Sunday, October 14, 2012

When Words Count Writer's Retreat Part One

Often, the talented man who runs my Wednesday night writer's group says that it's all about the details when he praises my work.  The same holds true for When Words Count Retreat Center in the beautiful, bucolic Vermont town of Rochester -- the details make for an unforgettable destination all writers should be lucky enough to experience. I knew I had found my way to a small slice of Heaven from the moment I walked in and spied a sign advertising the Writer's Cafe, the name for the dining room and comfortable sitting inglenook soon to the immediate right beyond the front door.  I arrived on October 7, a brisk overcast Sunday, after a delightful ride up through New Hampshire and across the heart of our closest neighbor to the East.  And for the next four days, it was my absolute pleasure to explore this new, beautiful space designed specifically to pamper writers.  The details were, quite honestly, divine.

My journey to When Words Count began while I was checking emails up in my private room at Camp NECon this past July, when I happened to catch an ad on my Facebook page that offered a free stay at a new retreat center in the Green Mountain State.  I applied, not thinking much about the deal again until the day after I returned from Star Island when I received a phone call from spokesman Jon Reisfeld announcing I had won one of the fifty sweepstakes prizes -- a three-day stay.

2012 has been my year to travel, but I've been methodical in my planning and preparation work, so when the chance to visit When Words Count landed in my lap, I almost declined.  With increasing frequency, ten months of planes, trains, and automobiles (not to mention buses and ferry boats) have taken a toll on my energy reserves.  I'm a nester by nature; until January, I'd assumed my years of adventures in distant realms were behind me.  But a few days before departing, I decided to treat myself to an additional day in Vermont and the gourmet fare served by renown chef Paul Kremar, the man credited with re-popularizing the flat bread pizza here in the U.S.  Right up until the moment we left for Rochester, writing obligations kept me working -- a TV episode proposal and two short stories dogged me deep into the weekend.  One of the stories made it from longhand draft to computer that Sunday morning, but at 11:50, I knew I'd have to take "Princess and the Bee" (a fairy tale/Lovecraftian mash-up requested by an editor at Chaosium Press) with me.  And so we departed.  Lunch in Lebanon, NH.  A beautiful and effortless drive through northern forest country dressed in colorful autumn foliage.  A trip over a mountain, thanks to wonky Mapquest directions, and then we followed the crisp white signs set at intervals along a winding road to When Words Count.  Perhaps it was my lack of preparation, or the absence of real build-up -- as stated, this particular trip sneaked up without much fanfare, sandwiched between a retreat to Star Island I'd anticipated for nine full months and an annual week-long visit to North Conway.

I'm more inclined to believe the magic that embraced me from the instant I set foot in the main house, lovingly restored by owner Steve Eisner and his gorgeous wife Nele, owes entirely to the mindset and mission of When Words Count.  Immediately, guests know they do. When all was done, I'd penned some 7,000 fresh words, including a chapter-plus on a novel stalled within clear sight of its The End and a short story that had eluded me since the spring.

All of the guest rooms at When Words Count are named in honor of celebrated authors -- Ernest Hemingway, Emily Dickenson, F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I was originally booked into the Robert Frost Room, but got upgraded to Arthur Miller, a room so elegant and comfortable, I glided through my edits and had them emailed off to my waiting editor a minute or so before 5:30.  I then wandered down through the Julia Child kitchen to the Gertrude Stein Salon, the central gathering room complete with bookcases, comfortable seating, and fireplace, where Chef Paul serves delicious appetizers and cocktails to guests.  Dinner followed at six; it was, simply put, exquisite.  Hors d'oeuvers in the Stein Salon that first night were phyllo tarts with goat cheese and a trio of onions.  Dinner consisted of grilled pork tenderloin on a potato galette with homemade chipotle creme fraiche, roasted Atlantic salmon with a maple-mustard glaze, saffron-scented Basmati rice and sauteed spinach, wedge salad with creamy bleu cheese dressing and grape tomatoes, and warm chocolate chocolate chip cookies.

Three of my fellow four conferees during my stay arrived right before Sunday night dinner.  The first, the delightful and talented Amber Lisa, inspired me with her passion for writing and her enthusiasm for the retreat center, which was as instant as my own.  We dined, laughed, returned to the Stein Salon, and were treated to an impromptu concert by singer/songwriter Chrissie Van Wormer, who blew us all away with her angelic voice and original lyrics.  I retired to the Arthur Miller Room, slipped between the supremely luxurious quilt and high-thread-count sheets, and passed out seconds after closing my eyes.

Up early the next morning, I showered, dressed in comfortable clothes that included one of my 'writing couture' shirts, and dove straight into my novel BLINDERS, about a drifter who integrates into a dysfunctional family in a fictional Berkshire Mountains town, and was stunned with the ease in which I got back into a story that's been stalled and sitting in the 'drawer of shame' of one of my two big filing cabinets for six years.  I had nearly an entire chapter down before breakfast beckoned us for fluffy eggs, fresh fruit, and toast made from artisan bread, all of the ingredients sourced from local farms, another of Chef Paul's standards.  Lunch was no less spectacular, with salad and slices of cheddar cheese.  One of the daily treats is anticipating the posting of the dinner menu. Before gathering for a reading in the Stein Salon, Monday, 10/8's consisted of kicked-up deviled eggs with lemon zest for hors d'oeuvers, Norman Mailer's stuffed mushrooms, beef and pork meatballs slowly simmered in spicy tomato sauce and served over parmesan polenta with braised fennel, green salad with marinated feta, black olives, and balsamic vinaigrette, and warm peanut butter cookies.

As stated, a slice of Heaven, truly.

To be continued.


  1. It truly was a "slice of heaven!" And that food! Gregory you captured it perfectly! I am salivating once again...all writers should be so lucky s we were. (Well, all of the good ones any way.) I so enjoyed your chilling tales; and when I stopped to see Robert's Frost's farm in Derry, New Hampshire, I was thinking of was a little spooky, that abandoned farm. I wondered, "What would Gregory do with this setting? I'm getting chills just thinking about it! Let me hurry up and get out of here with my gimp leg...

  2. Amber, meeting you was such a delight! I love the Frost Farm! I can't wait to promote your fabulous book in the next post. xo

  3. I fell off my diet and gained ten pounds just by your descriptions of the food! It does look like there are plenty of places to roam and work off all of those calories though!

  4. Hello,
    I'm writing a brief article about WWC for the local paper. May I quote your blog? I assume that as it is on the retreat's website, you are willing for this to be the case. I'd like to know what you think though. Thanks,
    Isabella Fiske McFarlin
    June 8,2013

    1. Thanks for your interest, Isabella. I'd be thrilled to -- can you send me a link to the article if it's digital, or a clip of the piece when it's published? GLN, Writer