By Christina Delay

Three weeks ago, 14 writers set out on a mission. The mission? Cross off as many bucket-list items as we could, create as many new memories as possible, study writing craft, write lots of words, and develop relationships with some of the top professionals in the publishing industry.

Mission: Success!


Cruising Writers, led by hostess Christina Delay, took its first-ever land-based retreat to a chateau in the South of France. The chateau, Les Carrasses, was set on a hilltop overlooking vineyards as far as the eye could see. In the distance, the snow-capped peaks of the French Pyrenees could just be seen. Red poppies and giant purple thistles were in full bloom, adding pops of color everywhere we looked.

“My first retreat with Cruising Writers to the South of France was everything I expected, AND MORE! Well organized, attentive, current and vital content with room for some personal time to explore too! The sunrise brainstorming walks through vineyards were inspiring. I’d definitely consider another retreat with Cruising Writers. Recommended!” – Shana Gray, International Contemporary & Erotic Romance Author of Working Girl www.shanagray.com

Each morning started off with a sunrise brainstorming walk for our early risers, with a pink sun peeking through the vineyards. There was a crispness to the air, one that woke us up better than coffee! Some of our brainstorming successes? Character development, plot twists, plot points, and even a better story title or two.

After our brainstorming walks, we tucked away a light breakfast of cheese, chocolate croissants, yogurt, and more bread, then went into morning workshops.

For the first half of the week, Margie Lawson led the group into the secrets of deep editing, providing us with writing craft tools and insights, driving us to write smarter and always keep in mind the Velcro that keeps our readers reading.

“Despite all I learned in my MFA program, this retreat taught me new information about my craft and the business of writing. It connected me with established and amazing book people, whom I’m now honored to call friends. And all of it happened in one of the most inspiring places I could imagine.” – Alicia Wright, http://www.AliciaWright.com

For a peek at the kind of craft work we did, check out my before and after pages. Before is what I came to the retreat with. After is what I left with, after the Margie Lawson workshops and the one-on-one sessions.

Down, Down Deep – Christina Delay


There’s something wrong with me. Always has been. I’m split in two, half of me at odds with the other, a crack in my soul that someday, is going to swallow me up, and I’m not sure who or what will be leftover.

There are days, days like today, that I wish I could tear myself down the middle and get it over with. Lie bleeding on the ground in equal but separate halves, and finally find some sort of peace.

I fumble with my apartment keys, and the shift happens again, a quiet slide in my center of gravity, and I’m immediately uncomfortable in my own skin. I find the right key and fit it into the lock, all while balancing two weeks’ worth of mail and a suitcase. The door opens without sound. None of the creaking screen door of my childhood. None of the sharp tension or the wishing-I-was-anywhere-else. And only the tiniest hint of stale air, flavored with the familiar taint of control and managed love.

 My door is made of steel and not quite a year old. Painted white, in a modern-gray hallway full of other white-painted steel doors with no windows. The luxury apartment building was billed as soundproofed from the sirens and traffic noise from the convergence of Houston’s galleria area, but no soundproofing technology is strong enough to win that battle.

I like the noise—reminds me of Beijing—surrounding me like a cocoon, hiding me in its chaos.

It makes me feel safe.

The door shuts behind me, and I flip the deadbolt. Velvet footprints pad down the marbled hallway, and the love of my life runs around the corner.


There’s something wrong with me. Always has been. I’m split in two, and the crack is widening. When it swallows me up, I’m not sure who will be left.

I fumble for the keys to my condo, prop my suitcase against my leg, and balance two weeks’ worth of mail. The muffled sound of sirens leaks through the walls of my building’s hall. The luxury condo was billed as soundproofed from the traffic of Houston’s Galleria area, but no soundproofing is strong enough to overcome that noise.

I like the noise—reminds me of Beijing—surrounding me like a cocoon, hiding me in its chaos.

The door shuts behind me, and I flip the deadbolt. Velvet footsteps pad down the marbled hall, and the only love in my life runs around the corner.

I kneel, drop the mail, and scoop Leo into my arms. “How’s my baby?” Leo’s a petite calico-mix, a stray I found in the back streets of Rio. He wraps his paws around my neck and gives me an ear kiss. “I missed you too. Did you have a good time with Mrs. O’Neil?”

Leo jumps from my arms and bumps against my leg. I give him a kitty treat, and thumb through the mail, some addressed to Ms. Jesse David, others to Mr. Jesse David. Doesn’t look like any of its been touched, but with Momma’s lock-picking skills, I never know for certain.

I follow my routine, checking to make sure the lock on my safe hasn’t been tampered with, my password book is still hidden, my computer’s login record shows the last access was mine. So far, everything’s been left alone.

* * *

See the difference? Learning deep editing techniques from Margie Lawson helped me tighten and get to the story faster. Not only that, but she helped me with a little thing she calls “Don’t Bury Your Power.” If you want to know more, I highly suggest taking one of her courses or attending one of her Immersions.

During the second half of the week, we had two Business of Writing days.

The first day was led by our resident agent, Louise Fury of The Bent Agency, and our resident editor, Liz Pelletier of Entangled Publishing. Louise answered questions with blunt honesty, becoming an open book and giving us a glimpse into a side of the publishing world that is not typically seen by the author. Liz gave a phenomenal workshop on marketing, setting lightbulbs off all over the room as concepts and ideas sunk in and flipped on.

The second day was led by Camille Mofidi of Kobo Writing Life and Athina Papa of Literary Translations. Camille gave our authors a great overview of Kobo Writing Life. Athina then gave a workshop on what it actually means to hire a literary translator and all the complexities that come along with translations. Both Camille and Athina then co-presented a talk on marketing to European markets, and it was yet another eye-opening workshop that started ideas popping through our retreat group.


In addition to workshops, we also had a first pages reading with Louise Fury and Liz Pelletier, where our authors read page one of their work-in-progress and got incredible feedback on what worked, what didn’t, and ideas on how to fix it from a top literary agent, a president of a publishing company, and mega-bestselling authors who were also retreaters.

“The retreat was life-changing, but the First Pages Reading alone made the trip worth it. I get plenty of mentoring in my graduate program, but seeing both an agent and a publisher get excited about my project was priceless. Knowing all that hard work was paying off only made me want to work harder on the rest of my manuscript, and it’s an experience I’ll never forget.” – Kelsie Harman, Author. Facebook | Twitter


All in all, it was a fabulous retreat, and we can’t wait for our next one—this September on a cruise to Grand Cayman!

And if you want to hear about some of our bloopers during the week, make sure to check out our Facebook Live video, now up on YouTube!

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