Author James Mihaley returns to Write On this month. Last year, he lead the Recharge Your Creative Battery retreat, which was at capacity. This year, he offers two two-day sessions of the popular program to inspire people to start or continue their writing project: July 29 – 30 and July 31 – August 1. I recently had the opportunity to talk with Jim about both the retreat and his own writing.
Jerod Santek (JS): Your work spans multiple genres. How do you decide which genre is the right one for the piece you are inspired to write?
James Mihaley (JM): Flannery O’Connor said that story dictates form. I’m a firm believer that the piece has a life of its own, a heartbeat that is strong and vibrant before you even write the first word. If you listen closely, remain flexible and are willing to experiment in your journal, the story will tell you where it belongs. It will say, “I’m a children’s book.” Or, “I long to be a poem!”
JS: What can you tell us about your current writing project?
JM: I’ve been commissioned to write a book about a boatyard in Sturgeon Bay named Palmer Johnson. Currently closed down, PJ flourished for a large part of the twentieth century and gained a reputation worldwide for being the preeminent builder of custom yachts. Among their distinguished clientele was Juan Carlos, King of Spain, for whom they built a James Bond-like motor yacht in 1979. What makes the PJ story so moving is the bond that existed between the owners of the company and the welders, painters, mechanics and electricians who constructed the yachts. The owners risked everything in order not to lay anyone off. Today, in a climate of corporate ruthlessness, that kind of attitude is refreshing to say the least. It’s a great American story about a great American company and I feel honored to be telling it.
JS: This will be your fourth year leading a retreat at Write On. What inspires you to return each year?
JM: I always have a remarkable group of people who sign up for my retreats. They’re extremely talented and extremely nice. They’re dedicated and dignified. Everyone gets along. They work hard, love to laugh, love to support each other. It’s a privilege to be in their presence. And it is a privilege to hold the retreat outdoors and bask in the natural beauty of Door County. Mother Nature signs up for the retreat each year. She dips her quill into the sunset and writes lovely poetry that is recited from the treetops by blue jays and sparrows.
JS: The format this year is a little different than previous retreats. You’re offering an “introductory” session the first two days and an “advanced” session the second two days, either for writers who have taken previous retreats with you or those who took the first two days. What can participants expect from this year’s retreat?
JM: In the introductory session, writers will be reintroduced to their own greatness. Writing prompts will allow participants to unleash their storytelling prowess. The fun that they’ll have in the process will serve as a powerful reminder that writing doesn’t have to be difficult and grueling. Writing a book will no longer feel like an insurmountable challenge. In the advanced class, we will be even more daring with the writing prompts and we will also create space for writers to explore the possibility that something they dashed off in a writing exercise might be worthy of expanding into a novel, memoir, short story or poetry collection. Is it possible to make significant progress on a novel in two days? YES! The common denominator in both sessions is an abundance of joy, laughter and inspiration. For those who are currently working on a longer manuscript or those who have specific questions about their writing journey, I will offer private consultations in both sessions.
JS: What is the best piece of writing advice you ever received?
JM: John Gardner was asked, “How do you edit a story?” “Take out the boring parts,” he replied.