From the time I was born until I turned three, my parents and I lived in Brookings, Oregon. Then my father, who was an engineer, got reassigned to a company in Carlsbad, California. So, that’s where I grew up. It was a great place to live—right on the ocean, there was the Pacific to play in, numerous restaurants to eat at, and several nearby libraries for me to brows to my heart’s content.
Because I had developed a love for reading and writing at a very early age, it was almost inevitable that I’d end up becoming an author. But then after three highly successful novels, I hit a wall, creatively. For nearly a year, I walked around practically a zombie. Everything I started fell apart, including my marriage.
Then while still suffering, I saw an ad for a newly established writer’s retreat in, of all places, Brookings, Oregon. Because I figured I could use the change of scenery, and maybe even some alone time, I decided to go for it. Why not? What did I have to lose, except maybe a few bucks? So after making all the arrangements, I headed up there by car. It was a beautiful drive, and an even more beautiful setting.
The retreat consisted of five log cabin-like houses, sitting side by side on top of a bluff overlooking the ocean. There was also a main building, which functioned as a sort of conference center where guests could gather for evening discussions, or whatever else they decided upon.
Each cabin had a living room, a kitchen, a bedroom, a bathroom, and a set of washers and dryers. Thankfully, there were no TVs in any of the cabins, but there was extremely fast WiFi. Behind all six buildings was a large patch of trees with trails that stretched all the way down to the town in the valley below.
So now that I was here, what should I try working on, I wondered? Because nothing I had attempted over the past year produced a viable manuscript, I thought I’d try something I hadn’t done in years—journaling!
I started the following morning by describing my ride up to the retreat. Then I began describing my surroundings—my view of the ocean, the woods behind my cabin, my feelings about being there. Next, I decided to take a walk on one of the many trails that weaved through the woods, while bringing along a pad and pen so I could continue to write down whatever I was seeing and feeling. That’s where I ran into Kathy Rodgers. She was one of the other writers staying at the retreat.
The moment she saw my pad and pen, she asked, “Are you a writer, too?”
“What do you write?” That’s when I told her about my three successful novels. Her thirty-something green eyes lit up. “Yeah, I remember reading about those! So are you working on your next one, now?”
“Not quite,” I told her. “I’ve hit a kind of literary brick wall—you know, writer’s block?” She seemed genuinely disappointed.
“Oh, no, that’s too bad!” We continued to walk a little further, then . . . “So, you’re up here to try and spark something?” I nodded.
Then I asked her, “What do you write?”
Without looking at me directly, she replied, “Mostly poetry, but I’m here to work on a novel.”
My interest peaked. “Oh, yeah, what’s it about?”
This time, she did look at me. “It’s about a mother and daughter trying to cope with the fact that both their husbands died on the same day.”
A small prickle ran up my spine. “Sounds almost paranormal!”
She frowned. “That’s my problem. I don’t know whether or not to continue to make it paranormal, or something else.”
“So how far have you gotten into it?”
“About five chapters.”
“I know we writers are often hesitant about letting anyone see our stuff until it’s done, but can I see what you have so far? Maybe I could help.”
I could see the hesitation roll across her heart-shaped face. I was sure she was going to say no, but then she surprised me when she nodded and replied, “Yeah . . . okay.”
This thrilled me. “Great!” I said. “Why don’t we go back and you can give it to me now.” Once again, I could sense her hesitation. “Unless you’re uncomfortable about doing that.”
She shook her head. “No, no. That’s okay.”
So turning around, we headed back toward the cabins.
On the way, I suggested we split up. “I’ll head for the conference center while you get your manuscript. We can hang out there while I read it.” She looked at me with no hint of what she was thinking then nodding, continued to her cabin.
The conference center itself was made up of a lage central room with a huge oval-shaped table in the middle. There was also a regulation-size pool table on one side, plus a coffee machine, a soda machine, a snack machine, and a large flat screen TV attached to the wall above the reception desk. Sally, the twenty-something daughter of the complex’s owner was seated behind the desk doing paperwork.
After saying high, I told her I was waiting for Kathy Rodgers; that we were going to use the center for a bit of reading. Then I poured myself a cup of coffee.
It didn’t take long for Kathy to show up. When she did, she, once again, looked a little hesitant. “Don’t worry,” I assured her, “I’m not going to bite. But I will be taking notes”—I held up my hand, “just so I can remember what I want to say afterwards. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Uh . . . not really.” Then she handed me the pages of her manuscript and sat down.”
“If you want,” I pointed toward the two pots on the coffee machine, “the coffee is fresh.” Nodding, she got up and poured herself a cup while I began reading.
After about five minutes, I looked up to where she was sitting at the far end of the table. “What?” she asked, looking concerned. “Something wrong?
“No, actually just the opposite. I’m finding myself overwhelmed by your style of writing. It’s exactly like mine!” Her eyes grew wide. “In fact, it almost feels as if I’m reading one of my own books!”
A wide grin spread across her face. “That means it’s good, right?”
I nodded. “So far. But now, let me continue.”
After about thirty minutes of reading, I turned over the last page and said to her, “You’ve done one hell of a job so far.” I could almost see her body deflate. She must have been practically holding her breath, so to speak, waiting for my verdict.
What I said left her beaming. “Okay, but I saw you write down a bunch of stuff. So what are some of the things you think are wrong?”
“No, no! Those notes were mostly for me. You see, you’ve given me an idea for a story of my own.” Her eyebrows shot up. “But here is my one suggestion. You said at the beginning, the two husbands were always at odds with each other over how to do things, like where to go for a vacation, or the best way to decorate a house for Christmas, or which sports teams were the best. So what I thought you might do was have the ghosts of both husbands show up and continue to drive their spouses crazy with arguments. Maybe you could even throw in a murder mystery, and have the ghosts continue to argue about the best way to solve the crime.”
For a moment, Kathy didn’t say anything, but I could see the wheels turning. “You make it sound as if I should be writing a comedy.”
“Well . . . why not? I could even show you where I thought you could throw in some humor.”
Once again, she looked as if she was thinking. Then slowly nodding to herself, said, “It might work.”
“Sure it would!”
Then looking straight at me she asked, “So what’s your idea?”
“You said you got an idea from my story.”
Avoiding her gaze slightly, I said to her, “Mine would involve a ghost hooking up with a female cop to solve crimes.”
Once again, her eyebrows shot up. “You got that from my story?” I nodded. “Well, I guess we both have some work to do then, don’t we? But first, could you show me where you thought I could inject some humor?”
We didn’t see each other for the next two days; we were too busy working on our books. By the time we did meet again, I had produced nearly forty thousand words—forty thousand words I was positive weren’t going to fall apart; I knew exactly where the story was going, and how it should get there.
We continued to exchange pages. She even had some suggestions for me, which I found to be right on the mark. So by the time our stay at the retreat was over, the both of us had finished the first drafts of our books.
Over the next year and a half, we stayed in touch a lot, mostly by email, but ocaisionally meeting for Friday night happy hours. It turned out, we didn’t live that far apart. I was still in Calrsbad, while Kathy lived on the other side of Camp Pendleton, in the town of San Juan Capistrano. We’d meet at a restaurant in lovely Dana Point.
Then to our surprise, we got asked if we’d like to be part of a ‘Meet the Authors’ panel at a local Barnes & Noble. By then, we each had two new books out. One of the audience members asked us if we had collaborated on our books, since the writing styles appeared to be so similar.
“Not on these,” I told the woman, “but we are collaborating on one now.”
“But that’s not the only thing we collaborated on,” Kathy beamed. “I just found out the other day I’m pregnant. We’ve scheduled our wedding for the fall after the baby is born.”
Of course, we received an applause.