Monica Nolan received an MFA in film from San Francisco State University but switched to writing when she realized pens and paper were cheaper than cameras and film. She has written articles about film and pop culture for Bitch Magazine, Release Print, Lambda Literary and the San Francisco Chronicle. She writes about film for several local film festivals and blogs semi-regularly, mostly about lesbian pulp fiction, vintage teen fiction, and film. She has published four novels and co-authored a book of short stories, all parodies of lesbian pulp fiction.
Did the retreat meet your expectations?
The retreat exceeded my expectations. I've gone away for self-directed writing retreats before, but something about doing the same thing under the aegis of an organization that is essentially saying "go write!" gave this extra oomph. And the tranquility of the location was more of a factor than I expected in my productivity and energy.
What was the most unexpected part of your stay?
The baby lambs across the road.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of your retreat?
Having my coffee in bed with my computer and research materials, while watching the blue jays in the shrubbery outside.
Did the vineyard setting inspire you and/or your writing? In what ways?
I was working on a novel set in the Swiss Alps almost a century ago, filled with political intrigue--so maybe not directly. However, working outside while the pruners did their thing in the vineyards made me aware of all my senses (I'd seen pictures of pruners at work, but had never realized what it sounded like--the twanging of the wire trellises) and I think unconsciously I put more visceral details into my imaginary setting than I otherwise might have.
What did you work on during the retreat?
See above. This is an idea I've been thinking about on and off for several years. It's the story of an adolescent girl who goes to a remote Swiss boarding school in the late 1930s and the secrets and intrigue she uncovers there. It's about being seduced by a world and then coming to understand what fuels that world, and the subsequent disenchantment. I worked on a rough plot outline and story arc, and wrote a draft of the first chapter during my stay.
No one can write 24 hours a day! What other activities did you do during the retreat—any napping, hiking, or exploring the local area?
I brought my bike, knowing there would be gorgeous roads to bike on in the neighborhood. I wasn't disappointed. I took late afternoon bike rides to Graton and Windsor, and took myself out for coffee in Sebastopol one morning. I'm a big bird watcher, and enjoyed spotting hawks especially on the channel path. I also read a lot--mostly boarding school books, and some history.
Did you participate in any activities or events arranged by the host winery?
Kathleen invited us to stop by for a wine tasting, and two of us took her up on it. Lovely wine and good conversation at the end of a rainy afternoon! Since my day job is in the communications department of the California Wine Institute, I particularly enjoyed talking wine and learning a little more about the wine-making process.
Do you have any advice or tips for future applicants that wish to apply for a co-residency and work together?
We'd shared space at a writing workshop in Squaw Valley, so we knew what to expect from one another, to some extent. I think that let us skip some negotiating, getting to know you stuff. We are also all part of the same writing critique group, which made it comfortable to talk shop--our projects, publishing venues, etc.--as well. We were respectful of each other's privacy, but cooked together and shared dinner at the end of the day, which I really enjoyed.
Can you sum up your experience in eight to ten words?
I'll do four, and the most important ones, to me: productive and immensely pleasurable.