Virginians, here’s where to go to write your Great American Novel

Is one of your summer goals to abandon friends and family to write a novel?

Photo by: pedrosimoes7

I think of it as the Summer Reading List Hangover: Each year towards the end of May comes the outdated, involuntary urge to visit a public library and take out the heaviest and most ambitious reads on offer. Unless a book is a good couple of inches thick and was first published in another century, it doesn’t count. Somewhere my 10th grade English teacher is smiling, all smug.

Of course, reading isn’t the only possible summer literary project. Maybe one of your #goals this summer is to finally make a start (or at least plan to make a start?) on your own novel. In which case, you may want to consider a visit to a dedicated writers’ retreat nearby. Virginia has its fair share, and after all, how else can you get the peace and quiet you need to concentrate when you’re stuck at home with kids, animals, spouses, neighbors, bills, yard work, errands, friends, and happy hour all calling your name?

Let me save you a preliminary Google and direct your attention to three such places located within a few hours’ drive of Richmond.

The Maribar Colony at Cricket Hill

This writers’ center merits first mention because its annual deadline for applications is coming up on June 1st. Founded in 2015 by Richmond-raised, now Brooklyn-based writer and musician Jason Leahey, Maribar Colony is a “tranquil retreat for writers living and working in urban areas to finish or complete substantial work on an existing project.” Leahey runs the retreat as a public service, not as a business.

The setting is a weathered 18th and 19th century farmhouse, owned by Leahey’s family and situated outside the town of Mathews, near the Chesapeake Bay. Without internet service, there are few distractions, though nighttime entertainment includes bonfires and beers.

Leahey will host six writers this coming October, providing not just bed but board (he does all the cooking). The cost of a residency is $550. You can find further details here.

The Porches

In Nelson County, about two hours outside Richmond, there’s another historic farmhouse-cum-retreat. Trudy Hale opened the Porches in 2006, following years of round-the-world work and travel, owing to her husband Billy’s career as a film director. Trudy, a writer herself, holds an MFA from Antioch University and is also the editor of Streetlight, an online arts journal.

“Trudy really gets it,” says Virginia Pye, author of Dreams of the Red Phoenix (2015) and River of Dust (2013), both published by Unbridled Books. “The Porches is such a lovely, quiet, thoughtful place, with no distractions. It’s got a really good vibe for writing. You get right to work.” In fact, Pye wrote the beginning of her first book on the second floor of the house, then returned to write the ending of her second book in the same room.

The Porches accepts reservations on a rolling basis and hosts writers year round. Rates begin at $65 a night, with increasing discounts for longer stays. Intensive editing and coaching services and professional-development receipts are available as well.

Virginia Center for the Creative Arts

What would a list of writers’ retreats be without a highbrow long shot? Enter the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, located near the town of Amherst, Virginia. The VCCA hosts writers, composers, and artists from around the country, providing private work and living space as well as meals. Fair warning: To apply for a fellowship, you’ll have to write about yourself in the third person. (Understandably, for some, this will be an insurmountable barrier.)

The DIY Approach

Finally, if applications and reservations aren’t your thing, there’s always the self-arranged fellowship somewhere along Broad Street. Valley Haggard, founder of Richmond Young Writers, once checked into a Motel 8 to get a bit of work done.

“With a small child in a crowded home and a novel idea lighting me up and nearly burning me down, I took the $50 Visa gift card my mother gave me for Hanukkah, booked a night at a cheap motel 2.1 miles from my house, grabbed a writer friend and hightailed it to our cheap, crappy version of heaven,” she says. “The view from the window was of the Auto Zone and the bathroom coffee maker made terrible coffee but our writing was red hot. In the end, my novel didn’t make it, but my spirit did.”

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Catherine Baab-Muguira

Catherine Baab was born in South Carolina, but grew up in Richmond, which explains a lot. She sometimes blogs about her escapist nautical fantasies at

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