Thursday, January 31, 2008

Writing in the Desert

When Greg first showed me the information about the American Intellectual Property Association Mid-Winter Institute scheduled to take place Jan. 23 to Jan. 26 at the Arizona Biltmore Hotel, my first thought was writing retreat.

Okay, that's a lie. My first thoughts were: pretty! spa! But writing retreat was a very close third.

While he spent his days in classes, I worked on the Tantalize graphic novel adaptation and a brand new YA Gothic fantasy manuscript.

Getting out of one's daily setting can be extremely inspirational. I don't remember when I've ever had a more productive few days of first-draft writing.

On the graphic novel, I basically started a chart of with each scene, Kieren's involvement in it (as he's the POV character), the timeline, and descriptive details/fantasy elements to keep in mind. On the new prose novel manuscript, it's more of a standard summary. I've never outlined a novel before writing it. I'm by no means married to the plan, but it's worth a try.

I tend to write with noise in the background, so I also watched (or at least had playing) "Groundhog Day," which is an excellent character-arc study; "The Nanny Diaries," which is a much-softened retelling of the book that inspired it; and "Nancy Drew," which mostly served to remind me how much I once enjoyed the books and how annoyed I still am at myself for selling them at that long-ago garage sale. The movie is cute and campy and bigger on revisiting the Nancy phenomenon/tradition than the mystery. I wasn't playing close attention, but I think it might have been better if they'd gone with a more realistic approach.

More globally, I greatly enjoyed the scenery, the hotel and all it had to offer. We attended two of the AIPLA receptions and were thrilled to run into our friend Chen, with whom Greg clerked during law school and who also played the violin at our wedding as her gift to us. We had dinner together on our third night.

The grounds, especially the gardens, are otherworldly--"39 acres at the foot of the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. Considered one of the most spectacular resorts in the world, the Biltmore features 738 guest accommodations, including 78 one- and two-bedroom villas, eight swimming pools, seven tennis courts, an 18-hole putting course, and a full-service European spa, salon, and fitness center." The place is a must-visit from fans of arts-and-crafts architecture.

I pre-booked a spa appointment on our second day, electing to have the eighty-minute hot stone massage. It was fairly fantastic, especially when the little river stones were put between my usually squished toes. For the next several days, my body felt great--Gumby flexible and Krypton powered.

For the most part, we dined at The Biltmore Grill, which is fairly casual, and Wright's at The Biltmore, which is their highest-end restaurant (see dining room above).

At the Grill, I recommend (for breakfast) the smoked Virginia ham and cheddar cheese omelet, (for lunch) the turkey club, and (for dinner) the Baja shrimp Cesar salad.

Wright's is open for dinner only, and reservations are recommended. For dinner, my appetizer choices would be the ahi tasting, featuring spicy, sweet, and smoky ahi tuna tartare with purple Tolleson chips, and blue crab and heirloom tomatoes with surfing goat feta cheese and a Chardonnay vinaigrette. For the main course, I very much enjoyed the prawns with broccoli and risotto.

Several activities were made available to spouses and guests of conference attendees, including a river raft tour and a shopping day trip. For the most part, I elected to write instead, but I did enjoy the glass-making class on the last day. I'm the proud creator of a wine stopper (actually, of an ornamental piece of glass on the wine stopper).

I also read of course--mostly on the plane--finishing The Truth about Truman School by Dori Hilestad Butler (Albert Whitman, 2008), which is making me wonder a lot more about cyber-bullying, and The Dead and The Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer (Harcourt, 2008), which is one of the best apocalypse stories ever (and I have a particular affection for the genre). I'm ordering the previous companion book, Life As We Knew It (Harcourt, 2006).

I leave you with Greg's report on the trip (do click, if nothing else for the hysterical photo) and one last memory--cool desert nights, warm glowing fire pits! I'm adding at least one of those to my landscaping wish list!