When Words Count Retreat Center, a new destination for writers nestled in a rambling country hollow between the mountain peaks of Rochester, Vermont, I knew I had found my way to one of the happiest places on the planet. Since the autumn of 1993, I have retreated to write regularly across the New England countryside, from inns to islands and all points in between. That first retreat to Wentworth Mountain over the Halloween weekend of '93 changed my life forever -- I went there determined to either give up this 'writing thing' or to embrace it like my very life depended upon the outcome. Circumstances clearly favored the latter; even at its darkest moments since, I have loved my life, lived it with joy and exuberance. Wandering the happy halls of When Words Count was like stepping back nearly twenty years through time to that very first retreat where I drank copious amounts of Earl Grey tea, luxuriated before a roaring fire, and communed with my muse in an intimate way deeper than marrow or blood; on a soul level.
That Monday night, I and my fellow conferees -- the fabulous Amber Lisa, the inimitable Jan Cannon (who is penning an amazing book), Lisa Cordeiro, and writer singer/songwriter Chrissie Van Wormer -- lounged in the Gertrude Stein Salon for a reading of our works. I had just the previous night gotten book galleys for my short story "Phantomime" which was selected to appear in the invite-only anthology Blood Rites, a forthcoming release from Blood Bound Books. I read the story aloud and got some fantastic feedback, and then I was thrilled to hear Jan's pages, followed by Amber's. Both ladies knocked it out of the park as far as I'm concerned. I love being read to. I love it when the writing is stellar, and it sure was.
As part of our stay, we five were each given one-hour consultations with Jon Reisfeld and Steve Eisner who, along with Eisner's lovely wife Nele, were gracious and delightful hosts. Our conversation, held at one in the afternoon on Tuesday at the J. D. Salinger Cottage (a gorgeous detached bungalow just up the hill from the main house and the barn) was so upbeat, so energetic, it has sustained me well after my return from Vermont. There are great and exciting plans for professional writers being created at the retreat center. Based upon what they'd seen -- my usual output of fresh pages, one after another -- and what they'd heard me read, Jon and Steve invited me to be part of the excitement, which will also include a return to the center to lecture and workshop with other writers not far down the road. I skipped along the trail back to the main house following my consultation. There, beaming, I indulged in that day's episode of my beloved soap General Hospital on the Stein Salon's flat-screen.
"With simple yet fine ingredients, you can make lavish meals. You can create something that people really respond to," says Chef Paul Kremar, the culinary genius behind the retreat center's incredible gourmet fare. "With a handful of ingredients, you can create food that is as good as anything you've ever put in your mouth."
Chef Paul, whose enthusiasm and aura radiated throughout not only the Julia Child kitchen but the dining room and the Stein Salon, where nightly he served up incredible appetizers, was a visible and welcome presence throughout my stay.
"I don't subscribe to that old school notion that the kitchen is the sole domain of the chef," he says. "People are fascinated with food and want an interactive experience. I believe in the opposite of the old Gourmet Magazine philosophy, which had a 'don't try this at home!' mentality. Here, I like to interact with you, maybe inspire you to show that you can try this at home after you leave. Flavor and texture must always reign supreme, and local food gives you a strong footing in terms of quality. But it should always be yummy. My goal is to make it the yummiest for our guests."
On our final night, Lisa read her latest short story, a paranormal mystery, and Chrissie, too, shared from her present work-in-progress, both offerings engaging and a treat for the ear. I retired to my room exhausted but also energized. For days, I'd absorbed the details of my surroundings, the trees and flowers outside, the elegant antiques acquired from months of auctions, artwork, and the personalized author-specific touches to the rooms. I slept well and woke rested on the last day of my stay, a rainy and overcast Wednesday.