53 — Weaving Wormholes, Making Magic

I spent the last week in Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania.
Where? No, the map doesn’t know where it is…but the magic does.
The Highlights Whole Novel Workshop for Fantasy, in Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania.

The first stop, the family home. This house in pastoral Boyds Mills belonged to the ancestors of the founders of Highlights and has been in the family for generations. Tucked in among the trees in a such a remote corner of Eastern Pennsylvania, even the cell phone towers cannot find you, it is the perfect spot for a retreat from the real world and a flight into fantasy. This is where participants gather to eat, drink, and critique.

The House of Happiness at Boyds Mills

Straightaway, I knew I was in for a treat when I was picked up at the airport and delivered at the doorstep of my temporary home, complete with a huge poster welcoming me by name.

Cabin of Creativity.

Inside the cozy cabin, was a beautiful tote with my name, a conference lanyard and fun-filled schedule for the next eight days. No roughing it here. The cabin was heated, airconditioned, had its own frig, and a study corner where I set up my laptop and got to work.

Relaxing Retreat.

Only eight manuscripts were chosen from the “slush pile,” eight lucky writers who were divided up between two incredible instructors who read the manuscript twice before we even got there and sent us a detailed editorial letter by e-mail. The forest queen of our group, Anne Ursu, is an author of several fantasy books including Shadow Thieves and is an instructor at the Hamline University Low Residency MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults.

Ursu Majors — Becoming Bears

Ellen, Rilla, Sylvia, Anne, Elizabeth

The lovely Laura Ruby is the author of several fantasy books for children, including Lily’s Ghosts and her latest Bad Apple.

Laura’s Ladies

Amanda, Karen, Claudia, Laura, Pam

Mornings were free time. After breakfast, you could go back to your cabin and write, go for a long walk in the woods that contained deer, porcupines, wild turkey, woodchucks,…and ticks, or swing to your heart’s content.

The Swing of Sweet Abandon

After lunch, the workshopping began. Each writer had already sent every participant the first fifteen pages of her work and it was time now to put herself on the line and listen to questions and concerns.

Critiquing Karen – The Darling Dearie

Prattling in the Parlor

Despite just having her manuscript critiqued, Pam, our resident Fairyeater didn’t bat an eyelid. She opened up her cookie container, took our comments with a cupful of sugar, and had us chomping on sweet sugary wings!

Feasting on Fairies

In the evening came the lecture. Each instructor took turns talking on serious subjects such as fear, revisions, and strong characters. Not for naught, was this our favorite time of day as it also came to be known as The Cocktail Hour, shortly to be followed by hors d’ouvres.

Christine Curls Up With Character

Christine Heppermann was our graduate assistant. She is a poet and a regular reviewer for the Horn Book Magazine. Her poetry appears in the May/June Issue as well. She also holds an MA in children’s literature and an MFA in writing for children and young adults!

Elizabeth’s smile reflects keen knowledge. She knows what comes after hors d’ouvres!

Sly Smile

Dinner of course! We were feasted and feted by the almighty Marcia and her team of helpers including Mary, an expert at milking the last drop of wine from its container. No food restriction was too difficult for Marcia. Her menus catered to the gluten free, the lactose intolerant, the vegetarian, the apple-allergic–nothing was too difficult for the culinary queen.

Caring Crafters of Gourmet Grub

Dinner on the porch was always a rolicking affair. We all knew we would put on pounds despite being told by Marcia that Jane Yolen had beaten the odds and lost weight on her balanced meals. We knew we couldn’t be that lucky, yet. Maybe after we too have published two thousand odd books…

Dining Delight

We did have to share the house with Others. Creatures the world forgot…and…

Glitter Critter

…the odd ghost or two.

Anonymous Aunt Wreaks Havoc on Writers

And then the time came to a sudden close and we didn’t know how we were going to continue. Life after Highlights seemed bleak. To ease the pain, they gifted each of us with a novel from our esteemed instructors which we promptly insisted they sign, as if they hadn’t done enough for us, already.

Authors Autographs

It was so hard to let go.

Armwrestling Amanda

Nobody wanted the fantasy to finish.

Claudia Clamps Down

The Last Supper was tinged with sadness, and promises of reunion.

Distinctive Dining

And now forever, we have woven a wormhole in our memories to a time of togetherness, a magical place shared, and I for one will return regularly through our portal of magic. The memories are so vivid, I don’t even have to shut my eyes.

Thank you, Anne, Laura, Christine, Tina Dubois Wexler, Amanda, Claudia, Elizabeth, Ellen, Karen, Pam, Sylvia, Marcia, Mary, Martha, Pam, Briann, Jo Lloyd, and the Highlights Foundation and family! This has been the most worthwhile workshop or writing retreat I have ever attended.

24 thoughts on “53 — Weaving Wormholes, Making Magic

  1. Claudia Finseth

    Magic, magic, magic. We were surrounded by a magical setting, magical things, and quirky, imaginative magical writers. I miss you, Rilla! Will you please email me these photos? And I love the shot you got of the magical bug on my finger. I think it’s a wishing bug, a portal bug, and I made a wish we would all get together again someday.

    1. rillajaggia Post author

      I miss you, Claudia. Without you…I’m just a Nithing. I will email the pictures to you today. Thanks for holding up the glitter critter. It sure likes the camera…the little diva. You’re right about it being a portal bug. Can’t wait to see you again.

    1. rillajaggia Post author

      Thank you, Anne! You and Laura and Christine set the tone for the workshop; you are the ones who started the magic. May the portal bug bring us together again, soon.

  2. Lynn Kelley

    Wow, Rilla, I’m so happy for you! I can’t wait to hear more about your wonderful retreat. I always wanted to attend this workshop. You look so happy in the pics. You deserved this special treat. Great blog. I bet it makes all your readers want to go to this next year. We can hope and dream. Maybe someday….

    1. rillajaggia Post author

      Hey Lynnie,
      You SHOULD attend a whole novel workshop at Highlights. I don’t think there’s anything else quite like it out there. To be able to discuss my entire manuscript in such a magical setting was a gift. I do hope you can catch a portal bug and fly on out there…or…just ride the Pink Bus!

  3. Maria Toth

    Awesome pics, Rilla! LoVe that cool bug and fun tree swing! The lush woodland surroundings look like something plucked right out of a fairytale! You didn’t happen to see a small cottage made of gumdrops, lollipops, and peppermint sticks, during one of your hikes, did you? Sounds like you had a magical experience that only the woodland fairies, gnomes, and other writers who attended can truly grasp! Thanks for sharing!!!!

    1. rillajaggia Post author

      Thanks, Maria. I thought of Butterfly Hollow out there. I’m afraid the gumdrop cottage was already eaten. And, the gnomes were so hungry they began to chomp on the cabins at night. Hope you get a chance to go there and build another one πŸ™‚

  4. Pat/Tricia O'Brien

    Oh, I want a Glitter Critter, a portal bug. I felt so much like I’d been there after looking at your pictures and reading your post that I started to feel weepy it was over! Someday, I really want to go to that workshop. Thanks for bringing it to life.

    1. rillajaggia Post author

      Hey Pat,
      I hope you go to one of these workshops. Anne and Laura will be teaching another one on fantasy next year. You can find your own glitter critter…and maybe I’ll join you too πŸ™‚

    1. rillajaggia Post author

      Thanks, Carol! That’s exactly what it was. An experience of a lifetime. I feel so very lucky. Now I’d better get the book published and make Anne and Laura’s teaching come to fruition. Butt is Back in Chair…and this time it’s a bit bigger…the better to stay there, my dear!

  5. Pam Halter

    Rilla!!!! I’m smiling. And I want a glass of wine. It’s only 7am! HA!! Your discriptions were great. What memories! I agree – it was about as perfect a writing retreat as it could get. I truly hope we can do it again. Miss you!!

    1. rillajaggia Post author

      Yeah, Pam. My brain keeps screaming out “Cocktail Hour” every hour. I’m sitting here at my desk and I keep reaching over for the glass of wine, wondering why it’s only a bottle of water. Hmmmm. OK, before anyone gets the wrong impression…this retreat was about writing not wine. It WAS!

  6. Ellen Reagan

    Wow. What a wonderful storyteller you are, Rilla! With both pictures and words. Your alliteration, internal rhyming, wit and whimsy — so awesome. My favorite line? “The map doesn’t know where it is. . . but the magic does.” So very true. And a big part of the magic was YOU.

    1. rillajaggia Post author

      Oh, Ellen. If anyone is a weaver of tales of wonder, it is you. I was lost in the forest but for you πŸ™‚ Thanks for being there. Thanks for sharing Red with us. I can’t wait to hear the rest of her story. So get at it! I’ve got the whip out!

  7. Pingback: More about Highlights workshop « It's about time!

    1. rillajaggia Post author

      Hey Lupe,
      Don’t know if you guys could handle that much wine, haha! Actually, guys are very welcome…you just have to apply to the conference, if you want to go. Simple! And trust me, it’s very, very worth it.

    1. rillajaggia Post author

      Green is a very becoming color on you, Katia. Oh what am I saying, every damn color is becoming on you πŸ™‚ Just hope you can make it there, yourself, soon. It is so amazing. You’d love it.

  8. Rebecca Langston-George

    Ooooh, it sounds so fabulous! I’m signed up for the June 12 Whole Novel Workshop with Jane Resh Thomas and Carolyn Coman. Your blog post makes it sound so tantalizing–I can’t wait.

    1. rillajaggia Post author

      Awesome, Rebecca! You will LOVE it. And your intructors are amazing. Good luck, have fun, learn lots, and drink barrels. Let me know how it went when you get back!


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