How to Write in a Fascinating, Small Town

Working even while staying with my friend (while she works).

I can’t seem to get much published (yet. I’m being a little facetious as I’ve technically only been doing this full-time, head-on for a few months, during which I had two family vacations, Covid, and some major life transitions). These days, actually, I am sitting down to work, heading on Tuesdays to my workshare, attending workshops, etc. With that in mind, the writing colony where I was just in residence was a kick-off of my returned career, post-homeschool.

I have arrived!

In the past seven years, while homeschooling, residencies became a way for me to carve out just a week every year to put thousands of words on the page, to take leaps when most of the time I was barely crawling through writing and edits (and not doing much else because it wasn’t my primary job). My first and most oft-repeated residency is in North Carolina at the Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities (aka. the haunted mansion), but I have applied to (and attended) some other residencies more recently. For 2022, I received a residency from The Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow. Now, when I applied, I was imagining Arkansas to be closer to North Carolina (driving-wise) and also didn’t register in my brain that Eureka Springs was at the farthest corner of that intriguing state. However, when I already had an offer, it seemed like the right moment to go and so I lined up the residency for the fall and watched the flight prices…. and watched, and watched and… finally decided to drive the sixteen hours or bust (breaking up the journey there with a much-awaited stop in St. Louis to see a college friend).

My suite, the Margaret Wise Brown.

The Writers’ Colony was basically as I expected. Quiet. A pleasant stay in comfortable accommodations and pretty views. Within walking distance to the small town (pop. around 2000). Delicious meals prepared on-site and served family-style during conversation with the other writers. As advertised and much-appreciated. Perhaps the only “surprise” was just how quiet and composed the whole residency experience was. But on the other hand, Eureka Springs never ceased with the surprises and is the polar opposite of “quiet.” I very quickly came up with a Writers Colony plan: wake up and get right to work. Take a break in the afternoon for exploring the area. Return for the community dinner and then get back to work until bedtime. Sleep and repeat. Turns out, The Writers Colony is one of those residencies where a writer is not only supposed to get stuff done (though they are), the stay is also supposed to inspire the writer. As a self-proclaimed adventurer, I was like a kid in a candy store. Eureka Springs is fascinating, and not only do I see myself returning for another residency, I also have no doubt my husband and I will be returning to the town for a vacation.

My en suite workspace.

Let’s mine my journal. (If you’d rather read about the writing, skip six paragraphs.)

Day One Excerpt: For my afternoon tourist break I walked the Harmon Loop, except the ladies in the office and I couldn’t find the start, so I walked Spring Street down to Crescent Trail up, a makeshift Harmon Loop that took me past no less than three springs, one grotto, and the most haunted hotel in America. Also, a triceratops statue covered in netting, much Victorian architecture, an open-air church in the woods, smelly garbage, a house with no less than eight rainbow flags, two fairy gardens, and I know I am forgetting many things. It is mountainous, winding, up and down, full of old stone stairs, the roads and sidewalks a crazy disaster, and—like any mountain town—you can’t see what’s right in front of you till you turn the corner. It is just the strangest amalgamation of people and things, drawn here for hundreds, if not thousands, of years by the springs, mostly spiritual types of all stripes. Walking around is actually like being in a dream, except all the people you pass (it’s quiet up this way) smile and greet you. Kevin would definitely enjoy it. So quirky. So historical. So pioneer-y and Ozark-y, which I’m learning is a place I have definitely not been to or experienced before. [Things not mentioned in this entry: Christ of the Ozarks, a ten-foot piece of the Berlin Wall, and the Bible Museum.]

In the middle of town, Basin Spring Park.

Day Two Excerpt: The seventy-minute walking tour began: ten of us plus Jamie (James). He has only just moved here fulltime (after six years part-time) but is enamored with the place and works three tourism jobs. How to do this place justice? Nothing is normal. After the Trail of Tears stripped the area of the natives in the 1830s, the town was founded (with an insurgence of 20,000 (or 2,000; I’m a little confused on this point because many died and there were 10,000 eventually and today it’s only 2000) sickly people in the woods) after some judge leaked the secret location of a healing spring (which did work sometimes, probably because it was pure water in a time with little cleanliness). Many strange decisions ensued, and a muddy river bottom became streets of walls with tunnels underneath, buildings built over a river with tunnels beside, and Victorian houses sprouting up in this backwater, almost lawless, but wealth-attracting Wild West in the Ozarks. What was involved? Prohibition and speakeasies. Bathhouses and bank robbers. Fires, limestone buildings, rock stairs, sixty-four springs, dynamite, famous aficionados, mudslides, cathedrals, hauntings, and always a breath of rebelliousness. I really would like to bring Kevin back here. Oh, and I forgot catacombs, crematoriums, Ripley records, and now—drag shows and a store that has trained rescued rabbits to hand you your receipt. That’s not the half of the interesting things I saw.

Some of the layers (like terraces) of the town. One building has five ground floors.

Day Three Excerpt: …it was time for my trolley (public transit) adventure. I waited a long time at the stop; they show up every half-hour or so. I flashed my phone pass, and the driver waved me on. The next stop, another resident boarded, sat right in front of me and I poked her in the back. She got off awhile later at the bottom end of town and—not completely sure of my own plans—I followed her. At a pet store, we went our separate ways. I wandered in and out of shops, found the bookstore and (!) didn’t like it. I had to wander back to East Meets West so that I could get a souvenir that the bunnies (my attendant was Nacho) helped with. Then I walked to the top of downtown to sit at Brews (coffee shop and bar) with a London Fog (iced) and work for a couple hours.

Day Four Excerpt: Then, while out, I went straight to Cosmic Cavern, closer to Berryville, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream of going down into a roadside, tourist-stop cave. It was really cool (literally and metaphorically), with its own brand of beauty and an enthusiastic tour guide. After more than seventy minutes, I was done with the side-talk about ghost sightings and spiritual receptiveness, but I had enjoyed myself snapping photos. (If I haven’t said it before, people around here are really nice.) That left me the afternoon to work…

Family dinner at The Colony.

Day Five Excerpt: …did little else besides warm leftovers from the kitchen (quinoa and fried egg) before taking off on foot with my small pack crammed. First, over the hill to the Carnegie Library with its limestone building and balconies and finally got my hands on a copy of Beach Read to fulfill a residency tradition. Back up the hill to St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church—interesting but not exactly awesome—famous as the only church where you enter through the bell tower. Which isn’t attached to the building. Sigh. But it rang as I left through it, the three o-clock hour song. Then up some stairs to the Crescent Hotel, the most haunted hotel in America. Though I walked around the gardens and poked around the ground floor, I was really going for the free (to residents) swimming pool. Alas, though it was sunny and maybe eighty, the water was fuh-reezing (from the nights?) and a little stagnant (because who would be swimming this time of year?). I went down to bathing suit and coverup, read some Beach Read in a deserted cabana at a lonely poolside, put my feet in the water (anti-inflammatory) until my toes froze off (well, almost). Then back down the hill for a shower, more writing, and my last Dairy Hollow dinner.

Sun streaks? Or ghosts?

Day Six Excerpt: …and set out for Lake Leatherwood. Thorncrown Chapel had its open sign out when I drove by so a quick turn in. It is a cool building (made almost entirely of glass), but a little awkward to visit. When I left, the gates were half-closed and the closed sign up (they must host so many weddings), so I just made it! On to Lake Leatherwood, again. It took me some time to find the trailhead, but it was a beautiful day on a mountain lake—kayaking would have been ideal. I stalked two older men for a good half-mile before I rounded a corner and found them sitting on a giant rock up a dry creek bed, side by side and each with one arm around the other, grinning at me, looking so much like little boys it pretty much made my day. I guess they wanted me to get ahead. I saw trees growing on suspended, rock shelves, a squirrel carrying another squirrel in its mouth (?), and a lot of lake, rock, and woods, not unlike what I’ve seen before but rockier and with gently rolling, furred “mountains” as a backdrop. I decided it was my last chance to go to The Blue Spring & Heritage Center, so from the lake I headed there, forgetting it was $14 to enter. The gift shop was being run by middle schoolers but the eldest rattled off any info I asked for and off I went. I would have avoided Buzzards Roost if I had known the horrifying smell of bird poop was enough to warrant signage. Otherwise, a pretty place with thousands of years of history at the cave (like a huge overhang) and spring (funnel-shaped and deep, and also kinda blue). Of most interest to me was that some of the Cherokee stopped there on the Trail of Tears for a few days to wait for stragglers. It was moving/affecting to think of the (often forgotten) suffering of the native peoples. I was headed back before the dinner hour on the one night without group dinner, so, knowing the Corvette Parade was at 6:30, I drove by Red’s Pizza wondering if there was a chance in heck I could park and walk from the park ‘n’ ride for an early dinner. Even better! There was a small parking lot behind and the place was pretty darn slow (everyone getting ready for the parade). The menu was exclusively pizza, but I was served a real decent, veggie, personal pizza on one of the three or four levels of decks surrounded by quirky décor and strings of light. I would go back there.

Working at Brews.

But what about writing? you well may ask. Though I was a little distracted by the wonders and magic of Eureka Springs, I did get some real work done. I was caught off guard by a kissing scene on day one, and that slowed me down because I don’t write too many of those. Discussing this later with the other residents, it was taken for granted that a kissing scene could, indeed, “sneak up” on a writer, and we chatted merrily about that. Then, after that scene resolved, I realized I was at the three-chapter battle scene and therefore way out of my depth. I can’t seem to QUITE finish this book, but it is seriously almost there. Back in NC, I have put more pages down (totaling 88,000 words so far for the book) and am only a few pages away from the climax. But the battle—indeed, the army—required that I do some thinking, strategizing, and research (for which I was grateful for both the quiet and the internet). The swashbuckling and blood-splattering is taking me more time than if two characters were standing around shooting the breeze, but I’m writing. And I’ll have set The Journey of Clement Fancywater aside for its draft one marination well before Nanowrimo begins on November first. (Blog on that soon to come.)


2 thoughts on “How to Write in a Fascinating, Small Town

    • Thank you. I love travelling, have been a traveler all my life. Eventually I would love to marry writing and traveling as a lifestyle/career, but as of now I just use it as inspiration (except for one article I wrote for a magazine after being in India, years ago).

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