An Exclusive Retreat on the Maine Coast for Women Writers

Brought to you by award-winning novelist Joan Dempsey

August 29 – September 4, 2020

With Special Guest Susan Conley

Give Yourself the Gift of Time to Finish Your Novel

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.


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 five other women, all of us determined to finish our novels.

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

Any of that sound good?

Read on!

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 women 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 experienced fiction editor and writing coach.

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

What kind of fun would that be?!

Want to find out?

Come spend a productive and pampered week in our private retreat home on Brickyard Cove, looking across three Maine bays and numerous islands, one of which is the appropriately-named "Sister Island." Our retreat home has its own private beach complete with beach chairs and kayaks. The salt air is divine!

Our focus?

Helping you finish your novel.

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

Five Women 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 significantly in yourself as a novelist; and
  • are ready to have the time of your life with a bunch of gutsy, like-minded women.

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 (and everyone) 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.

April 25 – May 1, 2020

We begin with a reception early on Saturday evening (April 25).

We'll have all day Sunday through Thursday for your private writing time, private coaching sessions with Joan, group gatherings 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 guest, the award-winning novelist Monica Wood.

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.

What Other Writers are Saying About the Retreat 

Here's What You Can Expect from Your 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.

Three Private Coaching Sessions with Joan Dempsey

Come on up to what's become fondly known as "Joan's Tower" for two, 30-minute 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.

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.

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.


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 novels by women authors and books on the craft of fiction), play a game of horseshoes . . . whatever works to support you!


Your tuition covers these expenses:

Private lodging for a week in our oceanfront retreat home in Maine;
The gift of uninterrupted time to focus solely on your novel;
Limo to and from the airport, train or bus station;
Scrumptious meals prepared by our personal chef;
An intimate dinner with award-winning novelist Monica Wood;
Three private coaching sessions with Joan Dempsey;
Feedback on your manuscript (a $2,000 value);
Two Q & A sessions about the craft of writing and the writing life;
Two opportunities to read your work aloud;
Support during the Retreat Seat from our group of writers;
A personalized Writing Contract for finishing your novel post-retreat; and 
New friendships with other gutsy great novelists.

Deposit: $2875
The balance of $2875 is due one month later.

Or, save $750 by paying in full when you book your room now.

This is a sizable investment, maybe more than you’ve ever spent on yourself! We women are so busy taking care of everyone and everything else that it’s rare and life-changing when we give ourselves such a gift. Because I keep the group so small—five writers plus myself—and because this luxury retreat is expensive to run and takes a lot of my own time and energy, not everyone can afford to spend a week with me. But for those who do, I work extremely hard to make sure the experience is priceless.

My goal is to get you past any obstacles that stand in your way and provide you with the support and tools and feedback you need to realize your dream of finishing your novel, all while feeling inspired and confident.

The price is also valued as it is because I want to ensure we have a great group of dedicated and determined women; the price and the fact that women have to travel to join us attracts motivated and talented writers. 

Join us for this inspirational retreat—you’ll increase your confidence, focus, and productivity, and join a new circle of passionately creative literary companions! Let's make memories with new friends, shall we?

Why a Retreat? Because . . .

You deserve some uninterrupted, luxurious writing time.

Time away from obligations is restorative (not to mention a big relief)!

A Zen-like oceanfront space will calm your spirits and inspire your best work.

Personalized guidance will melt away any remaining self-doubt and fear.

Women working together always create magic that can't be found in isolation.

Six smart fiction writers can solve any thorny issue.

Being on retreat with a bunch of gutsy women is an absolute blast! 

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.