DEBORAH CROMBIE: What a special treat we have on JRW today! For everyone who wished they could attend Rhys's writing retreat in Tuscany, now we get a first-hand account of all the fun!
Here's our Jungle Red special friend, Karen Maslowski (who comments as "Karen in Ohio"), on--well, I'll let Karen tell you!
Rhys Bowen Writing Retreat in Tuscany, or How I Justified Bumming Around Europe for Three Weeks
Karen (in Ohio) Maslowski:
When I first saw the announcement of Rhys’s nine-day mystery writing workshop in Tuscany, my inner travel diva got all excited. What a great combination: writing with other like-minded students in a lovely environment, all meals provided, and with one of my favorite writers. However, I couldn’t bring myself to commit to the time, and to the financial outlay. And while I was dithering, the class filled.
A couple weeks later, Rhys posted on her Facebook page that a spot had opened up, and I decided that was my sign, so I signed up for the open place.
I began making plans to wrap the Tuscan adventure in other travel. Solo international travel was one of my longtime “bucket list” items, and when better, right? (My husband already had commitments for that time period.)
A local travel agent helped me schedule flights, trains, boats, taxis, hotels, tours, and even concerts, so I would have a structure to what became a three-week trip. My youngest daughter decided to join me for the first three days in Venice, where neither of us had ever been. By the time I met the workshop group I'd been in Italy for four days, and I was fairly well adjusted to the time zone difference.
Before the workshop Minerva Education picked up all the participants in Florence; afterward I chose to go back to Florence for one night. Because my maiden name is Brenner, I decided to take a train from Florence to Innsbruck through the spectacular Brenner Pass in the Alps. From there I would go to Munich for a couple of days, and then on to finish my journey with three days in beautiful Prague.
You can read more about that part of my trip here, with photos: See the USA Watch for more, as I am posting it in sections.
The six workshop participants came from all over: Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, California, Washington DC, and me from Cincinnati. We had a good mix of accomplishments, too. Some of us were published in non-fiction (one participant has a long career as an award-winning sports and real estate journalist), some had nearly finished novels, and some of us were in the beginning stage of fiction writing. Every one of them was an interesting person, too, and we had fascinating conversations over many meals and long walks. Rounding out the group was Rhys's charming husband, John, who added his own sparkle to every meal and gathering.
Rhys structured our sessions with one main topic a day: intro to mystery; plot, structure, POV; characters; dialogue; setting; creating mood; first line/paragraph/page; marketing, finding an agent. Each morning we met for an hour or two to discuss that day’s area of interest. Afterwards we broke for individual activities, including a daily writing assignment, and later in the afternoon we'd meet again. At the second meeting of the day everyone shared what they'd written. Rhys would give her opinion, constructive advice, and tips on how to tighten or expand or better the piece in some way. The group usually also had something to add, always insightful and helpful.
The best part of this readout each day was seeing how uniquely distinct each of our voices are, and watching as characters took shape, or plots emerged. We talked about the different stories, and by the end of the workshop we were all anxious to know the outcomes of each.
The owners of Minerva Education, Piero and Cajsa (pronounced Kī'-sza) Baldini, are excellent hosts, and they provided a rich cultural experience, as well as access to a teacher of Rhys's caliber. In addition to providing a lovely hotel for the workshop, they hosted every excellent meal with a flourish (and delicious wines), and provided many insights to life in Italy, past and present. Piero is a native of Florence, and a font of knowledge about all things Italian.
In addition to the workshop, Piero and Cajsa organized several other activities for us. We had a private wine tasting of Chianti and local cheeses, olive oils and balsamic vinegar in Castellina. We toured some local Etruscan tombs, and learned a bit of the history of the area. We spent nearly an entire day of visiting Siena (a nice break for Rhys, who opted to stay back and sketch. And do laundry). And we all trooped into town on the Sunday of Corpus Christi for Mass in the church of San Salvatore, and later that day, for the scheduled procession.
The procession was supposed to take place at 6 PM, but first the wedding party had to clear out. The bride and groom were both British (they'd driven there from London, we later discovered), but of East Indian background, so many of the guests wore lovely saris. This little town in Chianti was hopping with activity!
The hotel is charming and lovely, and in a peaceful spot, while still within easy walking distance of Castellina. We each had our own rooms with en suite baths (and bidets, can't forget those!). The pool is beautiful and surrounded by flowers, and the staff is attentive and efficient. I already want to go back. My smiling photo was taken during one of my best writing sessions, on our porch overlooking the vineyards and olive trees across the road.
DEBS: Oh, I am dripping with envy!! For the privilege of Rhys's knowledge and advice, for the camaraderie and companionship of a writer's group, and for beautiful Tuscany! (And olives, and wine, and cheeses, and herbs, and everything that goes with the above!)
Karen, I hope you'll tell us more about what you learned, and what parts were the most helpful to you.
And Rhys, please chime in and tell us your favorite parts of the Tuscan adventure!
REDS, I think we should plan a Tuscan retreat. READERS, would you enjoy a workshop like this?