Madcap Writers Retreat: Writing Cross-Culturally

Photo Credit: Suzi Ryan Photography

This month I attended Madcap Retreat’s Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop and oh my goodness. Wow. This retreat was absolutely amazing. If you’re a writer, no matter what level you’re at, you need to do whatever you need to do to make sure you attend this workshop in the future.

This was the second year that Madcap organized the Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop. There is also an annual Workshop for Aspiring Writers and an upcoming retreat for Black, Indigenous, & Writers of Color which I am totally eyeing after my wonderful experience at the Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop.

The Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop was a 4 night, 3 day workshop in Lyles, TN. It was coordinated by Natalie C. Parker, author of Beware the Wild, its sequel, Behold the Bones, the upcoming novel, Seafire, and editor of the anthology, Three Sides of a Heart. The workshop was presented by We Need Diverse Books. Let me give you a break down of the stellar faculty for this workshop:

Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, Chains)

Marie Lu (Legend, The Young Elites, Warcross, Batman: Nightwalker)

Dhonielle Clayton (Tiny Pretty Things, The Belles)

Zoraida Córdova (The Vicious Deep, Labyrinth Lost)

Tessa Gratton (Blood Magic, The Lost Sun, Strange Grace, The Queens of Innis Lear)

S. Jae Jones (Wintersong)

Sarah Nicole Lemon (Done Dirt Cheap, Valley Girls)

Side note, Natalie not only put together Madcap Retreats, she also put together the Agented Writer Hook-Up for newly agented writers to find an online support system amongst their fellow writers also starting out in the industry. It’s great! Anyway, as for the retreat itself, all I can do is say thank you a million times to Natalie, Dhonielle, Tessa, Kaitlyn Sage Patterson (The Diminished) and everyone involved in organizing this retreat. It was truly transformative for my writing and for me as an individual going about the world each day.

The Venue

The venue was so cozy and lovely and I can only imagine how beautiful it is on a warm summer day or in autumn after the leaves have fallen. So the space (which sits on 300 acres of land) has one main cabin and a handful of small cabins spread out nearby throughout the grounds. Once you’re actually on the land, it’s a doozy getting up to the main cabin (one lane road in the nature) but we got there so all is well. I stayed in the 22 bunk room in the main cabin and I have nothing but good things to say about it. I thought it would be overwhelming but it absolutely was not. That’s also a testament to the attendees, it was a GREAT group of people, oh my goodness.

My suggestion for those attending would be to bring earplugs if snoring is disruptive to your sleep and a blanket if you’re cold more than you’re warm/hot as the blanket provided is quite light. Also, especially if you’re in any of the other rooms which are smaller so the air circulation is more closed in, be sure to take care of the feet/sock situation.

Speaking of feet, feel free to bring slippers when you go if you don’t want to walk around in your socks or uncomfortable footwear because it’s super casual and chill throughout the day. On the other hand, there are plenty of walking trails on the grounds so if that’s something you’re interested in, bring a sturdy pair of sneakers or boots.

As for the food situation… I was one of two vegans there and there were a handful of vegetarians there as well and before you get to the retreat, you fill out a survey detailing your food restriction so that the Chef can prepare accordingly. She did and I had no issues! Thank you Chef Deb! That said, I also brought snacks because I always come prepared and I ate them all, so I’m glad that I brought them. Bring snacks, no matter what you eat (Note: There is a communal fridge that not many people used, so take advantage of that), because you have the comfort of your faves with you. Also, bring a reusable water bottle because the water is filtered and great and you’ll be so glad you brought a bottle with you. If you drink tea, I’d recommend bringing your own tea bags as there’s a kettle in the kitchen for use whenever. Coffee is provided and it’s coffee, so, yeah. It will do its job and bring the energy up! I think I covered everything? So, moving on…

The Workshop 

Below is how the workshop is described on the website. And oh my goodness, did they deliver!

At the Writing Cross-Culturally Workshop, writers will be provided with resources and tools for telling stories that are not their own with care, respect, and sensitivity. We will discuss representation and misrepresentation, as well as the damage it can do, privilege and point of view, cover basic dos and don’ts as well as dig deep into the many ways our own prejudices and privileges connect to every part of the writing and publishing process. Participants will be encouraged to look beyond themselves and their inherent biases, as well as begin to learn how to analyze not only their own internal prejudices but those endemic to publishing as an institution and culture, and the greater cultural system that creates and recreates bias and privilege.

The workshop opened with Dhonielle Clayton setting the tone for the workshop with her lecture, “What is Writing Cross-Culturally?” and transitioned to Zoraida Córdova’s lecture, “Culture & Characters.” Then, Natalie led a few writing exercises and the first day came to a close with a Q&A with Natalie, Dhonielle, & Zoraida. Each day, there was a break between each lecture and of course breaks to eat.

The second day, Tessa Gratton presented her lectures, “Metanarratives and Power” and “Coding and Language.” Laurie Halse Anderson then presented “Reflecting Diversity in the Fictional World.” If you ever have the opportunity to see Laurie Halse Anderson speak, take that opportunity up! Then, Tor Editor, Miriam Weinberg (she’s V.E. Schwab’s editor) presented her lecture on Critical Reading, which was absolutely fascinating. Wow. She also led an impromptu panel on another evening which was great! She definitely opened up our eyes and dispelled a few myths about the industry. I really appreciated the fact that the retreat had a voice from not only the creative side but also the business side… and it was also quite entertaining to see Miriam learn about the creative process before it gets to her (for those who were there: we shall never forget the First Draft incident hahaha)

The third and final day, S. Jae Jones & Sarah Nicole Lemon held a discussion on writing with an eye on the intersecting landscape of class, culture, and race. Aside from Dhonielle’s lecture on day one, this was the presentation that I hands down got the most out of, as it really spoke to the issues that I feel strongly about and have been longing to really iron out in my own writing. Then came Marie Lu’s lecture, “Using Real World Diversity to Create Secondary Worlds,” and a final panel featuring Laurie, S. Jae, Sarah, and Marie, moderated by Natalie.

I learned A LOT over the retreat. I was given the tools to challenge myself in not only my writing but in life. This retreat helped me clean my own lens, a lens I knew was clouded but didn’t realize by how much. This retreat makes you ask yourself, “Where am I privileged in my life and how does that show in my writing whether I want it to show up or not?” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, The danger of a single story, was basically the theme of the retreat, if you will.

With that said, this retreat gave me the tools and confidence to code better in my writing as well as create even more depth with my characters and their arcs…and GO FOR IT (because the worlds that I create are begging me to anyway). This retreat helped me to think wider in my research and to understand the responsibility writers have with every word, especially in regards to the principles of context and intent and writing with purpose not just for a good story but for the actual human being holding the pages together…this retreat showed me how to hold it together.

I am forever changed after this retreat. This retreat was that push I needed to do what I knew I needed to do and it helped me navigate through the elements in which I was stalled for some time, so thank you, thank you, thank you to all of the faculty for your words. I already know that my writing is better for it.

There was also a portion of the final day dedicated to book signing so if you brought books with you to be signed or bought books there (Parnassus Books came), that was the designated time to get everything signed. I totally bought Done Dirt Cheap by Sarah Nicole Lemon and I started reading it on the plane ride back home. I am loving it! Highly, highly recommend! Anyway, each day ran very smoothly and the faculty was so kind and approachable and great. Kudos to the faculty for being so awesome.

The People

It was so great to meet the majority of the 4 dozen attendees (check out the Twitter list of most all of us here) though it was especially special to meet my CP, Lucie Witt in person for the first time after meeting online and becoming CPs through Publishing Crawl‘s Critique Match Up 5 years ago. It was also quite something to see people that you become so familiar with through social media (whether from afar or interactive) in person. On the whole though, I’m so very excited to see what projects come out of this group of attendees, especially since the experience of the attendees ranges from drafting and dreaming of querying all the way to some attendees having already published multiple novels. If you’re reading this, know that I am rooting for you all. I am rooting for you.

Huge thank you to the workshop committee, Natalie C. Parker, Dhonielle Clayton, Tessa Gratton, and the entire faculty! I can’t even begin to express my gratitude. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I totally stole this photo from Kosoko Jackson’s Twitter. From Left to Right: Adib Khorram, Lana Wood Johnson, Me, Lucie Witt, Kosoko Jackson

For more information about MadCap Retreats, visit their official website.