Helen Hooper spent twenty-five years as an environmental lobbyist in DC before turning to writing full time. She is a recent Stegner Fellow at Stanford and has an MFA from Warren Wilson. Her fiction has appeared in The Common,The Hopkins Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New South and elsewhere, has been awarded support from foundations and artists colonies, and has been a finalist for several literary prizes. She has taught at universities as well as in programs for inner-city youth in Washington, D.C. She is currently working on a novel set in northern Alabama.
Did the retreat meet your expectations?
Yes! The house was charming, the setting lovely. A great place to write.
What was the most unexpected part of your stay?
Experiencing the daily life there – the chickens and vineyard workers and newborn sheep across the street.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of your retreat?
The complete change of pace, and the break from the routine – and snow! – back home.
Did the vineyard setting inspire you and/or your writing? In what ways?
Total immersion in a different, and in this case very beautiful, landscape does something that is hard to define. The senses are so important, but how all that filters into the work is a mystery.
What did you work on during the retreat?
Revisions to my novel.
In what ways did the collaboration retreat enhance the experience and the work you did?
My co-resident is one of my best readers, and because we were both in revision-mode for the residency, we read and marked up and discussed each other's projects. It was fantastic to be able to do that in person, and with long walks and evenings after dinner to talk for hours about it all.
What other activities did you do during the retreat—any napping, hiking, or exploring the area?
We walked every day, took a couple of side trips to local sites, and vented into the local grocery store for provisions. We did a fun wine tasting and Kathleen Inman was incredibly generous with her time and patient with our questions about everything. But we also made a decision early on not to get carried away with recreation, meal prep, and so on. We were there to write and kept things pretty simple.
Did you participate in any activities or events arranged by the host winery?
Yes, a wine tasting.
Any tips or advice you think might be helpful for future residency applicants?
I like to have a very specific project, and within that, a daily goal. Word count, page count, whatever. But that's just me. Someone else might want to experience the gift of those unencumbered days another way.
Any advice for other future participants in collaborative retreats?
This was my first joint residency, and I think it was good to figure out right away where we were each going to work and decide every day on a rough schedule for quiet solo work time and activities together. Writing requires solitude, or at least the library-like situation we created in our separate cones of silence. Headphones help!