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March 29, 2019

Top Five Reasons to Go on a Writing Retreat

Hello, folks! If you haven't heard, I'm leading two writing retreats for women this year, a writing retreat in France this June and a writing retreat in Lake Tahoe this August, with the Lake Tahoe retreat offering a seminar on how to publish your book. I realize a writing retreat is an investment in time and money, so my co-leader Allison and I wrote this article that discusses why we think writing retreats are THE BEST.

Top Five Reasons to Go on a Writing Retreat

You’ve always wanted to be a writer. You have a head or notebook full of ideas, you read stories or watch movies and feel inspired, maybe you’ve even started your own article, short story, novel, or memoir. But then you get stopped somewhere short of your dream. You tell yourself you don’t have the skill or the time, and that maybe someday…

Or possibly you’ve never seriously considered being an author, but you know you want more creativity in your life, more balance. You want to see the world and join a community of like-minded women interested in laughter, personal growth, and good food. Plus, you suspect you’ve got some stories to tell but aren’t quite sure if anyone else would be interested in them…

If either of these resonates with you, here’s why signing up for a writer’s retreat might be just what the Fates ordered:

  1. You’ll refine your writing craft – Any good writing retreat will meet each participant where they’re at as a writer and take them to the next level. Whether you’re a beginner or have several publications under your belt, there is much to learn about writing, and we can’t learn it all at once. At any one point, we are at different places with refining our story, whether conceptualizing it, writing it, editing it or polishing it. In short, we all have stuff to learn about writing.

  2. You’ll explore the world on an intelligent vacation – A writing retreat is a fabulous way to visit a new location that’s been chosen for its inspirational setting. A well-curated writing retreat guides you to connect with your surroundings on a deep level, to draw nourishment and creativity from them, and to take that sense of exploration and peace home with you. Plus, you’ll get to stay in glorious villas that you may not otherwise be able to.

  3. You’ll make serious progress on your writing project – Writing a book requires dedicated mental space and a container of time. A writing retreat will give you a structured place to write so that your project will advance and all those exciting storylines will be created. Also, not only will the writing retreats leader(s) give you great feedback on your storyline, the other participants will be hearing about your writing project and offer you assistance as well.

  4. You’ll have new writing buddies to champion you – Face it: writing can be a lonely business. However, at a writing retreat, most of the participants will be on the same wavelength as you, interested in making serious progress on their project. You’ll share a lot with these new friends, praising or complaining about the lodging, food and writing instruction, discussing the innermost secrets of your characters, working through plot snarls. This intense bonding means that many of you will stay in contact for years.

  5. You’ll reset and recharge – Most writing retreat leaders understand that a retreat is a balance between learning new skills and relaxing. With our lives seeming busier than ever, a writing retreat is an opportunity to find perspective and relief. You’ll feel good about giving your story and voice the space and investment it craves but also have time for naps, walking in the woods, and sunshine.

A writing retreat is an investment, one that will pay you dividends for the rest of your life. We still have a few spots available in our writing retreat in France this June as well as our writing retreat in California this August! The California writing retreat offers a special session on how to publish your book. Register today to hold your seat.


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January 9, 2019

Unspeakable Things


I've been working with Thomas & Mercer, Amazon's crime fiction imprint, for only a few weeks, but the experience has been whirlwind fabulous. My two editors, Jessica and Charlotte, are insightful, hilarious, helpful, and quick. We're already on the second round of edits for The Devil in the Dirt Basement, which is where my latest news comes in. Turns out T & M's marketing department thought my title was too much of a mouthful.


After a private, brief but spectacular temper tantrum (I'm terrible at titles normally, but The Devil in the Dirt Basement came to me whole and perfect), I reached out to some mystery-writing friends for alternate title ideas. They generated a great list, which I sent to Jessica at T & M, and she and the marketing department selected my favorite: UNSPEAKABLE THINGS.

That's the name of my upcoming book! Thank you to Lori Rader-Day (her novels are great--wish she'd write faster) for the title, and to T & M for wanting this book to soar. And honestly, the title is growing on me. It hits all the right notes. It's sticky, scary, suspenseful, just like the book.

In celebration of the new and official title of my first suspense novel with Thomas & Mercer (release date 11.1.2019), I'm posting below an early version of the author's note that will appear in the book's front matter.


I was one of a few hundred kids to come of age in Paynesville, Minnesota, in the 1980s. I grew up thinking every small town had a curfew siren that warned the children indoors each night at 9:00 pm, that Chester the Molester was a common nickname for the bogey man, that Peeping Toms were not unusual. I had my own problems at home, some childish and others much more serious, and the rumors of a bad man hunting children became a backbeat of my preteen and teen years.

I graduated high school in 1988 and moved to Minneapolis.

When Jacob Wetterling was abducted on October 22, 1989, from St. Joseph, Minnesota, thirty miles up the road from Paynesville, I was preparing to drop out of my second year of college. Some of those rumors from my early years (don’t go out at night or Chester will get you) came into focus.

Pictures of Jacob were everywhere. People joined together to search for that sweet-faced 11-year-old who’d been abducted by a masked man with a gun. Days passed into weeks into years, and Jacob was never found. Not until a local blogger began writing about the potential connection between Jacob’s disappearance and the abduction and release of eight local boys in and around Paynesville in the 80s was Jacob’s abductor arrested, twenty-seven years later. He led authorities to Jacob’s remains.

The experience has haunted me. It’s haunted many of us in the Midwest, upending what we thought we know about rural communities and the safety of children. The true version of events has been told very well in other places, most notably in Season One of the “In the Dark” podcast. It was the emotional reverberations of those events that I wanted to give voice to. I needed to create coherence out of my memories of growing up under a constant, unnamed fear. When Cassie McDowell, the fictional heroine of this story, came to me and begged for her story to be told, I saw my chance.


While Unspeakable Things is inspired by real people and events, it is entirely fictional. However, it’s my hope that in the character of Gabriel, I was able to capture and honor the sweetness stolen from all nine of those boys.

Thank you for reading.



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December 28, 2018

Devil in the Dirt Basement

I made the front page of my hometown newspaper! As Ann said on Facebook, "I love that your story topped the new funeral home!" Here's the good news, the official 12.17.18 announcement from Publishers Marketplace:


"Jess Lourey's THE DEVIL IN THE DIRT BASEMENT, a fictionalized account of the Jacob Wetterling abduction pitched as Megan Abbott meets THE LOVELY BONES, sold to Jessica Tribble at Thomas & Mercer, in a two-book deal, by Jill Marsal at Marsal Lyon Literary Agency (world)."

Paynesville Press interview Q & A below.

Why are you so excited to write about the Jacob Wetterling mystery?

For those of us who lived in Paynesville in the 80s, there is no escaping this story and its effects on our collective psyche. It ruptured what we--and I think what the nation--believed about the safety of rural communities and the protected status of children. For me, there's still stored grief there, and the only way I know to reliably heal myself is through crafting a coherent story around the emotions and the experiences. The magic of novel writing is that it pulls darkness into the light and has the power to transform it.

How did you decide to tackle the story from the perspective of a 13-year-old girl?

Jacob's story, and the story of the other boys--now men--who were harmed in those years is not mine to tell. What I could tell, and found I needed to tell, was the story of a girl growing up with that fear as a backdrop to her life. I hope I told it in a way that honors those who paid a far higher price than me and that bears witness to their pain, but ultimately, this is a coming of age story about a 13-year-old girl, Cassie McDowell, who struggles to survive in a world that is not as it seems. She knows there is a monster out in the world, and she lives with a monster at home, and no one will listen to her about either.

What lessons do you draw from “the tragedy of discounting the wisdom of children?"

As a culture, we're getting much better at listening to children, at allowing them their feelings and experiences. We're also doing a better job of talking about sexual abuse and assigning the shame where it belongs: on the abusers rather than the victims. That was not the case in the 80s, and it created an environment that favored the predators. In The Devil in the Dirt Basement, I didn't want to shy away from that truth, but I did want to write it in a way that allowed hope for something better.

Besides addressing the cultural forces in play in the 80s, I also wanted to explore the deeply personal experience of being silenced as a child. It comes down to a primal emotion, that terror that we will be abandoned and that no one will hear us scream. I know I had a recurring childhood nightmare that I would cry out for my mom, but I couldn't find my voice or couldn't get her to hear me. The nightmare would grow deeper and darker until I woke up with my heart hammering, pinned to my bed. Good storytelling goes toward those uncomfortable themes rather than away from them, so we can all connect or at least empathize through shared experience.

What did it mean to you to sign with a powerhouse publisher like Amazon?

It means that 14 years and 17 books into my writing career...I might actually have a writing career. :) Because of their distribution model, Amazon has the power to get a story out there like no other. They are fast-tracking The Devil in the Dirt Basement, setting a publishing date less than a year after acquisition (12-18 months after acquisition is the industry norm). It will be published as a hardcover, mass market, trade paperback, ebook, and audiobook all on the same day. I am both thrilled and--like any good Minnesotan--waiting for the rug to get pulled out from under me. It seems too good to be true, frankly.

What other book ideas do you have for the series? How far along are you in writing?

The Devil in the Dirt Basement was completed and sent out on submission in September. At the time, I was working on April Fools, the last in the Mira James mysteries, and beginning research for an epic Greek adventure novel I wanted to write. I was hoping someone would buy DDB, but publishing is a fickle field. When my agent told me three weeks ago that Thomas & Mercer, Amazon's crime fiction imprint, not only wanted DDB but also a second suspense novel, I scrambled to polish off a twisty turny domestic suspense begun I'd begun to outline and then dropped five years ago. It's tentatively titled Catch Her in the Lie, and right now, the only good thing about it is the title. I have 7 months to write it.

You are planning to take a year-long sabbatical to write; after juggling your writing with motherhood and your day job for more than a decade, what would writing full-time enable you to do?

The dream of writing full-time always seems just around the corner, and when I envision it, I feel the warmth of being able to sink into a sentence, honing my words and building stories from the inside out. As it is, to balance writing with parenting and full-time teaching, I often have to come at writing in a very blue collar, almost forced way. Unless editing or promoting, I write 2000 words a day, five days a week, which doesn't allow for much else. Since I can't not write, if I no longer had a full-time teaching job, I'd get to read more, travel more, play more, live more. Which would give me more stories to write. :)


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Jessica Lourey is the critically-acclaimed author of over 20 novels, articles, and short stories.

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Interested in free books, exclusive bonus content, and VIP early access to Jess’ upcoming projects? Then sign up here to become a VIP Reader. You’ll immediately receive a free copy of May Day, the first in the Mira James comic caper mysteries, just for signing up!

Become a VIP Writer!

Do you want to learn more about writing, including receiving marketing tips and tricks, deals on valuable workshops and retreats, and time management hacks? Join the VIP Writer’s Club! You’ll receive free VIP access to an online novel-writing course just for signing up and can unsubscribe from the newsletter at any time.

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Latest Release

In this highly-anticipated comic caper mystery series finale, librarian, aspiring PI, and unlucky-in-love Mira James discovers that a secret her father carried to his grave is the key to finding why Battle Lake girls are vanishing.

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