Lake Michigan & A Question

How 7 nights, 8 days, and 1 Question changed the course of my writing.

I heard about the Lake Michigan Writers Retreat randomly on FB. A friend of a friend posted that the workshop with Leslie Leylands Fields had one opening and a half price deal was being offered. I looked at my calendar and had SEVEN days with not one commitment on it. That NEVER happens. So I signed up. And went.

Twelve women. One teacher. And a cabin on Lake Michigan.

I went not knowing why. Not having any specific expectations. Boy, oh man! I might not have known why, but I needed to go.

Backstory: I’ve written 120 pages of my next book. I’ve written it as fiction for Young Adults, as fiction for adults, in one voice, in three voices, with one narrator, with three narrators. I’ve written it in past tense. I’ve changed it to present tense. It was seriously driving me crazy because it wasn’t right.

Leslie Leyland Fields, Jill Kandel. Lake Michigan So Many Africas9

As part of the conference, Leslie sat down with me to talk about my current work. She listened. And then she asked me one question. “Why aren’t you writing Creative Nonfiction?” 

I didn’t have an answer.

I walked Lake Michigan for two days.
Searching. Thinking. Reflecting.

Lake michigan, Jill Kandel, Lelsie Leyland Fields2

I’m not writing Creative Nonfiction because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of my own story. I don’t want fear to be the motivating factor in my decisions.

I came to the painful and yet freeing conclusion that my next story HAS to be nonfiction. And I sat down and wrote out the first 20 pages (again) and it works. 

This is what I learned: my next story is a love story. About the Netherlands. I am writing in the same ‘voice’ as the Zambia story. I’ve studied CNF for fifteen years. I know how to do this. I don’t need to spend five more years of my life studying and learning a new genre.

So CNF it is.

Other than that life changing, book changing, question … well … the writing week was fantastic. 

Horses, Jill Kandel, Lake Michigan

I met lovely women, rode a gorgeous horse, learned how to make a book journal. I heard stories about Alaska, hospitals, jails, churches. A lot of the women came carrying exhausting stories, shattered lives, and narratives about broken children. I was touched by their grace and strength. Their weakness. Their trust and grit. The world needs to hear their stories. And someday it will.

Thank you to each and every one of you. Yummy food. Talks by the bay window. A new long list of books that I HAVE to read. And a necklace. One of the women recycles old books and Bibles. She made each of us a necklace. In the background of my “J” necklace are the words, “No Fear.” Really? Yes. Okay. Okay. No Fear.

So I offer up a giant thank you to Leslie Leyland Fields who graciously entered my writing world and offered me a question. Sometimes the best gift a friend can give is to ask a question. And listen. And she did.

I came home ready to write.

A “Fluffle of Bodacious Balancing Bunnies” accompanied me on my trip home. One of the writers introduced them to me. It was love at first sight. I am happy to report that the bunnies are quite lively and are thriving on the North Dakota prairie. But they have informed me they want to be featured on future blog posts. “Why not?” they ask. Okay. Okay. Stop asking me questions!

Etsy, A Fluffle of Bodacious Balancing Bunnies, Jill Kandel, So Many Africas 4_TOP

Thanks to everyone who made the week so very, very special. Happy Writing to you all!


Leslie Leyland Fields

Jill Kandel, Lake Michigan Retreat 2015

IMG_20151031_140610502_TOPIMG_20151027_165305445IMG_20151030_102023800Cindee, Lake Michigan, Jill Kandel






























Feature Photo: I collect, tear, cut up and abuse used library children’s books. I wish I could credit the artist from this photo, but I have no idea which book it came from. If anybody knows, please let me know!

Jill Kandel
  • Ingrid Lochamire
    Posted at 08:32h, 04 November Reply

    It was a blessing to be alongside you in this time of revelation and redirection, Jill. You captured the essence of the workshop in your beautiful telling of it. I’m certain our week by the water was providential for each of the women who found themselves there. I know it was for me.

    • Jill Kandel
      Posted at 09:58h, 04 November Reply

      I couldn’t agree more, Ingrid. Providential.

  • Diane McElwain
    Posted at 09:59h, 04 November Reply

    Thanks Jill for your words on the week. It was God perfectly orchestrating each one of us to meet at this time. We took away so much!

  • Harold Ball
    Posted at 10:40h, 04 November Reply

    That is wonderful to hear how you are growing and developing in your writing career .
    Who would have guessed …. Back in Kalabo?


  • Jan VanKooten
    Posted at 16:46h, 27 July Reply

    I continue to remember that week with fondness and warmth — thanks for time traveling me back to the shores of Lake Michigan amidst such amazing women. It was transformative.

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