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Writers' Retreats and Workshops

Cook Island


by Kathy O'Fallon


My first visit to Cook Island inspired three short stories and the beginning of a novel, each piece guided by a different voice. Location, location, location, the realtors preach, and they are right, atmosphere encompassing the history of a place as well. Rumor has it that Percy Cook, great-nephew of the famous Captain James Cook, won the island in a card game. His ingenious spirit can be felt today, as the teak drifting in from South American shipwrecks he used to build his house and furniture survived a century of hurricanes. Cook's storm-battered books still line the living room shelves, including accounts of his adventures as colorful as his collection of beach-combed bottles.

Cook Island pulses with tropical plants and birds such as the night crown heron. Everything on the island feels more alive, hermit crabs fooling you into thinking the shells you're about to pocket are uninhabited. At night an etude of Key deer tiptoeing among the mangroves and pandanas symphonizes with the sound of flopping fish and the breeze fingering through the palms. You see the same spectacular sunsets here as on any western horizon, except they make you feel as if you've been given a private audience.

You arrive by boat to a private dock (about a dozen homeowners own the island), an hour from Key West including the car ride. Here the sky supplies the electricity and water, and there are no telephone lines (cell phones do work). Living in harmony with nature and each other here is a given, your senses ignited by the environment. The muse might catch you swinging in a hammock, star-gazing, snorkeling, fishing, or engaging in a conversation with a raccoon. Food is plentiful, and individual preferences considered. Bedrooms are single or double, and bathrooms shared. A maximum of eight participants share two guest cottages, the main house available for communal dinners, meetings, library, and printing your works-in-progress.

Resident hosts are published authors with extensive group experience and a knack for making you feel welcome. At the retreats they facilitate optional afternoon peer feedback sessions and evening open "mics." As a special treat, guest authors visit for a day. Coordinated with the timing of the January-February Key West Literary Seminar and Writers' Workshops, you can extend your writing experience during the week with Island Muse for a little over a hundred dollars a day including meals, lodging, and transportation from Key West.

From March until May, five-day workshops are offered by leading authors in their genres. Rebecca Seiferle, editor of The Drunken Boat, and recent Pushcart Prize and Western States Book Awards winner for her most recent collection, Bitters, will instruct an April poetry workshop. Sandy McKinney, The Alsop Review poetry book reviewer and author of the translation, I'm Speaking, will co-lead also in April with Lola Haskins, author of six poetry books including Hunger, winner of the 1992 Iowa Poetry Prize. In March, Stellasue Lee, poetry editor of Rattle Magazine and author of Crossing the Double Yellow Line , will instruct on transforming journal writing into poetry. Rosalind Brackenbury (poetry and an essay in The Drunken Boat) author of ten novels, short stories, poetry, and essays, most recently Seas Outside the Reef, will lead The Gaia Workshop, focusing on the connection between ourselves and the earth in our writing. Dustin Beall Smith, New York Times Magazine and The Gettysburg Review author with fifty films to his credit, will teach How to Find the Heat in Memoir and Personal Essay. Fiction workshops will be taught by Dave Daniel, author of six books including White Rabbit, scheduled for a 2003 release by St. Martin's Press, and Jim Savio, creative writing teacher and author of The Fairy Flag & Other Stories. Jim will also lead a writers and anglers workshop for the fishing enthusiast.

Perhaps it's the lush tropical growth or the rich history of the island, or simply your presence which inspires creativity, but my bet is you will deepen your writing experience at Island Muse. For more information, go to www.islandmuse.com, or call (858) 342-6434, or write Island Muse, 1330 Camino del Mar, Del Mar, CA 92014.

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Kathy O'Fallon Kathy O’Fallon’s award-winning short stories have appeared over a dozen times in literary journals and university presses. A recent devotee of poetry, she has been published in several anthologies, as well as Rattle, Tidepools, and Pif Magazine. Her collection, When the Moon Spills Her Milk, was published by The Inevitable Press, and Underbelly was published by Far Star Fire Press. A psychologist in private practice, O’Fallon has also taught at Stanford University, University of California at San Diego, and University of San Diego.