River Pretty Writers Retreat

by Cassidy McCants

Every six months, writers from all over the South and the Midwest come together on the banks of the North Fork of the White River in Tecumseh, Missouri, for a weekend in the Ozarks. River Pretty Writers Retreat, started in 2012 by alumni of Missouri State University and Vermont College of Fine Arts, offers generative workshops in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction; panel discussions; informal talks; and readings by faculty members and participants. Retreat attendees also have the opportunity to share samples of their writing with faculty members who offer individual manuscript critique sessions.


Participant Bailey Moore reading at RP 13

I’ve just returned from RP 13, my third consecutive retreat in Tecumseh. After all the news about—and the reality of—natural disasters lately, my mind’s been on last spring’s RP 12, during which we endured a flood, the result of a powerful storm system that put much of Arkansas and Missouri underwater. Last spring we had to retreat from our retreat; this fall’s stay in the Ozarks was the more tranquil experience you’d expect from a weekend in the Ozarks. The flood damage earlier this year wasn’t nearly as devastating as it could have been. Our flood provided just a glimpse of the potential effects of a natural disaster.

The Flood

On Saturday afternoon, day two of RP 12 in late April, we watched the rain fall on Dawt Mill, the retreat’s riverfront site, which includes a restaurant, a bar, a general store, cabins, and an inn. By dinnertime the storm had strengthened, and it was clear that the basement of the restaurant would be underwater soon. We’d expected the rain, but the forecast hadn’t prepared us for the storm raging in front of us, feeding the river that grew visibly closer each hour. After dinner it looked like time to move up the hill, so we gathered at the inn, which is quite a bit farther up the bank. At this point we’d lost electricity, and some of us were without phone service. We were told by area police to stay on the hill but not to attempt to drive away from Dawt Mill, as several roads nearby were completely flooded already. I’d been enjoying the rain, but fear and anxiety were creeping up for me and for my roommates. A few friends had planned to camp, and we offered to share our space at the inn with them; we tried to keep calm as they moved in their bedding, their food, their personal items. Some of us spoke openly about the fear setting in; some of us were quiet, waiting anxiously for any indication the storm would end soon.

One “cowboy comedian,” a Dawt Mill entertainer, serenaded us that evening as the rain kept at it. Because he couldn’t leave the mill either, it seemed that he was stuck with us for the night. During a break in the music, just as the last bit of daylight left, I walked onto the porch of the inn and saw something I think I might never forget—I saw the cabin in front of me, just maybe forty feet away, wash away into the river. Dawt Mill was nearly unrecognizable—much of it had been taken by the water, only an hour or so after dinner. I wasn’t yet afraid for my life, really, but I knew we might not be able sleep in our room that night. I didn’t know where we’d go. The storm wasn’t giving up.

Soon, fortunately, local firefighters found a safe escape route for us and led a caravan to the firehouse. Most of us slept a few hours that night in our cars in the parking lot there. In the morning the firemen prepared us breakfast and let us know as updates came in about the state of the roads nearby. I’d ridden to the firehouse with my friend Bailey, so once it was safe she took me back to my car at Dawt Mill. The river hadn’t touched my car at all, and though Bailey and I were relieved to see that most of the buildings still were standing, the damage was pretty devastating. The inn was there, but it was soggy, smelling of wet wood; debris covered the grounds where cabins had stood. Thanks to local firefighters and police, the Dawt Mill staff, and River Pretty faculty, no one in our group was hurt or lost. Everyone survived, but it was clear everyone was shaken by the reality of the water’s power. I know I was. This was the closest I’d been to a life-threatening natural disaster—and I live in Oklahoma, land of tornadoes. Water is pretty, and water is powerful.

The Comeback

I wasn’t sure we’d have a place to gather for this fall’s retreat, but Dawt Mill was open and ready for us the first weekend of October. I also wasn’t sure how many people who’d endured the flood would go back—the experience surely caused some trauma. But I found that many of the attendees from the spring had readily returned. I spoke with a retreat-goer and friend, Hannah, this past weekend about the experience—she said, “I felt like I had to come back after that.” I knew exactly what she meant; the force of the flood had brought us all together. It was a terrifying experience we all endured, and RP is just the place to share those stories. We’d seen nature’s power, its rage, and we’d survived.

IMG_2772RP 13, though, brought us beautiful weather, low water levels, communion, and free time to write in the Ozarks. This fall’s guest faculty members were Robert Vivian (pictured) and Rick Jackson, both faculty members at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Their readings, as well as those by River Pretty faculty (Ian Bodkin, Lee Busby, Rich Farrell, Chaz Miller, Jen Murvin, Steve Rucker) and retreat participants, created a warm, cozy, and inspirational atmosphere as soon as we gathered.

If you’re a writer in the area, I hope you’ll consider attending a retreat in the future. I’ve always loved autumn, but now that I have River Pretty—even after a flood!—and the Nimrod Conference for Readers and Writers to look forward to, I eagerly await October all year long. I think it’s all about coming together with a community that makes you feel at home and that encourages and inspires your growth. Together we thrive.

And now it’s writing conference time for Nimrod! Join us in Tulsa this weekend for the Conference for Readers and Writers, and join the River Pretty crew next spring.

Cassidy McCants, Associate Editor of Nimrod, is an M.F.A. candidate in Fiction at Vermont College of Fine Arts.





Nimrod’s Conference for Readers and Writers: What to Expect and 6 Reasons to Attend

by Eilis O’Neal

Our annual Conference for Readers and Writers is coming up on October 21st. It’s our biggest program of the year—and the one I get the most excited about. This will be my 17th Conference with Nimrod, and I thought I’d describe what attendees can expect and why it’s such a great day.

The Conference is an all-day event designed to help writers improve their writing. It’s practically focused—as in, our aim is to offer practical, concrete writing and craft advice. We bring in published authors from a variety of genres to act as workshop leaders and panelists—writers who are at the tops of their fields and love sharing their best advice about writing.

We start the day off with two panel choices, one that is entirely Q&A about editing and publishing (questions like “What does a literary agent do?”; “How do you know when you’re finished revising a story?”; and “What do publishers think of writers who have self-published some of their work?”) and one that focuses on a question of craft (this year panelists will talk about “Writing Through the Hard Parts,” whether that’s doing tough research, writing about a traumatic personal event, writing from the viewpoint of someone different from you, and more).

After the panels, participants have their choice of several workshops. Some of them focus on a particular genre and subject within that genre, and some of them focus on an aspect of the publishing industry. The workshops are just over an hour, and they range in size from 10-15 people to 40-50 people. The workshops can vary in style, but in general they feature a solid presentation on their topic, plenty of time for questions, and sometimes a writing exercise or two.

After the first round of workshops, we break for lunch, which is included in the cost of registration and which features programming in the latter half as we conduct the Awards Ceremony for our national Literary Awards and share the work of the winning writers.

After lunch, it’s time for another choice of workshops, and after those we have a reading by our guest authors and one-on-one editing sessions with our editors. Writers who want a one-on-one editing session send in a short selection of their work in beforehand, and we give it to one of our editors for review. At the Conference, the editors sit down with their writers for 15 minutes each and give them a personal critique, telling them what they’ve done well and what they can do to improve the piece. The day ends with a book signing with our guests.

So what makes everything I’ve described above so special? Here are a few of my favorite reasons.

  • It’s inclusive. No matter who you are, there’s a place for you here. We have writers of all kinds at the Conference. High school students, college students, adults, senior citizens. Writers who have been to many conferences and published their work in multiple venues, and writers who have never attended a writing event before and have never shown their work to anyone. Writing can be a very solitary pursuit, and a writer’s career can have a lot of stages, so it’s gratifying to be around people who share your passion and can identify with your experiences.
  • It’s customizable. At any given point at the Conference, you have a choice about what you want to do. Are you a genre writer? We’ve got classes in multiple genres, from mystery to young adult to fantasy to romance. Don’t want a one-on-one editing session? You don’t have to have one. It’s very much a case of “do what you love,” and we try to have a variety of choices to appeal to many different types of writers.
  • It’s laid-back and friendly. Sometimes the word “conference” can sound intimidating, but ours is at heart a very chill, very laid-back day. We have a good crowd, but it’s not overwhelming. Our guest authors and editors are extremely giving and generous—they’re glad to be here and eager to interact with participants. We’ll be wearing jeans and sneakers. It’s a day for writers about writers—one where you can come as you are.
  • It’s one of the only events of its kind in the area. We’re proud to be from Oklahoma, but there is a catch for those of us here in OK and the surrounding states: we don’t have as much access to writing/arts events as writers who live on the coasts or in larger cities. There are simply fewer events for us in drivable distance. One of the reasons we host the Conference is because we know how important and exciting it can be for writers to learn from authors they admire, who have lots of experience and advice to share. Being at a conference like this and getting guidance from published writers can be a watershed moment for your writing career and/or process, and we’re really glad that we can offer these kinds of opportunities for those of us in so-called “flyover states.”
  • It’s individual. In addition to the group classes, we have our one-on-one editing sessions and, this year, one-on-one novel pitch critiques with an actual literary agent. This kind of individual attention isn’t offered at many conferences, but it’s something that we always include at ours.
  • It’s affordable. Our regular registration fee is $60, far lower than the $100+ fees you’ll find at many conferences. And we offer scholarships that lower the cost to $10 for writers of all ages in need. It’s important to us that no writer be left out because of cost, so we do everything we can to keep the Conference affordable.

In short, the Conference is a unique opportunity for writers, one that can help writers at all stages hone their abilities. But most of all, it’s fun, a day where we can all get together and celebrate the creation of the books, stories, and poems that we love. If you’re a local writer, I hope that we’ll see you at this year’s Conference on October 21st. You can register online or by sending in a registration form from our website.

Eilis O’Neal is Nimrod’s Editor-in-Chief. She is also a writer of fantasy and the author of the young adult fantasy novel The False Princess.