Exclusive Writing Retreat on the Maine Coast

June 1-8, 2024  Sol's Cliff House, Bar Harbor, Maine

Limited to 12 Writers

How to Apply to Attend the Retreat

In order to ensure a fantastic retreat experience for everyone, it's important for you to be certain that the week-long retreat is the right fit for you—I want to make sure you'll truly benefit from the experience. I work extremely hard to make your trip to the Maine coast a transformative one! 

Similarly, because the retreat is limited to only twelve gutsy writers, I have to be selective about who I invite to attend from the pool of applicants.

Once I've reviewed your application, I'll reach out via email within a day or so (longer if it's the weekend) and let you know the status of your application. If it seems we're a good fit, we'll either hop on the phone to talk things over, or I'll simply share the registration page so you can select your room and preferred payment plan. 

I can't wait to receive your application and learn more about you and your novel!

Scroll down for a note about tuition, then click on the red button below to submit your application.

A Note About Retreat Tuition

If your application is accepted, and you're invited to be one of the twelve writers attending the retreat, here's what you get:

Private lodging for a full week (7 nights) in our celebrated 1914 estate, the Sol's Cliff House, overlooking Frenchman Bay and the Porcupine Islands in Bar Harbor, Maine, the gateway to Acadia National Park;
The gift of uninterrupted time to focus solely on your novel;
Private coaching and craft advice from Joan Dempsey;
Group work gatherings to discuss craft and the writing life;
Opportunities to read from your novel and hear readings by your retreat companions;
Scrumptious meals prepared by our personal chef; and
New friendships with other gutsy great novelists.

I deliberately don't post the specific cost of tuition for the retreat—here's why:

In my experience, I’ve seen writers deny themselves great opportunities based on price alone, before considering all the pros and cons of the opportunity.
I’ve worked with writers who truly believed they could not afford to come to the retreat but then got super creative about how to pay once they realized what they'd gain from our time together; those folks are the ones who tend to benefit the most from these retreats because that creativity demonstrates their gutsiness and their commitment to their novels.
Also, when I select writers from the pool of applicants and offer them a space at one of the retreats, we get creative together about payment options.

So, if you're serious about finishing your novel and want to work with me—you can submit your application and together we can weigh out the pros and cons to determine whether the retreat will meet your needs and whether you're a good fit for the retreat. The retreats are best for writers who are ready to make a leap, take action and work hard to realize the dream of finishing their novel, whatever that takes.

Because I keep the group so small—twelve writers plus myself—and because this exclusive retreat is expensive to run and takes a tremendous amount 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 unique support you need to realize your dream of finishing your novel, all while feeling inspired and confident.

Limited to 12 Writers


Give yourself the gift of time to finish your novel.

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?


So sorry, but the retreat is now sold out.

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