Thursday, December 24, 2009

Invitation: Writers On Fire In Hawaii - Jan. 15-22 Only 2 spots left!

View from upper deck of Pipeline House
Dear Writers,
Ready for a week of creative pampering? Eager to explore new ways to express yourself and hungry to experiment with different forms of writing? Dreaming of a rejuvenating stay in a tropical beach villa in Hawaii? Now you can have it all. Pack your bags, pens, notebooks and laptops! Discover the stories inside you, kick off the new year by claiming the writer in you. And join me at the next phase of Writers On Fire -- exclusive one-week writing retreats chock-full of creative adventure. Perfect for seasoned writers or beginners alike.

Pipeline House
SITE OF RETREAT:  Picture a relaxing, 7-night stay at the privately owned Pipeline House on the North Shore of Oahu -- a breathtaking beachside villa overlooking Sunset Beach's world famous surfwave, the Banzai Pipeline, where the World Surf Championships are held every year. Ocean views from every room. See for more info. Come experience this mecca for surfers and seekers alike. Be inspired by the raw force of nature, the laidback surfer style, and create breakthroughs in your writing.

Lisa Firestone, pictured above on lower deck of Pipeline House at sunset,
will lead daily (optional) surfing from 8-10am.
WHO IS THIS WORKSHOP FOR?This retreat is designed for all writers -- beginning to advanced -- who want to venture into new territory and create, or at least begin, new work. It is also a good opportunity for those eager to stretch or cross the boundaries of genre -- fiction writers who want to tell the truth; nonfiction writers who want to learn to lie; poets who want to try prose; prose writers curious about playwriting; screenwriters, actors and filmmakers looking to capture stories on the page; and novices primed for adventure. We especially welcome people who’re writing books as well and want to make big leaps forward with their projects, or finally get them kickstarted.

 Carolyn Reuben, previous Writers On Fire In Hawaii participant,
reading her work w/twilit sky as backdrop
SCHEDULE:  Arrival on 1/15; double writing workshops on 1/16 (10:30-12:30; lunch break; free time, writing; 3:30-5:30 afternoon workshop; 6-7 cocktails; 7 dinner; evening free for writing), 1/17; 1/18 a morning session, then a free afternoon; 1/19 double workshop; 1/20 morning session and evening, public reading and celebration!); 1/21 free day!; 1/22 departure. Includes one-hour private coaching at outset of retreat to plan week, talk out goals; and one-hour private workshop to cap retreat, to create workable schedule, goals, and writers' contract.

One of the bedrooom work areas
COSTS:  Recession-friendly low cost of $2,000 total. Airfare, which is approximately $300-$500 roundtrip from LAX to Honolulu, is not included. However, van transport from the airport to the house is provided. Continental breakfast from 6am – 10am, along with a light lunch and snacks, are also included, as well as the 7-night, 6-day stay. Includes 5-day intensive workshop plus one free day in this luxe and legendary hotspot.

Picturesque Shark's Cove, a short walk or bike ride up path
from Pipeline House near popular Brazilian acai stand
 NUMBER OF PARTICIPANTS:  There are currently only three spots left for this amazing retreat -- secure your spot now! For more info, including a sample schedule, please e-mail at Also, check out our freshly revamped and launched site executed by the dynamic duo, J Square PR. Comments welcome. Keep checking back -- many many new retreats, workshops and more to come.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Coast Starlight Train Trip: Birth of Starlight Salon? Retreat on Rails?!

Isn't this wild? Looks like the train is glowing! After flying up to Sacramento to drive out to Cool, California, in the heart of the Gold Country, to participate in some northern Cali book events for Love Junkie and to visit my close friend, the stunning writer and fiery-haired Samantha Dunn, I boarded the Coast Starlight back to Los Angeles. I couldn't wait. I hadn't had the chance to take the train for ages. And this was a scenic, leisurely ride down the spectacular California coast in a retro pleasure train. I don't know about you, but I romanticize trains. I'm an avid traveler, and trains are one of my favorite forms of transportation -- transportation of the spirit as well as the body.

However, I was clueless. I booked coach because I was only riding the rails from 6:35AM to 9PM when we would pull into the gorgeously renovated Union Station. Mistake. For the first four hours or so of the trip, I was on a crazy hunt for an outlet so I could work. Amtrak had promised me outlets and Wi-Fi, but neither was to be had. Luckily I had my iPhone. For outlets, I finally found one in the Arcade Room in the bowels of the train. There I sat, juicing my Mac laptop, while hyperactive kids and sullen teens slammed joysticks, pounded consoles, screamed. Finally I figured out there was a cafe car -- also in what felt like the bowels of the train. Okay, entrails. I settled in, staking my claim on the one outlet as if I'd discovered a vein of gold. I didn't move from the blue vinyl booth for the next three hours. Until I heard the announcement about a Wine Tasting event in the parlour car. Whut?

Without another thought, I packed up my laptop, books and notes and high-tailed it to the upper part of the train, shimmied my way through the swaying cars and entered -- Paradise. Now this was what I'd imagined when I booked the Coast Starlight. I walked into a stylish livingroom on rails, with breathtaking scenery whizzing by outside. I bought my Wine Tasting ticket, settled into a comfy swiveling armchair with its own wall outlet, and vowed not to move. It was as if I'd risen through the socio-economic ranks of the world in a matter of hours -- from the video game room and claustrophobed cafe hell of coach, to the lofty upper deck, and first class travel. I'd made it!

Then the Wine Tasting commenced.

Bliss! Before long, I'd worked my way through Taz Pinot Gris 2006 out of Santa Barbara, Estancia Pinot Noir 2006 out of Pinnacles Ranches in Monterey County, Greg Norman Petite Sirah 2005 out of Paso Robles (my favorite!), and Jekel Riesling 2006, also out of Monterey County. I also nibbled on Purple Moon cheese (mouth-watering) and crackers. All California wines. I can recount these details because I consulted the retro menu, whose graphics induced a delicious "Mad Men" moment.

My chosen state was doing me proud, and the wine was working its veritas wonders. Now the scenery was looking really good.

I don't know about you, but one reason I love writing is because you can do it anywhere. On a plane, in a foreign land, in a cafe, in a diner, at a truck stop. On a train. Wait. What about readings on a train? Next to me, an elegant man concentrated on a crossword. A sophisticated grandma sat reading My Life In France by Julia Child while burnished hillsides streaked gold out her window.
Another sat reading the newspaper -- the newspaper! Well if this wasn't a salon waiting to happen. A perfect audience for a reading! Then the popcorn brain commenced. I imagined a Starlight Salon. I had just spent time up north with amazing writers like Sam Dunn, Alice Anderson, Rebecca K. O'Connor. Further up the coast, along the route of this same amazing train, were Susie Bright, Cheryl Strayed, Kerry Cohen...the list went on and on. What If we were all to band together, board together, and create a moveable feast, a moving salon -- could this be the birth of the Starlight Salon?!

Wine. Trains. Narrative In Motion. The signs were blinking madly:  did I not perform at a fabulous, intimate book event one day ago at a vineyard! Venezio Vineyards. Right outside of Cool. Plus, I'd just gotten the great news that WHSmith's Travel had placed an enormous order of the soon-to-be-released Jan. 2010 UK mass market paperback. And where do they stock books? All the major airports and train stations. I picked up the dinner menu, eager to feed my dreaming.
Because I am a recovering love junkie, I did not fantasize Don Draper entering the parlour car for dinner, then dropping wearily yet suavely into the empty swivel armchair nearby.
Nor did I think about how his gaze might slowly turn my way, as I recrossed my legs and fluffed my ridiculous white fur scarf (see the Love Junkie blog for pic of said scarf.) Instead, visions of a Retreat on Rails -- the parlour car packed with ardent writers scribbling and typing, sipping wine, every so often gazing out the windows as the sun splashed gold onto the passing hills -- lit my brain with arcade fire.

I would love to know if you have any memorable train rides you'd like to share. I got amazing responses from a post about itching for a road trip. How about a rail trip? Have you ever written on the train? Fallen in love on the train? Gone the wrong way on a train? Do you like those in-between places -- like train stations? Tell us a story, a memory. Funny in Rick Moody's current experimental story written for Twitter that's posting right now, he has a series of tweets that open "On the train..." Almost replicates that rhythmic chuffing with those staccato tweets. Does motion or travel stimulate your imagination? Distract? What If you were to retell a scene setting it in the confines of a train car. How would that heighten drama? Tension? What are some favorite books involving trains, train trips, or stories? What of Updike, Cheever, Patricia Highsmith? How do commuter trains differ from travel trains, and what of subways? What of the recent book, Lowboy by John Wray, written entirely while riding NY subways? I can't wait to hear your train tales, and anything else.
Yours on creative fire,

Monday, November 23, 2009

Our First Day of Writing the Publishable Novel or Memoir ongoing workshop, Cycle #2

Here we are on the Topanga deck, preparing to get down 'n' literary. I've vacated the sun-drenched orange rattan chair to shoot the pic. 

 Justine Musk wisely snags a shady papadam chair, the better to spin her suspenseful goth-urban tales of decadence, Leer jets, and mystery.

We kicked things off at 10am, with a 5-minute breathing meditation, selected for our group by Diana Winston from UCLA's Mindfulness Center. As always, her mellifluous voice and easy meditation helped us all get grounded and ready for creative action. In case you want to give it a try before you start writing, here's the link:
If you try it out, let us know here on the blog how it works for you!

Throughout the glorious day, punctuated by groovy food and libations, we cranked. We talked longterm workshop goals (everyone's aiming for full book drafts by springtime!); discussed the provocative prologue of our workshop text, The Secret Life Of Puppets by Victoria Nelson; workshopped everyone's first sets of 10-page submissions (everyone's insights and helpful suggestions were sharp, innovative and often spot-on); and we wrote an in-class exercise:  Write a scene with two characters having an argument. While the scene unfolds, let one of those characters do a task, yet fail at that task. Then add in a third character who is either a puppet, a robot, or a cyborg.

The exercise this time was inspired by a few things. On the one hand, it was an homage to the legendary Jim Krusoe, a fabulous and fabulist novelist who's taught and inspired many a writer in this our City of Angels. He often nudges his students to jazz up a boring scene by adding a third character to stir things up. Another trick he suggests is having one of those characters doing a task poorly. Then I added a spin inspired by Puppets, and suggested the third character be one of these magical creatures who're naturally invested with supernatural power in this world where the mystical religious urge has gone underground, into the Grotto -- and illuminates such figures with a displaced power.

In a matter of 15 minutes, each workshop participant jammed out a stunning scene. All were vivid, and naturally paced, full of drama, humor, and distinctly stamped by the writer's own voice. Once again, the magic of the in-class on-the-spot writing.

For this first post post-first class, I want to showcase one of those exercises. Here is Janet Graham:

And here is her rockin' exercise!

"The smell of horseshit was strong through the screens filled with dust and cobwebs.
She didn’t like the way it interfered with her view of things.  The wide backed Gaucho horses grazing in the dark green pasture, the occasional ranch hand crossing the frame with hoses and rakes in hand.  She makes a mental note to get them to wash the screens.

“I told you I didn’t want her to have one of those fucking things,” she says pointing to the life-sized Barbie standing in the corner with platinum blonde hair and a bridal gown on.  “Throw me the tape will you?” 

“I don’t know where it is,” he says looking through the mounds of wrapping paper on the bed.  “You’re being ridiculous,” he adds.  “It’s the one thing she wanted.  She asked for it.”

“It’s disgusting!” She gets up off the floor.  “It’s the one thing I didn’t want her to have.” She moves to the desk looking for the tape.

“She’s a little girl,” he says standing up.  “All little girls like Barbie.  What’s the big deal?”

“Where’s the fucking tape?” She throws things off the desk.

“It’s bad enough that you bought her a Barbie.  A life-sized Barbie!  But did you have to pick one with platinum hair dressed in a wedding gown.  What are we teaching her?  If she’s plastic enough, she might have a chance of growing up and getting married?”

Happy writing, everyone!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Welcome to Writers on Fire ~ Unplugged!

Welcome to the newly launched Writers on Fire blog!  Get ready for sizzling stories from Writers on Fire workshops, plus tons of other writerly, travelicious treats. 

Tomorrow, we kick off Cycle #2 of the ongoing Writing the Publishable Novel or Memoir workshop which gathers here at my magical Topanga Canyon hideaway. We meet from 10am to 3pm on the covered deck, which looks out over the picturesque State Park. Guaranteed, this setting works wonders on people's well-being as well as writing. The setting is boho-rustic, and helps people shut out the distractions of this fair sprawl-city of ours. In good California style, we commence the day with a short breathing meditation to help us shift into creative mode. Of course we eat great food during the intensive day, which includes in-class exercises, workshopping of each person's bi-monthly pages, plus discussion of the ongoing reading (this cycle we're immersing ourselves in The Secret Life Of Puppets, by Victorian Nelson) We cap the rigorous day with a Prosecco toast to the imagination.

On the required reading:  Over the last 15 years of teaching, I've found that including a demanding text, usually non-fiction, somehow sharpens everyone's brains and leaks into the writing in the most sublime and unexpected ways. Ideally we choose a text that taps into the subconscious. That is also the idea of in-class exercises. Because almost across the board, when people unhinge their imaginations, they write better than themselves. And this experience informs their more conscious writing, too. The results are often spectacularly original and potent.

We currently have six stunningly talented writers joining us this cycle. I will post more about them in coming months, with their permission. For now, trust me there will be creative ferment aplenty on top of this bucolic hill. We plan to post more info about these writers, showcase their work generated during the workshop, and additionally link to their sites and blogs. Perhaps some of them will be inspired to create blogs during the workshop if they don't already have them!

There will be lots more to come in future posts, including invitations to upcoming retreats in other locations -- both here in the United States and abroad -- info about private writing coaching services, international coaching available through Skype, travel & writing exercises and tips, and much much more.

For now, thank you for joining the Writers On Fire - Unplugged! blog. Don't hesitate to contact us and tell us what you'd like to see here.

Your creative adventure tour guide,