A Closer Look: Madcap Retreats

As writers, we’re constantly trying to improve our craft and we’ll use whatever we can in order to do so. Twitter threads, craft books (also see, books), TV shows, classes, etc. While writing can be pretty solitary sometimes, learning about writing doesn’t have to be if you don’t want it to be. There are writing retreats—shorter than a class and more scenic!—where you can connect with other writers while learning more about your craft. They’re also really fun and there might be mysterious murder cabins upon arrival.

I’ve been lucky enough to attend two Madcap Retreats—the inaugural Aspiring Authors Workshop & Retreat and Writing Cross Culturally Workshop. If you’re unfamiliar with Madcap Retreats, it’s run by the lovely Natalie C. Parker, author of BEWARE THE WILD, BEHOLD THE BONES, and the upcoming SEAFIRE trilogy. To paraphrase Madcap’s own mission statement, it offers affordable workshops and retreats for writers at any stage in different locations around the country, e.g. Tennessee near the Smoky Mountains. Some of the other certifiably cool people on the Madcap Retreats steering committee are Dhonielle Clayton, Tessa Gratton, Justina Ireland, and Julie Murphy.

Faculty at the Writing Cross Culturally Workshop via Madcap Retreats’ Instagram. From left to right: Adi Alsaid, Heidi Heilig, Leigh Bardugo, Natalie C. Parker, Julie Murphy, Justina Ireland, Daniel José Older, Dhonielle Clayton, Tessa Gratton, and Nicola Yoon.

I thought it might be useful if you’re considering going to a Madcap Retreat, but aren’t sure what to expect, if I went over some of the basics! Both of the workshops I went to had between 50-70 people at them (including faculty). There are usually a variety of room choices at the big workshops like these (I’m talking a huge mansion of sorts). The Aspiring Writers place had a huge bunk bed room in the basement with other bunk rooms scattered throughout the house with multiple beds in them, e.g. bunk beds, trundles, fulls, etc. The Writing Cross Culturally house had king/queen beds and lots of bunks. You get placed with a few roommates and violà!

The workshops take place primarily over three days (but make sure to block out five days so you can travel to and from the location). Each day has 3-4 presentations from the workshop’s faculty, e.g. Microaggressions in YA Lit with Justina Ireland or Meta Narratives vs Details with Tessa Gratton (aka post-structuralism at 9am, no less). Each night after dinner there was a panel on a different topic and the faculty speak more casually than during their presentations, which are more like a college course, so take notes and ask questions! You can also chat with the faculty a bit between sessions if you have a more specific question, but remember they have writing they need to get done, too!

From left to right: “The Do’s, Don’ts, and Pitfalls” panel moderated by Julie Murphy with Justina Ireland, Daniel José Older, and Dhonielle Clayton.

Because I’m super nerdy (and I write fantasy), I love the breakdowns of world building that the faculty have done, and I’m sure will continue to do at future workshops. As we’ve expressed on this blog, world building is essential for your characters to become living, breathing people and much of your world dictates how they interact with it. I love to think about all the different facets of the world I’ve created and its nuances, but sometimes you hit a dead end. At the Writing Cross Culturally Workshop, Daniel José Older gave a presentation titled, “Othering: Culture & Characters” where he dissected power and its context in our writing. You can check out this article he wrote if you’re interested in that topic (check out #3 for power). Because when I was in graduate school I loved topics like political economy, Older’s talk was invigorating. Power comes in layers, and I personally had a lot of fun analyzing where my characters encounter it in my work in progress and where I can intensify it in the future.

Daniel José Older speaking at the Writing Cross Culturally Workshop

My favorite part of the workshops though was definitely meeting other writers. At the latest retreat, I kept apologizing to people because I was talking so much (fun fact: when I got home my voice was hoarse!) Being with other writers who are dedicated to improving their craft and care about the stories they want to put out into the world makes me incredibly happy, ergo chatty. I’d made friends from all over the country and also all over the world (shout outs to Australia and Canada!) because of these retreats. I wouldn’t trade the laughter or hearing about other people’s books for a single thing (well…maybe their books in my hands?!) If you’re a shy person, I promise that the faculty and other attendees are so incredibly warm and welcoming at these retreats/workshops. But if 50-70 is too much of a crowd (very reasonable), there are smaller retreat options and you’ll make friends at those, too! Meeting other writers opens up more joy, more stories, more perspectives, and honestly is there anything better than that?

via Madcap Retreats’s Instagram. Find me, I’m pretty hard to miss!

I’m going to channel LeVar Burton as I say, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Madcap Retreats sparked my creativity back to life, and I’ve met wonderful people who inspire me to keep writing. If you’re interested in learning more about craft and meeting other writers, I highly recommend attending a Madcap Retreat if you can—it might be the creative kick you need and you can potentially stare wistfully out at mountains as it happens.

“Practice.” -Natalie C. Parker; “I change myself, I change the world.” -Gloria Anzaldúa


On Twitter you can read the hashtag #MadcapRT and read about other people’s experiences at the workshops. You can also check out Madcap Retreat’s Twitter, Instagram, and official website. Be sure to keep an eye on those spaces for their upcoming Fall 2017 workshops and join the fun!

MOUNTAINS. Because I had to!

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