The first time I heard about the Ghost Town Writer’s Retreat in Georgetown Colorado was at the Hex Publishers booth at DINK Denver back in April 2017. As someone who grew up on Art Bell and the Twilight Zone, any mention of anything remotely spooky gets my attention immediately. So a ghost town themed writing retreat in my home state? And it was affordable? I was all in. Went home and snapped up a weekend pass the second I got my next paycheck and eagerly awaited the retreat.
About a month before the convention Mike contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to put together the convention program. I said sure, why not. It was a fun little project that involved delving into historical photo archives, doing some research on Georgetown, and digging up a lot of horror themed bits of vector art. We ended up with over 30 pages of retreat related goodies from the schedule to drink recipes to a little history of Georgetown. (I also snuck in a puzzle page because A: they wanted it to be a sort of newspaper and B: I needed the pages to be a multiple of 4 for it to print correctly and there was a blank page, so…puzzles.) The program did get rather down to the wire (and I mean the wire. We were working on it until 1 in the morning on Wednesday before the retreat started on Thursday) but it all turned out right enough at the end.
I arrived in Georgetown early Wednesday morning, having driven up from Colorado Springs. I had decided I was going to camp instead of getting a hotel because, I mean, it’s in the mountains. Why wouldn’t you camp? Besides, $17 a night split between two or three people is much more reasonable than any sort of hotel, me thinks. So it rained a little. And hailed. And my new tent was missing a piece so I had to sleep in my car. IT WAS AN ADVENTURE.
Got to Georgetown and headed up Guanella Pass which, let me tell you right now, is one hell of a pass. Lots of switchbacks and long stretches of nothing but trees. But the scenery! There were a couple of stunning waterfalls, beautiful views of the whole valley where Georgetown sits, and a collection of little lakes and ponds dotting the mountainside. Beautiful.
Despite getting to the Clear Lake Campground early on a Wednesday morning there was only one campsite left so I snagged it right up and waited for my camping buddy Tiffany to join me. It was at this point I discovered my tent did not seem to actually be a functional object in anything other than name. Try as I might I could not assemble it into anything other than a droopy mess. Eventually, I gave up and pulled out my hammock, surrendering to dealing with the tent later. Once Tiffany showed up she tried her hand at it as well but didn’t have any more luck than I did. We handled it the Girl Scout way and attempted to jury rig it with lots of string and bad words. It mostly worked, so we went about setting up the rest of camp and eventually making dinner and enjoying it under the mosquito net tent I had brought along.
Then it came. The storm.
See, afternoon storms in Colorado are nothing new, especially when you’re camping at 10,039 feet. Tiffany and I had just finished our first round of hot dogs and Tiffany was crouching next to the fire cooking a second one when we heard it coming. We both frowned, listening to the sound.
“Is that the wind or is a wall of rain?” Tiffany asked.
“I think it’s just wind,” I replied.
I was wrong. It was rain. A solid wall of rain that hit us about 30 seconds later. Hit isn’t quite accurate. Pelted would probably fit better. Or drowned. Drowned would also be good. We leaped up and scrambled into our ponchos (not that it really mattered, in the time it took us to get them on we were already soaked) and began hastily securing extra tarps onto the mosquito tent in an attempt to turn it into an actual tent. It was already too late for the contents of the mosquito tent as well, however. And, of course, as soon as we got everything secured the rain and hail stopped. Typical Colorado.
I was relatively sure there was going to be a round two of the storm, however, so I decided to not risk my jury-rigged tent and vacated it in favor of my car. It was a wise decision as there was an indeed a round two of the storm later that night and it tried much harder to take down anyone who had dared to sleep on the top of this mountain.
Morning rolled around and Tiffany and I made our way down into town, about a 15-minute drive down the pass, and headed to the Mountain Inn to get started on the actual retreat. There was a little confusion on where everyone was supposed to check in, meet up, etc. but it was generally pretty easy to figure out with a quick check of Facebook or just a little poking around. We, along with the other early arrivals, helped shuttle everything up into the convention suite and hung around to chat about our plans for the weekend as more people trickled in. We secured our goodie bags (which, let me tell you, were awesome. Three free books, a coupon for a good chunk of cash off a book review from Blue Ink, stickers, and more? Love it.) and badges, then a handful of us wandered next door for lunch which mostly consisted of various pizzas.
As a Colorado Native who drives through Georgetown frequently, I wasn’t particularly interested in any of the tours as I can come do them anytime, so I set about exploring the town a bit after lunch. I’d been there before, but never to write so I wanted to search out some good writing spots. The best I found was a little hidden courtyard in the Hotel de Paris. It was tucked out of the way and completely surrounded by high walls, preventing the distractions of the rest of the town from hindering any writing.
The next few days were a whirlwind of panels, more camping adventures, rain, and endless networking. A second notable camping adventure was the mystery of the site next to ours. It had a tent but there had not been a single sign of a human being the entire weekend. No rustling in the tent, no car in the parking spot, no fires, nothing. Tiffany and I, who had now been joined by Zak, were curious. And not only were we curious, we were writers at a horror themed writing retreat. A mysterious tent could not be left unexplored. So, Sunday morning, we decided we needed to go poke around. I was the first to go over and I knocked on the tent, not so much because I thought someone or something might be in there but more because it was just habit. No one answered, so I bent down and unzipped the flap and found…a penny. Nothing but a penny in the middle of the floor of the tent. No sleeping bags, no supplies. Nothing but a penny.
Look, logically, they probably didn’t realize that it dips to freezing or below at 10,000 feet in August in the Colorado Rockies at night and they abandoned their tent in their haste to get to a warmer climate. But who needs logic? I say that penny was cursed and they got sucked into another dimension or they got pulled into the woods by some cryptid and the penny was all that was left behind inside their tent. Lotta spooky options.
But back to the non-camping parts of the retreat.
Panels wise, the retreat had a lot of fantastic options. My favorite thing about all of them, however, was how small they were. The retreat was limited to 150 people max which was the perfect size. Nothing felt overcrowded and it resulted in a very laid-back atmosphere. The panels were more interactive than any other retreat or convention I have ever been to. It was easy to share your own thoughts and ask questions. Then, when the panel was over, you could continue your conversations because no one was whisked away to some mysterious guest bunker at the back of the convention. (I mean, look, I get why guests at big conventions don’t walk the floor and whatnot, but being at a convention that was so small and laid back that they COULD walk around and just have fun with everyone else was FANTASTIC.)
Some of my favorite panels were the marketing ones such as “Building Your Author platform,” “Top 20 Ways to Market Your Book,” and the others that sprinkled in bits of marketing advice. Marketing is damn tricky, so being able to toss ideas around with other people and explore other avenues that you may not have thought of is incredibly valuable. Another favorite were the sessions with Sara Megibow and Kate Testerman. I didn’t have any projects that were at the point of being ready to pitch during the retreat, but I run into Sara and Kate a few times a year or so and it’s always great to see them. Another favorite was the “Nuts and Bolts of Blood and Guts” panel. There ended up being several medical professionals in the room so it became a very lively exchange of how to mutilate characters and just how much you can injure a character before they actually die. Good times.
Honestly, I don’t think there could’ve been a better location than Georgetown for this retreat. It was the perfect size for walking around without getting exhausted, it was full of wonderful little shops, and the restaurants! There was so much good food that I spent way more on it than I probably should have. My favorite was easily Troia’s Café where I had the best spicy pasta I have EVER had because it was ACTUALLY SPICY. The Georgetown Candy Company was also fantastic. I got some delicious ice-cream there and a wonderful book about weird happenings in Colorado history.
Throughout the retreat, I met some absolutely fantastic people who I’m sure will be longtime friends, learned a lot, and developed some brand-new ideas for my current paranormal novel project. I can’t wait to get back to it next year, but there are a few little things I’d like to see changed for round two:
- A little bit better organization. Check-in information should have been clearly posted prior to the retreat, not while the retreat was technically already happening.
- Complete the program at least a couple days ahead of time and send it out as a PDF to everyone. That way they have all the information on where everything is and what is happening before they ever show up.
- More communication with the town on what is going on. I think I saw one flyer for the retreat in the whole town, and it was in the window of a gift shop. I heard many people went to places like the library, where events were taking place, only for the employees to not know what was going on resulting in a lot of confusion. Something as simple as sending out an e-mail or calling the various businesses ahead of time and asking that they let their employees know what was going on would be helpful.
- More time for actual writing. This wasn’t a retreat so much as a convention, which I don’t really mind because it was still incredibly fun, but it would be nice to see some actual writing time scheduled in. No prompts, no timed sprints, just everyone sitting down in a group and writing.
- Sign-ups for pitches and agent sessions should be clarified prior to the retreat. I personally didn’t know sign-ups were being used until I showed up to the first one, which I didn’t mind because I just wanted to listen in, but I know other people missed things because of that. Something as simple as a post on Facebook prior to the retreat saying “we will have signups for the daily agent/editor/pitch sessions every morning at ______________” would’ve been good. (And perhaps a system where you can only sign up for things happening that day, with new signups every morning, to give everyone a chance to sign up for something even if they aren’t there on the first day? Or just do the signups online prior to the retreat.)
In the end, it was a wonderful retreat and I am damn glad I went. Now I just need to get some actual writing done because it was such a whirlwind weekend I only got in a couple thousand words! The dates for 2018 are already set (July 26th-29th) and if you get a chance to go you totally should.
Here’s a few more pictures from the retreat, because Georgetown is damn pretty: