, and made them back. Alas, we didn’t get any pictures of Monkey’s friend Sock-Bird.)
I bobbed around in the pool a bunch, walked many laps around the ship, climbed approximately one zillion stairs (I hate crowded elevators) and thoroughly enjoyed the view. The ship was well-populated – we were both getting a touch of introvert madness by the last two days – but since we mostly stayed on the ship on port days, we had it almost to ourselves for a bunch of the time. I did spend about twenty minutes and as many dollars at the casino, doubled my money, and bolted while I was ahead. Go me!
TL;DR: It was a perfectly pleasant ship. And I hear next year’s ship is even fancier!
The Ports: We did not get off in Cozumel (see above, re: writing priorities, also introvert madness) so I have no comment there. Labadee, Haiti, is a surreal little theme park with silly drinks (the Labadoozy!) and beautiful beaches. Jamaica was a head trip – the enclosed vendor area was overwhelmingly sales-y and the contrast with the area outside the (barred, guarded) gates was uncomfortably stark. We didn’t have a group excursion planned, so we made a quick circuit and declared it a shipboard writing day. In hindsight, I wish we’d gone on Mary’s high-tea excursion, because it sounded like it directly confronted the parts of that scene that made me so uncomfortable. In Grand Cayman, we walked around a bit, found a splendid lizard:
and then went snorkeling on our one planned excursion. I had a lovely time – I’d do that all day and again the next, if I could.
TL;DR: Ask someone else – we barely left the ship. But snorkeling is lovely!
The food: We were extra-lucky and got to eat dinner with instructors five of the seven nights, instead of just three. One night we got to talk to the surprise movie-business guest, which was *fascinating*, and another night Ellen Kushner grabbed our half-full table to join her half-full table so she could continue telling Alex all about her work in progress. No, I won’t share details. But I am *very* excited for it.
The food itself was plentiful, included in the price (therefore it felt free) and… did I mention plentiful? The dinners were quite nice, including a number of high-end dishes with lovely service. The buffet-style breakfasts and lunches were… Well, they were cafeteria food. Tons of variety, unlimited quantity, and distinctly limited quality – although if you paid attention, you could usually figure out what was made from leftovers from the previous night’s dinner and get a much better dish.
TL;DR: I am not going to need to eat again for a month.
The Actual Workshop (finally): I only attended two lectures (although one of our classmates recorded all of them, and I look forward to listening to them.) Daniel José Older is one sharp dude, and had fascinating and unexpected things to say about worldbuilding. And Ellen Kushner was hilarious and delightful speaking about dialogue. Otherwise, I attended all the WX recording sessions, and the banter and backstage chatter was well worth it even though I’ll no doubt listen to the episodes when they come out anyway.
I was fortunate to get a novel crit with Delia Sherman and five lovely classmates. We represented a wide range of styles, genres, and degrees of done-ness, which can spell disaster for a group crit, but Delia kept it focused (and said many smart things) and I got the impression that most folks felt it was productive. I certainly had fun!
I had a one-on-one with Daniel José Older, which I was very excited about, and then late to (sorry again, Daniel!) But I definitely got what I asked for anyway. I found the 15-minute one-on-one format challenging – it was really hard to think of a question that could conceivably be answered in that length of time, didn’t require reading my entire manuscript, and couldn’t be asked comfortably at either the end of his talk, which had a lengthy freeform Q&A, or at dinner. I’m curious how everyone else’s experiences with that were – me, I’d be perfectly happy if it weren’t an option next year. It’s just not enough time, and if I wanted to socialize with any of the instructors, there were many opportunities.
Speaking of which, the social events were all lovely – we had a few cocktail parties, including one in costume (Alex won a prize, and deserved it) and there were casual social events with the instructors all week. Pursuant to my last blog post, I got to sing folk songs late at night with writers *and* sing Happy Birthday, which I’ve been faking for probably thirty years. Progress!
Day 8, Ft. Lauderdale: This is worth a mention if only for the excuse to post cute animal pictures. We had a late flight out, and had nearly twelve hours in Ft. Lauderdale. We had breakfast at El Guanaco, which was in the middle of nowhere but absolutely delicious (we had the leftovers for lunch and almost went back for dinner.) Then we realized we were a $30 cab ride from anywhere, rented a car for the day instead, and drove to the Flamingo Gardens, which is an unspeakably cool wildlife sanctuary with gorgeous trees, a ton of cool birds (including, of course, flamingos,) panthers, bobcats, otters, gators, and fornicating tortoises. (Yes, really. That boy had some staying power. And a hilarious voice.)
Then we went to a touristy seafood place and ate really really good crab. And then flew home. Which meant my perennially-anxious younger cat could finally have a benzo, use the litterbox (when she’s stressed, she… holds it. Indefinitely.) and relax:
It’s nice to be home.
In General: It was a great time. I’d do it again, and we reserved a cabin for next year so we just might.
And the big question: Did I get any writing done? Yes! I write longhand, and haven’t finished (or even started) transcribing, so my count of 13,180 words is an approximation, but it was #3 at the mini-award ceremony on the last night. I am a winner!