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Up through the coconut trees

Coconut trees surround the cottage where I stayed for my retreat. Most days we were fortunate to have a fresh coconut to drink for breakfast.

The following is a true story, and I hope you laugh with me.  I had been hankering for awhile to get away from everyone and everything to write and illustrate my next book.

The opportunity came last February when a long time friend asked me to house sit her cottage in Hawaii. She had been away the last several years taking care of her elderly mother. My friend is an artist herself, and spoke of her beautiful large art desk by the north-facing window, the shelves of art supplies, and the ocean view. She sincerely wanted me to come to her place to write and paint.

Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? It did to me. I was already in California and the next day Hawaiian Airlines sent me an email offer— one-way airfare for $120. What would you do? Exactly. Seven days later I was flying high over the Pacific, filled with anticipation, reference materials, and my laptop.

When I arrived the cottage was in serious disrepair. The plants and trees had overtaken the lot and house, creating a jungle for animals and rodents. The house was moldy, the internet down, and the car unusable.

Two days later my friend surprised me.  She came to visit and decided to stay. Repairmen and landscapers with noisy machines came and went all day. Old friends dropped by. The phone rang day and night. The only quiet time was an hour or two in the very early morning. Escaping to the beach was also problematic. It was the height of the rainy season. Massive clouds covered the skies, pouring  down sheets of rain. Roads flooded. Schools closed.

When the rains paused, the winds blew fiercely. At the beach the wind and sand acted like a giant sandblaster, stinging my eyes and bare skin. This was a season of Hawaii I had not known.

The whole experience was the farthest thing from what I had expected for my retreat. My disappointment and frustration ran deep, consuming me, siphoning my energy and creativity.

It was time for a new game plan. I rented a funky old car to get myself to the college library and found a beach protected from the winds. I searched for temporary housing but to no avail. Staying with my friend meant embracing the chaos. I could work on research, but writing books had to be postponed for the time being.


The digital book of The Peaceable Forest was ready to send out for reviews, and that became my focus. I utilized the early morning hours for correspondence and to write marketing copy.  Helping my friend during the day, I decided to trust that my secluded writing retreat would come another time, another place.

Nearing the end of my Hawaiian stay I chanced upon an article in a Writer’s Digest magazine about writing retreats. The author had polled hundreds of writers about their ideal place to write, and where they would recommend going for a retreat. The article was peppered with personal experiences of writing retreats gone bad. In the end, more than half the writers concurred they got their best writing done at home.  Laughing at myself,  I thought, “What a concept! I’ll have to try it next time.”


What about you? Please share your experiences – good or bad, of retreats you’ve taken for creative pursuits.


  1. 9-6-2013

    I stumbled upon your blog while searching for writing retreats in Hawaii. This made me laugh! I’m sure my best writing is done at home, too :)

    • 9-22-2013

      Jessica, it just so happens I’ve made another attempt for a writing retreat. I’m on the island of St. Lucia for 6 weeks to write my next book. That said, I did just finish one at home.
      Best of luck with your writing. Let’s stay in touch. :)

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