I’m sitting in the terminal at the Knoxville, TN airport, waiting for a flight that doesn’t leave for another four hours. When someone offers you a free ride to the airport, you take it, regardless of how early it is. It’s Easter Sunday, and Smokey Writers 2016 is officially over. We had a group breakfast at a Gatlinburg pancake house. Many hugs were exchanged and goodbyes said. Hard to believe it will be a year before I see most of them again.
Yesterday was much like the other working days of the retreat. A day of writing, followed by readings at 6:00 pm, followed by food, drink and fun. I spent a good deal of time wrestling with plot problems, but by the time I finished for the day, I had produced 3,005 words. For the week, I produced 17,688 new words plus the changes I made to the ghost story book. That’s an average of just under 3,000 words a day, a level of productivity I’ve never achieved before. I’m very satisfied with that. Next year, I won’t be. If I’m not getting better, I’m getting worse.
My reading last night was with Alex White, Bryan Lincoln, Pip Ballantine and Starla Huchton. It was my first time reading with Alex and Bryan, so getting first tastes of their works was a treat. Bryan’s work is an audio drama, so we each read parts. I got to show my voice acting chops, such as they are. Starla’s reading was from the novella that she finished while on the retreat. No spoilers – all I will say is that you should buy it when it goes on sale. Seriously. And Pip’s book is a hoot. Really looking forward to that finished product as well.
After reading time was over, Tee Morris organized a showing of the Disney movie Tomorrowland in the theatre room. I’d never seen it before, and had a really good time. I think it’s definitely worth another viewing. The movie was interrupted by yet another delicious dinner. I may need to go on a beans and rice diet for a couple of weeks once I’m home. The night wound down with some March Madness action on TV, some guitar playing, and relaxing on one of the balconies.
My only regret is not making it to Mass on Easter Sunday, something that I’ve never missed before. Because we had to be out of the house early, and because I didn’t have my own transportation, and the church was four miles away, I just could not make it. It does not feel like Easter to me, and that’s something I feel bad about. In retrospect, I should have just reserved my return flight for Saturday.
That regret aside, this was an incredibly fast and rewarding week. You would think that sitting around all day making up stories would be difficult and slow. You’d be right about the difficulty but not about the slow part. Almost without fail, I’d look at my watch each day and say, “It’s 4:00 already?” Writing anything well is hard work, and time goes fast when you’re working hard. And all of us worked very hard this week.
I am grateful for the opportunity I had and for the people I spent the week with. I hung with old friends, got to know a few people better, and made some precious new friendships. For the first time, I met someone who cares more about the Frozen Four than the Final Four. I learned that the number of flavors of moonshine rivals the number of Baskin Robbins’ ice cream flavors. I learned that Tennessee is a beautiful state. I saw cooks melt sugar on creme brulee with a tool that looks like a small blowtorch. I heard stories of World War I dogfights, 1890’s high society, ancient stories of the middle east, and con artists. I wrote words that made people laugh and others that made them shiver.
Everyone agreed that we want the same house next year. The house became as much everyone’s friend as the other people did. It’s just a magnificent setting for a retreat like this. I miss it already.
God willing, I will be back in the Smokey Mountains next March for the 2017 retreat, if they’ll have me. It was without question the most rewarding week I’ve had as a writer. Tomorrow, I return to being an insurance guy. For the last week, I was a writer sharing space with some of the most wonderful, talented, creative people I could hope to meet. For that, I am one very, very lucky guy.