Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat will offer an opportunity for established and emerging memoirists to acquire new skills, build a writing community, and renew their vision as writers.   The ten different memoir classes taught by five different teachers will focus on the craft of literary memoir writing, the genre’s ethical and logistical challenges, and strategies for overcoming memoir’s most common obstacles.   Classes will include specific instruction, discussion, and a time to use your new skills—yep, writing time.  You can learn more about the classes in these posts.

Program Overview:

Enchantments; the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington State. The Snow Lakes trail head is about four miles outside of Leavenworth on Icicle Creek road.


Friday, March 15

2pm: Chartered coaches depart Seattle for Sleeping Lady Mountain Resort (Coach transportation cost included in retreat fee).

4:30-6:00pm: Check-in, explore resort

4:30: A Book For All Seasons will be in the Salmon Gallery selling titles from the retreat faculty and Cheryl Strayed until after the faculty reading.

6:00pm: Dinner in the Kingfisher Restaurant

Followed by: Welcome and Faculty Reading in the Chapel Theatre

Followed by: Reception in Salmon Gallery

Saturday, March 16

7:30-9:00am: Breakfast in the Kingfisher

9:15-10:15: Classes (Block One)*

10:30-11:30: Classes (Block Two)*

11:30-1:00pm: Lunch in the Kingfisher

1:00-2:00pm: Classes (Block One)

2:00-5:30pm: Free Time

Suggested Activities: Write in the resort’s library, a walk along Icicle Creek, sit in the big outdoor hot pool or sauna, work out in the fitness room, meet a new friend in O’Grady’s Pantry or the Grotto bar, visit the organic garden, or take a nap storing up energy for the evening ahead.

5:30pm: Dinner in the Kingfisher Restaurant

7:00pm:  Keynote Talk from Cheryl Strayed, author of the Number #1 New York Times Bestseller Wild, followed by Q and A, book signing, and reception in the Salmon Gallery.

A Book For All Seasons will be in the Salmon Gallery selling titles from the retreat faculty and Cheryl Strayed until after the keynote lecture.

Sunday, March 17

7:30-9:30am: Breakfast in Kingfisher and room check-out

9:30-10:30am: Classes (Block Two)

10:35-11:35am: Classes (Block One)

11:40-1:00pm: Lunch in the Kingfisher

1:00-2:00pm: Panel Discussion in the Chapel Theatre

3:00pm: Chartered coaches depart Sleeping Lady for Seattle, stopping first at King Street Station and then at SeaTac Airport.

*All five teachers will teach one set of classes in Block One and a completely different set of classes in Block Two.  Participants are free to go to the classes of their choosing.


Read Suzanne Finnamore’s Retreat Class Descriptions here (blogged 1/10/2013): 

1.)  Structure: Without It You’re Lost

2.) Getting Out Of Your Own Way/ Overcoming Fear and Rejection and Turning Your Very Worst Moments Into Money.


Read E. J. Levy’s Retreat Class Descriptions here (blogged 1/13/2013): 

1.)  Visual Memoir

2.)  Food for Thought


Read Candace Walsh’s Retreat Class Descriptions here (blogged 1/14/2013):

1.)  Showing Up on the Page: Sex and Sexuality

2.)  Turn Your Passion into a Project


Read Ariel Gore’s Retreat Class Descriptions here (blogged 1/15/2013):

1.)  Memoir as Survival Guide: Writing a First-Person Book That’s Useful to Readers

2.)  The Language of Your Life: How Your Unique Voice Shapes and Defines Your Story


Read Theo Pauline Nestor’s Retreat Class Descriptions here (blogged 1/17/2013):

1.)  It’s Not JUST About You: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness” and other things memoir might say

2.) Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts:  The Multiple-Narrative Memoir


Below,  Theo blog-posted elsewhere on this site (11/11/2012) about the program more generally regarding teachers and classes [Updated posting since then here.]:

Retreat Teachers Share Secrets, Skills, Obsessions, and Literary Theory

in 10 Craft Classes

“We get the work done on the ground level. And the kindest thing I can do for you is to tell you to get your ass on the floor. I know it’s hard to write, darling. But it’s harder not to. The only way you’ll find out if you “have it in you” is to get to work and see if you do. The only way to override your ‘limitations, insecurities, jealousies, and ineptitude’ is to produce.”
—-Cheryl Strayed, Tiny, Beautiful Things

The Dear Sugar column “Write Like a Motherfucker,” quoted above, speaks to me and to many of us not just for the no-nonsense advice it gives, but for Sugar’s willingness (aka Strayed’s willingness) to reveal her own imperfect, messy, sometimes inching ahead, sometimes falling behind progress in an effort to help an emerging writer.

Fifteen years ago, I was a non-writing writer, a person who had a crazy notion that she was something she hazily thought of as a writer with not one scrap of evidence to support that claim.  I lived then in a small desert town in Utah and knew no one who identified themselves as a writer, but I started down the path.  I took one class and then another.  The first from a poet who lived in a trailer. She possessed almost nothing but an enormous conviction that our lives are made larger by language. The next was from a poet who wrote collage essays he called triptychs.  He taught me how to write one.  Class by class, my work grew.  It grew because of those teachers and their ability to share with me everything they knew about writing and the writing life.  They were writers who possessed not only talent but generosity.

Some fifteen years later, I’ve learned we are always learning.  I continue to need the help of other writers. I need inspiration. I need to remember how to take a sliver of an idea and render it into an essay or a book by watching other writers.  When I picked the writers to teach at the Wild Mountain Memoir Retreat, I thought of writers who’ve expressed something that has inspired me to express, who have followed their individual vision as writers, and who just plain know how to do stuff I can’t do.

  • When I read Ariel Gore’s book Hip Mama’s Survival Guide in 2001, I was awed by her willingness to call out the thornier parts of motherhood and her seemingly effortless ability to twine personal narrative with advice in a casual, intimate voice.  I’m thrilled that Ariel’s classes will include the topics of the use of voice in a memoir and memoir as survival guide: writing a first-person book that’s useful to readers.

  • A few years later, I met E.J. Levy at the 2004 Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.  What I admired then and admire now about E.J. is her smartypants interest in language and story structure and her dedication to the craft of writing.  But more than that, E.J’s work has an emotional rigor that reminds me of the quote from Hemingway that I’ll paraphrase as something like Good writing shows life as it is, not life as it should be.  I’m excited about the ambition of the questions E.J is bringing to the Wild Mountain classes.  Her class topics include:  1) Memory and Imagination: How do we meaningfully and ethically use imagination and invention in memoir for inspiration on how to deepen scenes without losing integrity of our nonfiction narratives.  2) Writing the Twenty-first Century Meta-memoir: Every age reinvents its literary forms, so how can we as writers update the memoir to reflect our increasingly visual-technological culture? How can we reinvent the memoir form in ways that deepen our art and expand our formal options?

  • In 2008, on the verge of the publication of my first book (a memoir about divorce), I got a call from my agent saying guess what a book “exactly the same as mine” was coming out the same week as mine, only this book was not from an unknown like myself but by bestselling author Suzanne Finnamore.  And this is how I “met” Suzanne.  Without knowing anything about her or her upcoming book Split, I began my grudge against her, resenting her just a little more with each splash of publicity her book received (A review in People magazine! A review in O magazine!).  But then, something happened: I read Split. I loved it. I loved her high-octane prose. I loved her unwillingness to back down, her fierce storytelling, her scenes so visceral you feel like you’re in the room.  Aptly, Suzanne will teach at the retreat: Getting Over Yourself: How (and Why) To Overcome Writer’s Block & Begin a Memoir and How To Write A Scene: Turning Your Worst Moments Into Money.

  • In 2009, I met Candace Walsh when an essay of mine was in her anthology (she dreamed it up, she edited it) Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On.  Working with Candace, I was struck by her genius for not only writing her own story of transformation but possessing a literary vision expansive enough to include the vision of other writers.  The next year, she blew me away again when she came up with the idea for a new anthology, which became Dear John, I Love Jane: Women Write about Leaving Men for Women, another collection that expresses not only her own vision but her pluralist understanding that our many stories feed into our larger narrative that contributes to our self-identities.  And just a few weeks ago, Candace’s first memoir Licking the Spoon hit the bookstore shelves. Candace’s class will include the topics of sex, sexuality, sexual identity and how we can parlay our obsessions into memoir.

  • And yes, I’ll be teaching at Wild Mountain Memoir retreat also.  My classes will be on the art of twining two or more personal narratives together to form one story and the collage-style personal essay.