Sometimes it’s impossible to convey a particular personality or transcribe another’s personal passion second hand. I asked Zeke to tell me in his own inimitable words about the retreat, which was his brainchild, in cahoots with our generous, gracious host, Minneapolis entrepreneur Nick Halverson, who owns the property where the festivities took place, in a remote, incredibly scenic section off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.
Zeke’s workshops were much more practical and process-oriented than mine, which delved more into the “why” of writing by looking inward for the sources of inspiration. Zeke was all about the “how,” which is really the hard part for most of us. He made it sound easy, though. That’s part of his gift.
Amazingly, this was his first gig as a professional writing instructor. I was there for all of his workshops, and his attention to little details of the day-to-day “drudgery” required to actually be a “real” writer, his patience with his pupils, his dedication to the craft, and exemplary sense of discipline were on vivid display, without a hint of reticence or reservation. He not only knows his stuff, but he knows how to share his hard earned knowledge with others in a way that is never condescending or confusing. His methods are clear, concise, creative, and best of all: effective.
Naturally I can’t reveal his techniques here, since if interested, you’d have to pay for that privilege by actually flying down and attending one of his workshops, tentatively slated to take place several times a year in his beloved, beautiful adopted home of Costa Rica.
This is the ultimate “working vacation.” Your productivity will be matched by your pleasures, trust me. The entire package is designed to appeal to both the tourist and the author inside of you. There’s no better location for the two to converge, then emerge. And there’s no better “tour guide” than Zeke. It’s an ideal match of teacher and venue.
Anyway, I’ll let Zeke himself take it from here…
What was your inspiration for the founding of this retreat?
When I was staying at Las Villas de San Buenas for 3 months last year, I wrote an entire novel, My Dirty Books, that's getting published later in 2017. During that time, my constant companion was my journal. I also wrote numerous blogs and more than a few personal letters. The point is, I found this slice of Costa Rica my own personal Walden, my own Movable Feast, my writers' paradise. I found the place conducive to creativity whether I was looking inward and writing about events I had not thought about in decades or simply describing the extraordinary Costa Rican skies, I found I was never without inspiration. And thus, The Writers' Retreat of San Buenas was born.
What is your overall assessment of how the first one went?
This writer and lover of words is having difficulty formulating the right ones to describe how proud I am of our first retreat. It was so successful. Totally exceeded expectations. I am an artist and take my art seriously but I'm not an elitist. I believe everybody has a story to tell and everybody has the potential to be a writer and the difference between bad art and good art is strictly subjective.
Who was your target demographic?
I encouraged all writers regardless of experience to come to our retreat. In the end, we had two published poets each working on their first novel, one famous actor, a seasoned journalist, an ex-con working on his memoirs, and a professional musician who hadn't done any creative writing in over 20 years. To describe the retreat attendees as eclectic is an understatement.
What would you say the main takeaway was for the attendees?
Each attendee thrived in their own way. My writing workshops are designed to write. That simple. Talking about writing isn't writing. My workshops are designed to get writers in the habit of writing every day, to create their own inspirations, not wait for it to come to them, It's designed to silence your inner-critic and to prevent the chronic procrastination plague from taking you over. Various attendees pulled me aside to tell me they were doing their best writing ever, or they were telling me about the sheer volume of the writing they were completing and every attendee at the retreat produced writing that genuinely moved and impressed me. Every single one.
And how was their interaction with one another, all being strangers in a strange land?
The other point of pride is how well everybody got along. You literally could sit back and watch friendships develop. And there were also coincidences we couldn't have planned if we tried. For example, Tom Shaw, a professional pianist and John Kapelos, a well-known character actor, are the same age and grew up not far from one another. The musician in suburban Detroit and the actor across the water in London, Ontario. These two would sit at the breakfast table and reminisce about the radio stations and shows and discuss what each listened to coming of age in the 1960s and 70s. You would've thought they were old friends. I overheard post-retreat plans being made among the attendees. Hey, come visit me. I've got plenty of room and I know all the good bars and restaurants.
Was there any artistic tension?
Every attendee paid attention to everybody else's work and were totally supportive. Saw no competitiveness or disrespect but rather support, encouragement and solidarity. It was beautiful to observe.
Anyone or anything else you wish to mention?
Many thanks must be extended to Nick Halverson who was the genius behind the scenes that made everything go so smoothly. And Will, you were the perfect guest instructor for our first retreat. Irreverent, funny, and the consummate writer whose entire life and prolific output is inspiration to all writers.
What’s next for you, besides planning the next retreat?
I have more books inside me to write and wish to try other genres like History and Crime but I do believe my life purpose is The Writers' Retreat of San Buenas. This will be my legacy.
Thanks and kudos, Zeke. You are an inspiration not only to everyone who attended the retreat, but also for anyone reading this right now. Salud!
PHOTO: NICK HALVERSON