I’ve enjoyed a few artist residencies during my short time as a published writer, and they’ve all been different: located in different parts of the country, with varying lengths of stay, accommodations, perks, and expectations of the artist. Certainly, my own creative output during each has varied. During one artists’ residency, I began a new novel; at another, I researched that novel and wrote poetry; at yet a different residency, I wrote an essay that actually won an award that ended up covering the cost of a rental car and plane fare to and from that residency.
At my most recent gig as the very lucky Artist-in-Residence at The Reserve at Lake Keowee in Sunset, South Carolina, where I stayed for a week, I wrote five pages of what I imagine will be the sequel to Keowee Valley.
I know what you’re thinking. Five pages–only five pages–in a week’s time? Let me explain: my family was there with me. Yep, the husband, the (newly-turned) 4 year-old, and the 12 week-old. Only one absent was the dog.
I know there are writers out there who can write amid professional and familial chaos, but I am not one of them. My brain spins in overdrive and my imagination is as fickle and mercurial as an afternoon thunderstorm over the Southern Appalachians. And if you know nothing about the storms we get around here, they’re moody, fast-moving, completely random, and often violent.
So what I’m saying is, five pages is miraculous! Especially since the 3rd trimester of pregnancy and these first few months of my infant’s life have been energy-sucking. Wonderful, wouldn’t-trade-it-for-the-world wild, and exhausting. To feel inspired to write again was a blessing. And the impetus for the inspiration was entirely because of our gorgeous and peaceful accommodations at the guest house of a pair of incredibly generous members. (Who also happen to be HUGE Clemson fans. Go Tigers!)
The guest house was set away from the main house across a lovely bridge spanning a little mountain cove. Bubbling and gurgling (and full-on rushing, as it was after several days in a row of rain) down the back of that tree-filled cove was a series of small waterfalls. The creek rushed beneath the bridge just below the house, emptying into the lake nearby. Inside, the home was elegant, comfortable and warm–a combination I think can be sometimes difficult to find. Designed with rich wood, stunning stone and completely outfitted with anything a guest could need, it was the perfect place to get my groove back.
Yes, I just said that. Forgive me, Stella.
For most of the days we were there, if the baby and the 4 year-old let me, I would wake at 5 a.m., brew my coffee and head out to the screened-in porch on the second story. The porch overlooked the aforementioned bridge and creek, and so when I looked out all I saw were green trees–all I heard the rush of water through the woods. Heaven.
Kathryn Gravely, the Director of the The Community Foundation, had pretty much the absolute perfect week planned for me: one book talk to members of a couple different book clubs in The Reserve, two informal meet-and-greets with members outside The Reserve’s Market, and one history talk at Orchard House, a beautiful room with a huge fireplace located at the Clubhouse. Orchard House reminded my husband and me of an inn we’d stayed in when we’d traveled in Scotland several years ago. With a kick of Southern style, of course.
The rest of the week, Kathryn told me, I was to relax with my family at the lake and by the community’s fabulous pools (let me just say that there was a grotto), enjoy the natural beauty of The Reserve (the lake, hiking trails, orchard, views, etc), and to WRITE. What a gift!
As a bonus, I met some fantastic people during the week, at the informal gatherings, by the pool, at the Market, and at both my talks. Kathryn–who is as genuine, classy, cool, and savvy as they come (not to mention very, very good at her job)–had assured me at the beginning of the week that The Reserve was home to some of the friendliest people I’d ever meet, and she was right. In addition–and she’d told me this, too–the folks there were welcoming, very casual, inclusive, and fun. This was something I’d not necessarily expected from a place as “exclusive” as The Reserve. Meeting and talking with people from all walks of life is probably, besides the actually crafting of the story, my favorite thing to do as a writer.
In addition to all the good fellowship, let me just say that this was an incredibly generous artists’ residency in so many other ways. And I’m truly grateful to have received it.
** Next time, I’ll talk about some of the other things I got to do at The Reserve, including exploring a couple of early 19th century graveyards, hiking around an “Indian cave,” and answering questions about local Cherokee history and culture. I’ll also share my thoughts about how to best enjoy and utilize an artists’ residency like this one.