Mystery and fantasy writing

An Excellent Retreat

An Excellent Retreat

In 1990, I had the good fortune to take part in the Writers Retreat Workshop created and run by Gary Provost and his wife, Gail. I’m still not sure what prompted me to sign up for the workshop. I saw an ad for it in Writer’s Digest. It was in Connecticut. I live in North Carolina. It lasted about a week and it was not cheap. But something compelled me to go. It was one of the best decisions of my life.
The retreat was held in a beautiful old house with a wide front porch and huge trees. At the bottom of the elegant staircase was a baby grand piano that I enjoyed playing after our dinners. Meals were delicious and snacks readily available all day. Each person had his or her own private work space, and we were encouraged to write as much as possible. Gary, billing himself as our “Manuscript Doctor,” or “M.D.,” dressed in a doctor’s coat and stethoscope, and came around to diagnose our problems. We also had group readings and constructive criticism. But I knew that first day as I listened to Gary’s first talk what my problem was. I had multiple points of view running all through my story. I’d hop from one character’s head to another, sometimes in the same paragraph. The minute I realized this problem, my work began to improve.
We met with agents and editors and discovered that they were real people. We watched “Tootsie” and “Diner” and discussed back story, needs and goals, the inciting incident, the black moment, and other important facets of good storytelling. I sat out under the huge trees, staring up at the leaves in the sunlight and feeling creative.
At the end of the workshop, we had a graduation ceremony complete with diplomas and gag gifts from Gary and Gail. It would be many more years before I got published, but Gary’s guidance and the positive experience I had at the workshop kept me going. Sadly, Gary passed away not long after. Gail Provost Stockwell continues to run the Writers Retreat Workshop and can be reached at P.O. Box 4236, Louisville, KY 40204, Gary’s excellent books, Make Your Words Work, and 100 Ways To Improve Your Writing, are filled with expert advice for fiction and nonfiction writers.
The dedication in my first book reads: “To Gary Provost, teacher and friend.”


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