As I come into the final stages of publishing Return on Integrity, I already find myself reflecting on this three-year journey. In one instance, a simple Google search for a writer’s retreat seemed to reveal the perfect solution to my writers’ bloc. The website description of this isolated 150-year-old farmhouse, tucked in the hills of Virginia, was like a dream come true!
Unlike making a simple reservation for a tourist’s bed and breakfast, there appeared to be an application process you had to complete … fully describing your writing project. In the spirit of efficiency, and avoiding bureaucracy, I decided I would just call the number shown on the website. I thought a quick call about my project would be better than yet another writing assignment!
To my surprise, the owner of this writer’s retreat picked up the phone. We had a delightful 30-minute conversation and I was in. It almost seemed too good to be true!
Unlike a bed and breakfast … you supply your own food and cook your own meals. With the closest grocery forty minutes away, you needed to carefully plan your shopping list for a seven-day-stay.
I arrived on a cold and cloudy Sunday afternoon in late January. With five bedrooms in the home, I was anticipating the atmosphere of a commune. I was looking forward to the natural motivational osmosis of hanging out in a community of writers.
The owner cheerfully greeted me at the door and gave me a thorough tour of the house. She also noted how lucky I was to virtually have the entire house to myself, since I happened to be the only writer in residence until Thursday. That sounded both good and bad … but an environment completely free of distractions did feel like a bonus.
The house embraced every feature of a structure that stands 150 years … unique character, numerous creeks and some breezy insulation. The owner lived in the back isolated section of the structure. She mentioned, in passing, she would be out for the evening with a friend.
I unpacked my small luggage and my week’s load of groceries. By then, it was time for a quick quiet dinner and then up to my assigned bedroom to prepare for the week ahead.
I was up early the next morning, eager to set the routine for a great week of writing. I went down for breakfast, lunch and dinner and never saw a soul. Other than the creeks of the house, I never heard a sound either. There was a train that slowly rumbled-by about every 90 minutes. It never blew a horn because there was absolutely nothing to blow at in this deeply isolated environment.
Tuesday would be like Monday. Breakfast, attempts at writing, lunch, more attempts at writing and dinner … without any human connection … without any sounds … except for the rumble of a train with which I was starting to consider developing a friendship.
The intensity of the isolation was certainly unfamiliar and the arrival of other writers on Thursday still seemed like a long way off.
Following dinner, I continued my attempts at writing … trying to make an extra push to what seemed like climbing up a large incline. By 11pm I had nothing left for the day. I climbed in bed and quickly fell sound asleep … at least until 2am when I suddenly awoke in what felt like a sheer panic attack. The goose bumps on my legs felt as mountainous as the region. My heart was pounding and thoughts began flooding in with clarity and certainty … this place was NOT what it appeared to be!
It wasn’t a writer’s retreat at all … it was a trap where they kill people!
I felt like a complete fool for not more thoroughly researching this place. No wonder I didn’t have to fill out the application. There were no other writers … and there wouldn’t be any other writers on Thursday either.
I started plotting my “middle of the night” escape assuming it would need to be both strategic and quick. I decided I didn’t need my clothes or luggage … but I did need my laptop. I mentally mapped out the dash for my computer bag, which already contained my wallet and car keys. In the fog of the night it seemed doable … until I remembered the massive number of creeks in this very old trap. I imagined being super fast with a high speed getaway.
But then I realized … they were way ahead of me and had probably already taken the battery out of my car. There was no use. I was stuck … and I was mad at myself for being so irresponsible.
It seemed to be pointless, but I quietly reached for my iPad on the nightstand, deciding to do some belated research. I discovered narratives on murder after murder in this house. NO, I’m just kidding! I actually discovered the truth through the grateful reflections of writer after writer sharing their incredible experiences and great accomplishments in the very house in which I laid.
I admit, I first felt horrible about where my thinking had led me … and then relieved to see this wonderful writer’s retreat for what it really was and all that I had hoped it would be.
Wednesday was the same routine as the days before, but a completely different experience. The writing began to flow like never before.
At breakfast, on Thursday, the owner finally came through the kitchen to check on me. I realized she had truly wanted to give me exclusive use of the space to work on my manuscript. I didn’t tell her I had thought she was going to kill me, but I did mention how the silence had become a bit overwhelming.
She smiled and insightfully reflected, “Yes, it’s kind of amazing when the only thing you can hear are your own thoughts.” I smiled back and replied, “Yep, I suppose you need to be careful what you’re thinking!” She laughed as if she somehow understood exactly what I was saying.
By Thursday afternoon, other writers started moving-in while my writing continued to pour-out. It was a defining moment in a journey that continues.
I’m alive and well … and Return on Integrity publishes on April 19, 2016!