Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Two weeks ago I caught up with my fabulous writing group in Massachusetts for our annual workshop. It's been 10 years since we first met at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, and we've been supporting, critiquing, inspiring and improving each other ever since. This was our anniversary of sorts, so we chose a location that was of great literary importance (as opposed to meeting at someone's house like we usually do each year). We were light on manuscripts to edit, which meant we had lots of time to partake of the intellectual delights that the Concord/Amherst area of Massachusetts has to offer. Behold!

This sweet house is where we stayed--Sarah's Haven, located on a pond in a wooded area outside Worcester.  Hand crafted by an amazing woodworker, it was full of surprises--secret closets, hidden rooms--like a ship's galley, there wasn't any wasted space.  And cleverly designed, too!  Check out the entry way, set up for boots, coats, mittens:

And the pond:

 Naturally our first stop was Concord, Orchard House to be precise.  Everyone knows Little Women is one of my favorite books of all time and Louisa May Alcott ranks up there with Shakespeare on my Great Writers list.

I was reallyreallyreally excited to see Louisa's childhood home.  We had a great tour guide, too. She was incredibly knowledgeable about the Alcotts, their friends and their various involvements and didn't just stick to the script about Louisa's life.  I'd have loved to had lunch with her and talked more.  If we lived near, we'd be besties, I'm certain of it.

I didn't learn much new during our tour.  Louisa's father, Bronson, was a philosopher who kept his family in poverty, but his mind was so fantastic that guys like Emerson kept him around.  Louisa lived in a circle where Henry David Thoreau taught her and her sisters biology at Walden Pond, Ralph Waldo Emerson was a regular guest.  She and her sisters were surrounded by great ideas, minds, inventions and resources.   The interesting thing I did learn was how talented an artist her sister, May, was.  The house still has her drawings on the walls and window frames--she sketched on every available space and her work is truly remarkable.

 I had some deep thoughts outside of Bronson Alcott's chapel.  Not really.  I was mocking him for sitting around thinking all the time while his wife and daughters did all the work.  Imagine if the world hadn't been so sexist then...

Next stop:  Walden Pond.  I read four books at regular intervals throughout my life:  A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, Little Women, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and Walden by Henry David Thoreau.  Based on this list, you might imagine how visiting Concord was a religious experience for me.
 The site of Thoreau's cabin where he lived for two years--in the woods, deliberately.  The pile of rocks to the side (visible below) are tributes from his fans.  Seriously, people, I was in Thoreau's woods!  Breathing the air he breathed!  Walking where he walked! 

And swimming where he swam/drank/bathed/did dishes!  I was pretty geeked out.

On our way out of Concord, my heart full and my head spinning, we stopped by Longfellow's Wayside Inn for dinner.  It looked as charming as you'd expect.  We dined on authentic colonial fare, including some of the BEST British ale on tap, Indian Pudding, potatoes and a steak Marni claimed she could cut with the side of her fork.  (I had a lobster roll.)

My third day in Concord involved edits on my manuscript (reader--I'm waffling between two titles:  Riding the Edge and Changing Gears--any thoughts?).  My dearest Screw Iowa Writers Workshop gave me brilliant advice and tuned it up so I'm ready to make final layers of revisions before sending this new baby into the world.  

Days four and five in the next post, I have groceries to buy, children to hassle and a garden to tend.  Meanwhile...
Spill it, reader:  where is your dream vacation?  What destination would inspire a religious fervor out of you?
© 2014 Melissa Westemeier All Rights Reserved


  1. What a great trip for a writers' group! It looks like the three of you had a grand time.

  2. Puts my Book Club trips to shame. Enjoyed the article.

  3. How amazing to visit the places where those who inspired you to write, once lived. A ladies trip with an intellectual touch - perfect! I would so enjoy dinner at a colonial inn - we went to a couple near Philadelphia and you feel the history.

  4. Three things:

    1.) I love the pictures! This looked like a great vacation. :)
    2.) I don't know enough about the book to know the best fitting title, but I like how Changing Gears sounds.
    3.) My dream vacation would be to go to Vancouver, I think. When I waitressed at Plum Hill, a customer was visiting from Vancouver, and I sat there for an hour listening to her talk about it. She spoke with such reverence about this place, and so it must be at least sort of magical. So maybe I'll get there someday. :)

  5. WOW WOW WOW!!!
    I'd have to read a bit of your manuscript to truly help you on a title choice. Not knowing anything, I like the first one because it especially makes me want to know more. (Does that help?)

    I think my dream vacation destination would be to go back to Europe with a good camera and plenty of memory cards. I've been scrapbooking my old photos, getting them out of magnetic albums, and I so wish I could go back and take "mo' better pics."

    An entry way like the one in your holiday house is a design that should be copied and repeated in many homes. Once again, I wish for a proper mud room.

  6. I like your two book titles and I couldn't vote since they are both good and I would need to know more about your book. What a thrilling place to stay, I would get goose bumps too, especially with the cottage, pond and Walden Pond. My uncle gave me Emerson and Thoreau books when I was a preteen and I still have the books and admire the writers. Plus, yes, Mere Christianity I always keep near. Thanks for this post and sharing about your writers' group.

  7. Wow! What an amazing trip! Hard to say not having read it, but generally I like Riding the Edge. "Changing" has different connotations than "Riding" ... right? Riding the Edge sounds exciting and I want more. Changing gears sounds like work. But that's just me. :-)

  8. Oh I am just wicked jealous! What a trip! Trip of a lifetime.

  9. I had the same kind of reactions when I was in London, especially at the Tower Of London and Westminster Abbey.

  10. What a great trip! I love New England. I cannot even begin to imagine where my dream vacation would be. We are going to NYC for a short vacation this year - not my dream vacation, but for a number of reasons it's what we're going to do.

  11. We lived near Concord, and Walden Pond is indeed pretty. It is funny how dense massachusetts is with AMAZING literary history!

  12. What fun! We lived in Boston when I was a young child, and I remember being taken to some of those places. What I remember most is the school house that inspired "Mary had a Little Lamb." I think it is in Sudbury, though. I would definitely like to see Orchard House.

    My dream vacation would be to return to Cape Town.

  13. Oh, that makes my glad my son is going to school in Boston for the next 5 years. So many more places I can add to my "need to visit" list.

    We are kind of taking a "dream vacation" to get said son to school. Husband is driving him clear across the country, I will fly to Boston to meet them and drive home with said husband. The stops on the way back are my choice! Whoo-hoo!

  14. I sort of like Changing Gears.

    None of my groups of girlfriends are quite that highbrow. Maybe I need new friends? Most of our trips, no matter who I'm with, seem to involve wine.

    Dream destination? There are a few. Venice, safari in Africa, the outback in Australia and Alaska, where I dream of finding the town of Cecily and all it's characters. I mean, it's real, right?

  15. I like Changing Gears myself.

    No matter which group of girlfriends I'm with, we never do anything that highbrow. Maybe I need new friends?

    Dream destinations - Venice, safari in Africa, the outback in Australia, and Alaska, where I find the town of Cicely and all it's characters. Because that town was real, right?

    Also, this is why I don't have highbrow adventures - I want to visit the fictional site of a TV show, not the home of an actual writer.

  16. I love Concord! Looks like you had a great time.

  17. It was a wonderful week and made so because you were there! Loved how you succinctly told the high points. A week I won't forget soon~
    I like Riding the Edge ...

  18. Wow! A religious experience indeed! It sounds amazing!
    I personally like Riding the Edge. :)

  19. Your descriptions had me giggling in excitement. New England is so rich with history. Focusing on the history of your favorite authors is just downright dreamy. Glad you had a great time and got the inspiration you need.

  20. Have you ever read any of the Ellis Peter's books, about Brother Cadfael (if you've seen the TV productions, I can only feel sorry --SO terrible). I would feel this way about visiting Shrewsbury in England. I know the layout of the old town by heart, and probably the Abbey and river as well. And it's been 15 years since I re-read one of those books. They are true gems. I've wanted to go there for a long time :-)

  21. Again, I'm jealous. I recall seeing Walden Pond (still have the photo on the side of my fridge) and thinking, "Wow, Me and Thoreau!" and a million other people. I think it is very cool that your writing group retreats as they do. And one that met at the Iowa Workshops. Did I say, jealous?


Spill it, reader.