Summer 2018 Fiction Writing Retreat


Sundress Academy for the Arts Announces
2018 Summer Fiction Writing Retreat

The Sundress Academy for the Arts is thrilled to announce its Summer Fiction Writing Retreat, which runs from Friday, June 15 to 17, 2018.  The three-day, two-night camping retreat will be held at SAFTA’s own Firefly Farms in Knoxville, Tennessee.  This year’s retreat will focus on generative fiction writing and include two break-out sessions, “Conflict and POV as Perspective” and “Writing the Travel Narrative,” plus discussions on kicking writer’s block, publishing, and more.

A weekend pass includes one-on-one and group instruction, writing supplies, food, drinks, transportation to and from the airport, and all on-site amenities for $250.  Tents, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment are available to rent for $25.  Payment plans are available if you reserve by April 17, 2018; inquire via email for details.

The event will be open to writers of all backgrounds and provide an opportunity to work with many talented, published fiction writers from around the country, including Mary Miller and Jeanne Thornton.

unnamed-1Mary Miller is the author of two collections of short stories, Big World (Short Flight/Long Drive Books, 2009) and Always Happy Hour (Liveright, 2017), as well as a novel, The Last Days of California (Liveright, 2014), which has been optioned for film by Amazon Studios. Her stories have appeared in the Oxford American, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, McSweeney’s Quarterly, American Short Fiction, Mississippi Review, and many others. She is a former James A. Michener Fellow in Fiction at the University of Texas and John and Renée Grisham Writer-in-Residence at Ole Miss. 

Jeanne Thornton is the author of The Black Emerald and thornton_author-photo_smallThe Dream of Doctor Bantam, the latter a Lambda Literary Award finalist for 2012. She is the co-publisher of Instar Books and the creator of the webcomics Bad Mother and The Man Who Hates Fun. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in n+1, WIRED, WSQ, CURA, and other places. She lives in Brooklyn. Find her online at:

Space at this workshop is limited to 15 writers, so reserve your place today at:


The Sundress Academy for the Arts (SAFTA) is an artists’ residency that hosts workshops, retreats, and residencies for writers, actors, filmmakers, and visual artists. All are guided by experienced, professional instructors from a variety of creative disciplines who are dedicated to cultivating the arts in East Tennessee.

Web: http://www.sundressacademyforthearts/                     Facebook: SundressAcademyfortheArts

An Interview with Jeb A. Herrin

The Sundress Academy for the Arts’ first writing retreat for veterans and current service members will take place October 7-8 at Firefly Farms. A weekend pass includes one-on-one and group instruction, writing supplies, food, drinks, and all on-site amenities for $75. Tents, sleeping bags, and other camping equipment are available to rent. The event will be open to people of all backgrounds and experience levels. Space at the workshop is limited to 15 people, so reserve your spot today!

On behalf of Sundress, Sean Purio interviewed Jeb A. Herrin, a poet and U.S. Army veteran, who will lead the retreat along with fiction writer and current military service member Jan LaPerle.

Sean Purio: What advice would you give to people making the transition back into the civilian world? If you were to suggest to them a particular book, poetry collection, author, film, what would it be? 

Jeb Herrin: As far as advice, I always make sure I tell my buddies to never go it alone. Even if the transition isn’t a hard one to make, we’ve spent so many years working as part of a team that it doesn’t make sense to try and move back into our old lives on our own. Whether it’s just staying in touch with the friends you served with, reaching back out to the friends you had before you joined, or just making new friends, it’s still good to have someone watching your back.

In regards to recommendations, Yusef Komunyakaa. I love his collection, Dien Cai Dau, but I don’t think there’s a bad Komunyakaa piece.

SP: Is there a particular book, poetry collection, author, or film you would suggest people encounter before going into the armed forces? Why? 

JH: Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. It sets a realistic precedent of what to expect from military service; not just the job itself, but the diversity of people you meet, and the expectations placed on you by your peers and the civilians who don’t know what it’s like to do the job.

SP: What do you think is the role of cultivating an artistic sensibility—a way of perceiving the world—for those who serve (or have served) in the armed forces?

JH: I think we spend so much of our time in the military looking at things head-on, looking for the best way to overcome obstacles or to accomplish tasks. Looking at these experiences with more of an artistic eye gives us different perspectives by which to judge them, which is really important for our own mental health. Rather than looking back on our time and dwelling on whether we made the “right” choice or the “wrong” choice, we get the opportunity to see more of how our choices affected us on a more personal level. The downside of that is sometimes we get stuck in the bad, and it’s good to have that backup I talked about before to keep us in the good.

SP: It’s a loaded question if ever there was one, but: Why do you write? 

JH: Because it’s fun. It gives me the opportunity to explore ideas, daydreams, storylines that get stuck in my head; not unlike listening to a song because it’s been stuck in your head for the past week. It also gives me the opportunity to read a story that I wish someone else would write.

SP: I’m always curious what books artists are reading. What books have you read recently and what did you find remarkable about them? 

JH: I finally started getting into Brian Turner’s Here, Bullet. I haven’t gotten too far into it yet, mostly because his poems are really visceral and I want to give each of them time to process. I don’t know if this works in with your question, but I’ve also been reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series to my son. He’s not quite old enough to get into them on the same level I do, but he keeps bringing the books to me to read for him, so I like to oblige; encourage that spirit of adventure and education that comes with reading. What I really like about Pratchett is his ability to delve into all sorts of different personalities and stories for his characters, and build a real world that mimics our own, while still embracing the wonder and discovery that you get with really good fantasy.


Jeb A. Herrin was a medic with the 3rd Infantry Division during Operations Iraqi Freedom and New Dawn. He earned his BA in English and MFA in Poetry from the University of Tennessee, where he was the 2016 winner of the John C. Hodges Award for Creative Writing for Poetry. His work can be found in Political Punch and O-Dark-Thirty. Jeb has future plans of blending the world of composition with creative writing as well as finding ways to make the voice of the veteran heard. He lives in Knoxville with his wife, son, and two dogs.

Sean Purio is an active-duty officer working toward his PhD in Creative Writing. He lives in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Scott C. Fynboe On SAFTA’s Inaugural Writers’ Retreat

ImageIn May, I had decided to quit writing poetry; told both my wife and Erin Elizabeth Smith that I was “out of the game.” Over the last two years, my focus was on pedagogy, a tenure portfolio and an endless stream of freshman comp papers. My creative energies were centered on finding new ways to scribble “thesis,” “I’m not sure what you mean here” and “citation needed” into the margins of student essays. At the end of the workday, there was nothing in the tank to make me sit down and think about drafting new work, let alone sending out any submissions.

And yet, because I would be in Knoxville on vacation anyway, I found myself going to SAFTA’s first undergraduate poetry retreat and camping trip. At the very least, I could offer an extra pair of arms to tote food, gear and supplies up from the farmhouse to the mountain-top campground. I could make runs to the nearby Ingles grocery store. That sort of stuff. My participation was going to be limited, and I liked that.

Then, two nights before it began, Erin sent out a copy of the weekend’s schedule; the 9:30am Saturday slot read “Writing Exercise with Dr. Scott Fynboe.” I protested the next day, as we worked on straightening up the farmhouse. “I told you, I’m out. I quit writing.” Her response was a one-note laugh, followed by “Tough. You’re doing it.”

So I sketched out an exercise that night and promptly turned my efforts to lending a hand at every turn. I met our guests on Friday evening, worked to make them feel welcome, helped give tours of the farm, and drove my SUV into the hills loaded down with three people’s camping gear – all the things I’d promised. But when the group settled in with their first writing prompts, just before dinner, I sat away from the campfire, not participating.

When the sun came out Saturday morning, I did my thing and led the group in a discussion of narrative poetry. Then I gave them two sets of prompts, and, for appearances sake more than anything else, drafted poems alongside them. My first piece was just okay. It felt stilted and dull. The second one was better. Its ending was more punchline than gut punch, but the rust was beginning to break off. I looked down at the legal pad, thinking “okay, this can be reworked. It has potential.”

Something snapped after lunch, though and as the day progressed, I felt invigorated. Prompted by Dr. Darren Jackson to write about “your mother’s tits” (taking after Robert Haas), I filled two pages, exploring deep fears about my parents’ advancing ages. Later, while I did not actively write during Dr. T.A. Noonan’s exercise that evening, I made a note on my phone of ways to crack open a piece I first drafted fifteen months prior. And come sundown, I found myself longing by the fire with a bottle of Mexican Coke, offering submissions advice and giving one-on-one thoughts about how to streamline a sci-fi novel. I was a part, not apart.

*   *   *

Before camp broke the next morning, Erin gathered all of us around the fire one last time to write about our weekend experience. “What is one thing you learned from this?” she asked and I set to compose my own “Ashokan Farewell.”* Last to read, I wrote that all of us – the SAFTA staff and the guests – should learn the words of John Denver’s “Poems, Prayers and Promises”** as he described, in four minutes, everything that had occurred over the weekend. Campfires, personal reflection, deep thoughts, gathering with friends (old or new), it’s all in there.

And that’s one way to think about the retreat. Campfires, tents and sleeping bags mixed with conversations, talk and s’mores. Another way is to think of it as meeting new people, learning new skills. Still another is the more traditional idea of the “writer’s getaway” – a chance to change surroundings and find some privacy to write.

The weekend with SAFTA was all of these things, sure, but for me, the “retreat” was a return. A return to something I had forgotten in the stacks of 500 to 750 word, double-spaced, MLA formatted pages and I deal with in sixteen-week bursts twice a year – that feeling of being back in grad school, drinking and smoking unhealthy amounts with a group of writing friends, sharing our work in dank bars and discussing how each of us would set the literary world ablaze.

Suffice to say, I’ve stopped telling people that I’ve quit.


* Best known as the theme music to Ken Bruns’ The Civil War, “Ashokan Farewell” was originally composed as a musical “goodbye” to campers at the annual Ashokan Fiddle and Dance camp in New Paltz, New York.

** And here’s the song:



Scott Fynboe is the Host and Coordinator of the weekly SAFTAcast.

Things Scott C has done:

– DJed at WHRW-Binghamton for seven years, hosting a variety of music, game, and talk shows
– Mobile DJed weddings, proms, reunions, karaoke nights, and at least one bar mitzvah
– Performed improv comedy as a member of The Pappy Parker Players
– Acted in both musical and not-musical theater
– Written and published some poems– Shopped for a futon
– Taught English at a Florida college



Things Scott C has not done:
– Visited Europe
– Worn denim to a black-tie event
– Owned a hammock or a gazebo
– Studied dentistry
– Vomited on a retired postal worker
– Woken up before he go-go’d
– Some other stuff