Alia Volz

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Alia Volz is a San Francisco native, a strange bird. In 2002, she moved to Cuba, becoming one of the first Americans to attend the University of Havana since the Revolution. Her fiction and essays appear in Tin House, Threepenny Review, The New York Times, New England Review, Utne Reader, Huizache, The Rumpus, Barrelhouse, ZYZZYVA and elsewhere.

Did the retreat meet your expectations?

Goodness, yes! There was something extra-inspiring about being chosen by Writing Between the Vines to drop out of life and simply write for five days. Words never come easily to me, but I felt like I had the wind at my back. I wrote some 17,000 words of a brand new book, and it didn't even hurt.

What was the most unexpected part of your stay?

I'm a night owl by nature--an outspoken hater of mornings. I've heard other writers wax about their productive early hours, but I wake up groggy and miserable. My room at Inman faced east, and I was awoken the first morning by the most fabulous pink light streaming around the blinds. When was the last time I'd seen sunrise? It was so lovely that I had to get up, and before I knew it, I was typing. I didn't bother making coffee for the first hour. Being half-asleep gave those passages a rhythmic, dreamy quality. This happened almost every morning at Inman. It felt magical.

What was the most enjoyable aspect of your retreat?

At home, I do my writing in odd bursts and snatches around a full-time work schedule--late at night, on weekends, during my lunch break--usually getting one good writing day, plus a few spare hours. My energy and thoughts are divided. What a luxury to wake up with nothing to do but write! Responsible only to my art. Now that's sweet.

Did the vineyard setting inspire you and/or your writing? In what ways?

I loved watching the day's light move across the vineyard, how that marked the passing hours. We lucked out with wonderful spring weather. Using an ironing board, a porch swing, some coffee-table books and a bunch of cushions, I improvised an ergonomic workstation on the shaded front porch, so I could comfortably type outside all day. The relaxing scenery helped ease my mind into the narrative. I fought myself less than usual, and caught flow after flow.

What did you work on during the retreat?

I used my time at Inman to begin a new project, a nonfiction narrative based on my great-grandmother's memoirs of her marriage to a ghost. The raw material is juicy, but I've been struggling to find the right voice and form for the story. Having this block of uninterrupted time gave me the freedom to experiment. It was wonderfully productive.

What other activities did you do during the retreat?

I took a walk every evening. Nothing huge, just a stroll down country roads. The most adorable fuzzy lambs lived at the end of our lane, and they bounded over to check me out. My co-residents and I took turns cooking, so there were wonderful dinners at the house. We also shared breaks during the day to refresh our minds, brainstorm challenges, and laugh about silly things. And of course we had to celebrate our last night with a fancy-schmancy dinner in Graton.

Did you participate in any activities or events arranged by the host winery?

The winery was busy with pruning during our stay--which involved about fifteen workers and was an interesting process to watch. On another afternoon, Kathleen Inman invited us into the tasting room to try her marvelous biodynamic Pinot Noirs, and hear the fascinating story of how she got into winemaking.

Any advice or tips for future applicants that wish to apply and work together?

My co-residents were two women from my writing group. I knew we'd get along, but it worked out even better than I'd anticipated. Some friends would've been distracting, but the three of us found a great rhythm. Long periods of silent work, short breaks to chat or brainstorm, more solitude, and then a nice communal dinner. It's important to choose co-residents who will be able to balance hard work and relaxation.

Any other comments you wish to convey?

Thanks to Writing Between the Vines and Kathleen Inman for a wonderful and productive week!

writersMarcy Gordon