About Me, Joan Dempsey

I've dreamed about being many things in my life: professional baseball player; graphic designer; psychologist; anti-nuclear activist; poet; advocate for animals; lawyer; university professor; and novelist.

(Can you guess which of these dreams have come true?)*

Today, I'm a novelist and writing teacher.

The great thing about being a novelist is that I get to be whoever I want to be! At the moment, I'm a male firefighter, a wrongfully convicted woman newly released from prison, and an 87-year-old former state attorney general . . . I love writing novels!

The great thing about being a writing teacher is that I get to bear witness to writers like you as you become whoever you want to be, too. I adore working with women like you who write novels.

My debut novel This Is How It Begins, was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Awards, the Sarton Women's Book Award, the Foreword Indies Book of the Year Award, and won a bronze medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards. I won the Maureen Egan Writers Exchange Award from Poets and Writers and was thrilled when Poets & Writers Magazine named me one of "5 More Women Writers Over 50 to Watch." Whoa . . . you can make dreams come true!

I hold advanced degrees in fiction writing and creative writing pedagogy (from Antioch University LA), certificates in adult education and facilitation, have provided feedback to more than 300 writers on their manuscripts, and have taught online writing classes to thousands of writers from all over the world.

*And . . . drumroll, please . . . here are the other dreams I've made come true:

Yep, I've been an anti-nuclear activist and advocate for animals. I studied psychology and graphic design, took poetry classes, and drafted new laws while working as a lobbyist for animal welfare issues. If I'd been twenty years younger when I tried out for a short-lived, pro women's baseball team, I could have played second base at Fenway Park. Instead, I got to talk about it on NPR's "Only A Game," my first exposure as a professional writer, which was pretty damned sweet.

Still have questions about me? Learn more here.


Meet Our Special Guest, Monica Wood

"There is no such thing as wasted writing."

Writing Retreats - One-in-a-Million Boy
Writing Retreats - Any Bitter Thing
Writing Retreats - When We Were the Kennedys

Our guest for dinner one evening at this retreat is Monica Wood, novelist, memoirist, and playwright. Her most recent novel, The One-in-a-Million Boy, has been published in 22 languages in 30 countries and won a 2017 Nautilus Award (Gold) and the New England Society Book Award. She is also the author of When We Were the Kennedys, a New England bestseller, Oprah magazine summer-reading pick, and winner of the May Sarton Memoir Award and the 2016 Maine Literary Award. Her novel Any Bitter Thing was an ABA bestseller and Book Sense Top Ten pick. Her other fiction includes Ernie’s Ark, which has been excerpted on NPR's "Selected Shorts" and selected by several towns and cities as their "One Book, One Community" read; My Only Story, a finalist for the Kate Chopin Award; and Secret Language, her first novel. Her widely anthologized short stories have won a Pushcart Prize and been featured on public radio. Her nonfiction has appeared in Oprah, The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Parade, and many other publications. Her first play, Papermaker, debuted at Portland Stage in an extended run, its bestselling play ever. Her second play, The Half-Light, debuted at Portland Stage in 2019. Monica is a lifelong Mainer and lives in Maine with her husband. 


Meet Our Special Guest, Robin Talbot

Robin Talbot

"One of Stonecoast’s fundamental values is to foster culturally diverse writers who have a clear understanding of the role writers play in social activism ... We are very proud of our program ... as one of the nation's top five low-residency programs."

Our guest for dinner on Sunday, June 7, is Robin Talbot. Robin is the associate director of Stonecoast MFA at the University of Southern Maine where she is also the faculty advisory to the Stonecoast Review. Robin has written two scripts for documentary films: A Call to Action: A Community's Dream, which outlines the struggle for civil rights in Maine; and Starting Over: Understanding and Supporting Refugee and Immigrant Experiences. Robin holds an MA in arts administration and is an expert in the area of writing for social justice. 

She has served as a board member for Black Education and Cultural History, the NAACP Excellence in Education (Portland Branch), the University of Southern Maine’s Multicultural Curriculum Sub-committee, Women’s Resource Center Advisory Board, Festival of Arts and Scholarship committee, and People of Color, Voices in Unity Conference.


Meet Our Special Guest, Susan Conley

"I realized with certainty, half-way through the book, that I was going to have to write my own darn novel, because the novel that I’d wanted to read—the novel I’d bought and was holding in my hand—was not the novel I hoped it would be."

Our guest for dinner on Thursday, September 3, is Susan Conley. Susan is a Mainer and the author of four books including her new novel Elsey Come Home. Her memoir The Foremost Good Fortune, was the first book she published and it was an Oprah Magazine Top Ten Pick, an Entertainment Weekly Memoir to Read, and the winner of the Maine Literary Award for Memoir. Her novel Paris Was the Place was a People Magazine Top Pick, a Slate Magazine Summer Read, and an Elle Magazine Readers Prize Selection. Her third book was a whole other animal: a photography collaboration called Stop Here This is the Place, which was a Real Simple Magazine Must Read and also won the Maine Literary Award for Publishing Excellence.

Susan's writing has appeared in other places like The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Harvard Review, The North American Review, The New England Review, Ploughshares, and other magazines. She's received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Maine Arts Commission, and the Massachusetts Arts Council. She grew up in Maine and loved living in Vermont, California, Boston and China before she moved back to Portland, Maine, where she lives now. 

Susan is on the faculty of the Stonecoast Writing Program at the University of Southern Maine and is the co-founder of the Telling Room, a creative writing lab for kids in Portland.


Meet Our Special Guest, Lily King

"There are very few things I would love to do other than a life of writing."

Our guest for dinner on Tuesday, October 20, is Lily King. Lily grew up in Massachusetts and received her B.A. in English Literature from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and her M.A. in Creative Writing from Syracuse University. She has taught English and Creative Writing at several universities and high schools in this country and abroad.

Lily’s first novel, The Pleasing Hour (1999) won the Barnes and Noble Discover Award and was a New York Times Notable Book and an alternate for the PEN/Hemingway Award. Her second, The English Teacher, was a Publishers Weekly Top Ten Book of the Year, a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year, and the winner of the Maine Fiction Award. Her third novel, Father of the Rain (2010), was a New York Times Editors Choice, a Publishers Weekly Best Novel of the Year and winner of both the New England Book Award for Fiction and the Maine Fiction Award. It was translated into various languages.

Lily's novel, Euphoria, won the Kirkus Award for Fiction 2014, the New England Book Award for Fiction 2014 and was a finalist in the National Book Critics Circle Awards. Euphoria was named one of the 10 Best Books of 2014 by The New York Times Book Review. It was included in TIME's Top 10 Fiction Books of 2014 and the Amazon Best Books of 2014. Reviewed on the cover of The New York Times Book Review, Emily Eakin called Euphoria, “a taut, witty, fiercely intelligent tale of competing egos and desires in a landscape of exotic menace.” The novel is being translated into numerous languages and a feature film is underway.

Her new novel, Writers and Lovers, is forthcoming in March 2020.

Lily is the recipient of a MacDowell Fellowship and a Whiting Writer's Award. Her short fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, and several anthologies.


Saturday, April 25 – Friday, May 1 with special guest Monica Wood

Saturday, June 6 – Friday, June 12 with special guest Robin Talbot 

Saturday, August 29 – Friday, Sep 4 with special guest Susan Conley

Saturday, Oct 17 – Friday, Oct 23 with special guest Lily King


These writing retreats are limited to only five gutsy writers.
Will you be selected?


Exclusive Writing Retreats on the Maine Coast

Brought to you by award-winning novelist Joan Dempsey

Give yourself the gift of time to finish your novel.


The gift of uninterrupted time to focus solely on your novel.

Powerful inspiration to jumpstart your confidence and ignite your determination.

Unequivocal support to banish any doubts and fears.

Feedback to get you over the finish line.

Intimate connections with four other writers, all of us determined to finish our novels.

The magical beauty of the Maine coast—those ocean ions will lift your spirits.

Our focus?

Helping you finish your novel!

(Limited to Only 5 Writers)

Writing Retreats - Joan Dempsey

Hello! I'm Joan Dempsey.

I am fortunate enough to call the state of Maine "home," and I want to share the magic of this place with other writers who, like me, are writing novels.

I love, love, love working on novels (mine and yours)!

And I adore retreats. Many of my most cherished writing experiences (and—no surprise—best work) happened while away from home.

Plus, I'm an educated and experienced fiction editor and writing coach.

So, I got to thinking . . . why not combine these passions and invite some gutsy writers to join me so we can retreat together?

What kind of fun would that be?!

Want to find out?

2020 Retreat Dates

Monica Wood

April 25 – May 1, 2020

With Special Guest
Monica Wood

This retreat includes a private dinner with the award-winning author of the novels One in a Million BoyAny Bitter Thing, My Only Story and Secret Language, as well as the acclaimed memoir, When We Were the Kennedys.

Robin Talbot

June 6 – 12, 2020

With Special Guest
Robin Talbot

This retreat includes a private dinner with the associate director of the Stonecoast MFA program, who is also the faculty advisor to the Stonecoast Review and an expert in writing for social justice on the page, stage and screen.

Aug 29 – Sep 4, 2020

With Special Guest
Susan Conley

This retreat includes a private dinner with the author of the novels Elsey Come Home,Paris Was the Place, and Landslide (forthcoming from Knopf in early 2021), as well as the Oprah Magazine Top Ten Pick memoir, The Foremost Good Fortune.

October 17 – 23, 2020

With Special Guest
Lily King

This retreat includes a private dinner with the author of the multi-award-winning novel, Euphoria. Other novels include Father of the Rain, The English Teacher and The Pleasing Hour. King's new novel, Writers & Lovers, is forthcoming in March, 2020.

The Gutsy Great Novelist Writing Retreat – Is It Right for You?

Writing Retreats - Women Laughing

Five Writers Only

You're right for this retreat if you . . .

  • are actively working on a novel;
  • want to write the best novel you can possibly write;
  • are prepared to tackle the tough emotional work that could be necessary to conquer your doubts, fears or resistance;
  • are willing to hear honest, direct feedback, even if it's not what you were hoping to hear;
  • are committed to being an engaged group member;
  • are determined to invest time, financial resources and energy; and
  • are ready to have the time of your life with a bunch of gutsy, like-minded writers.
Writing Retreats - Private Beach

Freeport, Maine

When you choose to surround yourself with natural beauty, and get utterly pampered inside a gorgeous modern home, and have only supportive people who are also writers as companions, it’s easier to focus entirely on your writing in all the best ways.

Think about it. You’re so busy taking care of everything else in your life, who has time for much writing? 

This retreat gives you the luxury of time to write.

You’ll have all sorts of wonderful spaces for writing—in your own private room, in the garden, on our private beach, out on one of the decks overlooking the ocean, at one of several large tables both inside and outside the house, or in front of the fire on a cozy couch.

Writing Retreats - Retreat House

Six Nights

We begin with a reception early on Saturday evening.

We'll have all day Sunday through Thursday for your private writing time, private coaching sessions with Joan, group work sessions and readings, craft Q&As and downtime.

All meals are prepared by our personal chef. Breakfast and lunch are available whenever you wish, and we'll have dinner together in the evening, including one dinner with our special guest, a literary light from Maine.

Wednesday is a "free" day with no organized gatherings—head off to the beach, for a hike, or into town (Freeport, Brunswick and Portland are all a short distance away).

Friday morning we'll have a farewell breakfast together, then send you on your way.

(Limited to Only 5 Writers)

What Other Writers are Saying About the Writing Retreat 


 I've been stymied in moving forward and now I know I can reach for the end of my novel and put it all together. I know it's better now than it was before the retreat.

Sheryl Fawcett


I feel much better about my novel, after talking to Joan. You can just be yourself and do what you love to do. It's going to be hard to leave the retreat, to be honest.

Gene Smith


I'm feeling comfortable now in believing that my novel is worthy of being written, and my work is really going to be enhanced by having worked with Joan.

Kista Tucker


This retreat has been life-transforming. I feel fantastic about my novel now. Do whatever you can to come to the retreat—it will change your writing life.

SK Lamont

If your application is accepted, here's what you can expect at the writing retreat ...

Hours and Hours of Uninterrupted Writing Time

Inside your room at your private writing desk, or with your personal lap desk on the deck, shore, or by the fire, or at one of the many spacious tables inside and outside our retreat house, you'll have ample time to do what you wish. This is your time to apply what you’re learning in the way that works best for you: write, revise, journal, reflect, think, plan, write some more. All of what you do during creative time will inform your Writing Contract, which is the tool you’ll take home to ensure your success.

Writing Retreats - Woman Writing
Writing Retreats - Writing Room
Writing Retreats - Adirondacks on Deck

Dedicated One-on-One Time
with Award-Winning Novelist and Writing Teacher, Joan Dempsey

Three Private Coaching Sessions

Come on up to what's become fondly known as "Joan's Tower" for two private coaching sessions, and enjoy one session post-retreat via Zoom video conferencing or phone. I’m here for you, so we’ll plan our sessions according to what you most need. Got a character who needs further development? We’ll bring her to life. Feeling concerned about whether your writing is really any good? We’ll turn that concern around so fast you’ll forget you ever worried about it. Need to find time in your schedule to focus on your novel? We won’t just find time, we’ll create it! Whatever will help you finish your novel, we’ll tackle it together.

Feedback on Your Novel

I will provide detailed feedback on your full manuscript or whatever you've drafted by the time you attend the retreat. If you send your manuscript a month before the retreat, I'll have feedback ready and waiting for you and we can discuss it in person during our private coaching sessions. If you aren't able to get the manuscript to me a month before the retreat, you can bring it with you and I'll provide feedback within a month after the retreat.

Your Personal Writing Contract

Before you leave, you and I will privately assess all you’ve learned during the retreat, and use it to create a Writing Contract that will set you up for post-retreat success. Capitalize on your momentum from this week and finish your novel.

Several Hours of Group Time

You’ll have an opportunity to sit in the optional Retreat Seat—a safe environment in which you can share your concerns and toss out your ideas, all of which will be heard by me and your generous and wise retreat companions. We’ll put on our best thinking caps and respond with constructive observations, suggestions, questions, celebrations, resources and whatever other ideas we believe will help. We'll also have two optional Gutsy Great Readings—a secure environment in which you can read a brief excerpt from your novel-in-progress and hear readings by your retreat companions. Finally, we'll have two Q & A Sessions in which you can ask me anything about the craft or the business of writing.

Writing Retreats - Women Writers
Writing Retreats - Women Novelists
Writing Retreats - Women Writers

Amazing Meals Provided by Our Own Personal Chef

All you have to do is eat when you’re hungry . . . no need to decide what to make for a meal, no cooking, no cleanup. Isn’t it time someone catered to you? Our own Personal Chef, Tara Bombardier, will make us nourishing and scrumptious food that will leave you feeling both energetic and pampered! Fair warning . . . you might not want to go home.

Writing Retreats - Personal Chef
Writing Retreats - Personal Chef
Writing Retreats - Personal Chef


Creativity takes energy, and energy needs to be rejuvenated; this week is all about what you need to be your best creative self. Hike the nearby trails at Wolfe’s Neck State Park, head into Freeport to visit LL Bean and myriad outlet shops, kayak from the front yard in Brickyard Cove, take a nap in your room or in an Adirondack on the deck, read a book from our retreat library (lots of great novels and books on the craft of fiction), play a game of horseshoes . . . whatever works to support you!

Writing Retreat - Maine Coast
Writing Retreat - Novels
Writing Retreats - Maine Coast

Give yourself the gift of time to finish your novel.

(Limited to Only 5 Writers)

Have Questions? Contact Joan.