CWW Alumni News: “The One Tip that Changed My Life” by Nannie Flores

Nannie Flores at the Château de Verderonne in Picardy, France

Nannie Flores, an alumna of the 2014 Château de Verderonne Yoga & Writing Retreat in Picardy, France, writes a haunting and powerful new essay, “The One Tip That Changed My Life” for Ideiya Magazine.  In the essay, Flores tackles the taboos associated with writing nonfiction, trauma, illness, and its aftermath.  In the essay, Flores writes:

Write as if your parents were dead.” In retrospect, there was something ominous and sinister about this piece of writing advice. At the time, it seemed harmless. So I took the tip when I was in college.

While in university, I wrote two one-act plays that touched on themes such as virginity and physical and verbal abuse in relationships. My parents watched the play, and they applauded along with the audience. The writing tip worked.

On the ride back home, when all the hype was over, they made sure to say they were proud of me, but that they disapproved of certain elements in my works. “Relationships are meant to be healthy,” Mama said. Papa gave his usual silent nod.

But what’s done is done. I have already written it and I didn’t need to ask for their approval…”  

Read the full essay on Ideiya here.

Nannie Flores is a playwright and nonfiction writer based in the Philippines.  Her essays and articles have appeared in, ABS-CBN News, Ideiya,, and Philippine Daily Inquirer.  You can follow her on her blog, The Fancy Delight.

Christina Ruotolo, CWW Château de Verderonne Retreat Participant, featured in The Writer Magazine

Screen Shot 2015-01-18 at 7.08.06 PMChristina Ruotolo, a participant at the  Cambridge Writers’ Workshop 2014 Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château at Verderonne, has been featured in The Writer Magazine!  In addition to presenting her new creative writing and enjoying hors d’oeuvres and cocktails with her fellow workshop participants, Christina found inspiration for her work when reading The Writer at the Château de Vederonne.  She also very much enjoyed the literary and cultural tours of Paris and Chantilly with the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop as well as her daily yoga classes with Elissa Lewis.

Christina Ruotolo, 36, is a published poet and nonfiction writer who hails from eastern North Carolina.  In 2014, she started a nonfiction blog, The Grief Project, after the loss of her mother in 2013, her father in early 2014, and a miscarriage a few months after that. “I used the blog as a way to navigate through my grief one thought and one word at a time. I want others to share their stories of grief and how they deal with the ups and downs that grief in all forms entail.” When not writing, Christina is an adjunct English instructor and Writing Consultant at Pitt Community College, a Barnes and Noble employee, and hard at work on a poetry chapbook and her first screenplay. If you would like to submit your story of how you dealt with grief to Christina’s blog, please visit the website,

Gypsy in Paris: novel research and Jazz Manouche at L’atelier Charonne in Quail Bell Magazine

jessica reidy

I’m so excited that my Paris Gypsy Jazz bar travelogue is in Quail Bell Magazine. I just came back from a fantastic work/play adventure that began in the much re-blogged Cambridge Writers’ Workshop‘s infamous Yoga and Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne in Picardy, France, at which I was both a participant and a visiting professor. That then transitioned beautifully into about a week of solo research in Paris. The only way I could think to express this experience was sampling my journal, gushing over the most wonderful little Gypsy Jazz bar, L’atelier Charonne, and putting in a little Paris-photo gallery for this little piece. I know I can’t do it justice, but it was nice to take a shot at it. I was also lucky to see a bunch of friends in France– Gina La Piana, Antonia Alexandra Klimenko, the CWW femme fatales 

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August 20 – Bon Voyage, Mes Amis!

August 20 marked the very last day of the 2014 Cambridge Writers’ Workshop Yoga & Writing Retreat at the Château de Verderonne.  The day started early for me at 5:30 am with me bidding adieu to our wonderful and talented intern, Meghan Tilley, as she when to catch her flight at Charles de Gaulle Airport.  By 8 am, all of our terrific writers, artists, and yoga-philes sat down at the great table in the Château de Verderonne hunting lodge to have one last breakfast together.  Our writers would be returning home to the US, the Philippines, the UK, and Germany after this all-too-short and productive retreat.  Breakfast was bittersweet as we all said our fond farewells, exchanged emails, and promised to keep in touch with our writing partners and workshop groups.  We chose November 20 as our first post-retreat rendez-vous date when all of our 2014 retreat participants would meet via Skype to exchange their writing and update us on the projects we had begun at the Château de Verderonne.  Participants began to make their way to the train station and airport around 11 am.  Some writers would be staying a few days extra in Paris while others would do a short tour of Europe before they returned home.

After 11 am, only a few of the participants and instructors remained at the Château de Verderonne.  We thanked Gina & Jessica for their incredibility generosity and fierceness of spirit, which brought a of light and great humor to the retreat.  We walked around the blooming flower gardens and lush green estates of the château one more time together, remembered our meetings on the trampoline, the incredible meals we had made together, and all the writing that was produced on the trip.  We made a pact to not only keep in touch, but to keep each other posted on our creative projects, and to most of all, keep on writing.  The creative energy at the end of the trip was tangible.  And after spending the afternoon working on our own writing and art, Norma, Elissa, and I joined Monsieur and Madame Marié de l’Isle for one last dinner at the château.  Over apéritifs and a wonderful home-cooked meal, we spoke of our favorite French authors and thinkers, the luminaries who had graced the Château de Verderonne, and the exciting plans for the château’s future.

Returning to our rooms late in the evening when the fog and mist had settled over the château’s gardens, we enjoyed one last midnight discussion together, and then rested for the next day we would be heading off to Paris!  In Paris, we met up with Jessica and Antonia Alexandra Klimenko, a celebrated member of SpokenWord Paris and one of the most renowned English-language poets currently living in Paris.  Together, we enjoyed a to-die-for Morrocan meal complete with mouth-watering tajines, delicious couscous, and hot mint tea at La Baracka in Paris.  A black cat with green eyes watched us overhead as we enjoyed our dinner together.  Then we visited L’altelier Charonne which was featuring Jazz Manouche and Tzigane music.  Two of the musicians were of Roma descent and the third was Italian, and together they blended French classical music styles, bossa nova, and traditional Gypsy music themes together beautifully.  After the concert, Jess and Norma had a chance to chat with the Roma musicians as well.

After the amazing concert, we noticed an unmarked building with gorgeous electric lights, dark curtains, and an assortment of odd mid-century modern furniture inside.  The place was actually a tavern called Bar Sans Nom (A Bar With No Name), and as the owner later described it to us, the place purposefully lacked a marquee sign and any exterior indication that it was a bar at all.  In this way, the tavern could be magical.  Hard to spot the first time, and even harder to find the second.  The dark velvet walls seemed to invite.  And sitting there in the middle of old television sets, typewriters, pianofortes, and hard-metal fans, it was easy to wonder if this place was really real, or rather, if it was something we had imagined to entertain one last evening together.

–  Rita Banerjee, Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Creative Director

August 19 – A Literary Rendez-vous & Mis-Translations at the Château de Verderonne

Today was the penultimate day of our yoga & writing retreat at the Château de Verderonne.  After early morning yoga & breakfast, the morning kicked off with one last writing seminar.  Norma and I taught a class on “Manuscript Revision and Publication Strategies.”  We reviewed different techniques for revising poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and theatre pieces, gave an overview of the magazine submission process, and discussed how writers could put together and edit book-length manuscripts and query their book projects to agents, presses, and publishers.  After class, we had a nice afternoon break.  Some writers continued to work on their own projects in small groups, while others took one last tour of the French countryside and/or decided to make one last meal together.  With fresh tomatoes from the Verderonne greenhouse, Gina made a killer tomato sauce for spagetti which was based on a family recipe.  Norma chipped in with some delicious and garlicky hummus, and an onion-egg fry.  I made chili-seasoned baked potatoes, and Megan made some awesome butter-herb pasta.  In the afternoon, participants joined Elissa for one last yoga session together.  Elissa shared some great massage techniques and aromatherapy oils with everyone.  And then we sat down to eat our home-made snacks and then snuck out to glam up for our big night out!

After classes ended, we were invited to have apéros and hors d’oeuvres with Monsieur and Madame Marié de l’Isle at their residence, the Château de Verderonne, our lovely 17th century castle with towers dating from 1450.  The foundation for the castle was laid on the edge of the town, Liancourt in Picardy, in the early 11th century, and the castle had been rebuilt in many styles from Medieval to French Classical in the years that followed.

M. Marié began the evening by pointing out the gorgeous modern paintings of the château, many of which are currently housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  He also told us how his father had been at designer for the 16th-18th Century French Art Exhibit in the Met in the 1960s.  After enjoying the château’s galleries and gorgeous mote-side garden views, M. Marié showed us some rare books from the Château de Verderonne 17th century library collection.  One of the books contained beautiful maps of the original château, its original French classical gardens, and later English garden editions.  The book also contained information about surrounding châteaus and monuments in the Picardy region of France.

He then toasted all our lovely and talented writers on the retreat, and that’s when the fun began.  All the writers had prepared two short poems to present to Monsieur and Madame Marié de l’Isle .  The poems were inspired by Norma’s writing prompt from her class, “Shadow, Light, and the Crepuscular.”  Each writer had to find an evocative object on the grounds of the Château de Verderonne, study it in bright illumination and then in near darkness, and then write two pieces based on how the object was perceived in these two very different frames of light.  Some writers chose to produce OULIPO-inspired Snowball poems about their objects, while other opted for a more narrative approach.  Monsieur and Madame Marié de l’Isle seemed to enjoy all wonderful writing produced about evocative objects at the Château de Verderonne.  They also enjoyed Norma’s art-instillation of the light-and-shadow poems and will be adding the collection to the permanent library at the château.

After drinks and poetry, M. Marié continued the tour of the grand château.  He told us about Claude-Adrien Helvétius, a French Enlightenment thinker who had been one of the founding contributors to Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie in the 18th century, had housed his personal library at the Château de Verderonne.  Helvétius’s daughter, Geneviève Helvétius, had lived at the Château de Verderonne with her husband, and had collected her father’s books there.  Helvétius’s wife, Anne-Catherine de Ligniville, maintained one of the most well-known literary salons in the 17th century, and in her salon, Madame Helvétius frequently hosted Voltaire, Diderot, Fontenelle as well as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Napoléon Bonaparte.  In addition to his contributions to the Encyclopédie, Helvétius was known for publishing De l’espirit (Of the Spirit), a text exploring atheism, egalitarianism, psychology, and intelligence.  Helvétius’s text was so controversial that the book was condemned by the Paris Parlement and La Sorbonne, and burned by the Catholic Church for being so subversive and atheistic.  The library is currently being renovated but would soon display Helvétius’s full collection of tomes and papers again.  In addition to these papers, many of the original manuscripts for the original plays performed during the 16-18th centuries at the Château de Verderonne’s still-standing classical French theatre will also be on display in the new renovated library.

After a tour of the library and the front rooms of the château, M. Marié took us on a tour of the château’s attic and bell tower.  On the top floor, we found beautiful slate-blue painted rooms for visiting courtesans complete with antique-clawed bathtubs and large French windows.  We also saw some spectacular views of the château’s surrounding grounds from the top floor.  Then off we went to the bell-tower, which was used to announce dinner and other import occasions to visitors and staff at the château for centuries.  The hike up the bell tower was steep and a little precarious, and once we let go of our vertigo and climbed onto the small gazebo on the roof, we could see miles and miles of the château’s lush green country estates.  Standing at the center of the center of the bell tower of the Château de Verderonne, one could almost look back, far back to a time when château gracefully straddled the imaginary town line between Liancourt and Rosey.  One could see, from up here, how the tree-lined pathways branched out from the focal point of the château in perfect perpendicular lines.  And one could imagine French luminaries and encyclopédistes walking across the château’s stage, as visiting courtesans like Marie-Antoinette roamed through the château’s hidden rooms and endless green gardens.

Dreaming of courtesans, country actors, and classical writers, we enjoyed one last dinner together with the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop group.  And then after dinner, we sat down for one last salon game, and played “Mis-tanslations,” a literary game based on Robert Lowell’s idea of purposefully mis-reading and mis-translating a foreign-language text.  Writers read out loud famous texts from medieval and classical French, Swahili, Hebrew, Romani, Bengali, Hungarian, Tagalog, and Mandarin, and our job was to decipher what these poems and essays were saying in English.  Some of the writing produced evoked the sounds and emotions of each read piece while others highlighted how mis-translations could play with both sense and non-sense simultaneously.  Overall, we had some very interesting new interpretations of Montaigne, Baudelaire, Macbeth, Roma and Hebrew folk songs, Bengali modernist poetry, “I’m a Little Teapot,” Jack Kerouac, and Hungarian Roma verse.

Rita Banerjee, Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Creative Director

August 18 – Watercolors and Writing Workshops at the Château de Verderonne

After our morning yoga, Elissa treated us to a watercolor class to teach us to paint the château, but the rain had other plans. So we worked on color blending in the blue salon, under the gaze of the plaster unicorn head mounted to the wall like a prize, until the sun peered out. We want to control the water-paint ratio! Not you, Nature!

We started indoors until the weather sorted itself out

Water, water everywhere: we started indoors until the weather sorted itself out

Christine has an impressive array of paints!

The color wheel: Christina has an impressive array of paints!

Mixing colors like pros

Color theory: mixing colors like pros

Before everyone settled in though, I had this moment with a butterfly who landed on the table to die, or rest in peace.

The butterfly between states

The butterfly between states

Luckily the rain stopped just in-time. The sky wasn’t perfectly clear, but the looming clouds cast a writerly mood over the grounds and our paintings– pensive, reflective, and changeable. Elissa showed us how to measure angles, notice parallel lines, approximate perspective, and patiently build the Château de Verderonne in paint upon our papers.

Elissa and Stephanie perfect their pieces on the grassy slope

Elissa and Stephanie perfect their pieces on the grassy slope

It's more fun to paint together

It’s more fun to paint together


The painters at work

The painters at work

Rita and Elissa's artist hand

Rita and Elissa’s artist hand

Maybe there's still a bit of rain to contend with

Maybe there’s still a bit of rain to contend with

Mr. Marie was pleased with our work– he seems to genuinely love how many writers and artists are inspire by his beautiful home. The Château de Verderonne has a long tradition of hosting artists dating back to the days of Marie Antoinette, and probably earlier too. Between the ancient theatre and the castle itself, there’s plenty of space for the magic of creation.

Mr. Marie with Nannie and her painting. I love his look of fatherly pride!

Mr. Marie with Nannie and her painting. I love his look of fatherly pride!

Between class and workshop, I took a stroll around the grounds and realized that sunny skies are lovely, but overcast and threatening to rain is where all the real drama is. When I found this tiny green spider on the white rose, I remembered the butterfly from earlier, and then this sonnet, “On Design” by Robert Frost:

A green spider on a rose against a stormy sky

A green spider on a rose against a stormy sky

“I found a dimpled spider, fat and white,

On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth—
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches’ broth—
A snow-drop spider, a flower like a froth,
And dead wmgs carried like a paper kite.

What had that flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall?–
If design govern in a thing so small.”

We had all been wondering since we got here, why are we all here? Why this specific group of people at this specific time and place? We wondered about fate, free-will, and chaos. If we were destined to meet, to collide with our stories and poems, to influence each other, to remember each other, or if it was all a happy accident. What design of writing to appease?–If design govern in a thing so sweet.

Red Heart

Red Heart

“Your thorns are the best part of you.” –Marianne Moore, “Roses Only”

"Your thorns are the best part of you." --Marianne Moore, "Roses Only"

“Your thorns are the best part of you.” –Marianne Moore, “Roses Only”

“You do not seem to realize that beauty is a liability rather than an asset…” -Marianne Moore, “Roses Only”

"You do not seem to realize that beauty is a liability rather than an asset..." -Marianne Moore, "Only Roses"

“You do not seem to realize that beauty is a liability rather than an asset…” -Marianne Moore, “Only Roses”

I watched the bees visiting the petunias

bee in flower bees in flower 2 bees in flower

My wander through the rest of the garden darkened as I neared the gate–

gardens3 flowers greenhouse2 gate gate2

The greenhouse beckoned with colored glass and ripe tomatoes

greenhouse tomato

Little did they know, fat and content upon the vine, what would become of them tomorrow…

Gina teaches me how to make her famous marinara

Gina teaches me how to make her famous marinara

The rain had made good on its threat, but no walk is complete without snuggling a baby chick at the chicken coop


The old doghouse beside the coop

How can anything be so adorable and sweet?

How can anything be so adorable and sweet?

Janet looking lovely among the hens

Janet looking lovely among the hens

And then it was time for our last workshop. Some of us revised projects from the last workshop while others brought new material. I have to say, workshop, even the best ones, can be exhausting, but I felt rejuvenated after ours– there were so many fresh perspectives that prospect of revision felt promising, exciting, and full of possibilities.

Janet and Stephanie prepare for workshop

Janet and Stephanie prepare for workshop with tea and work to share

Yoga coaxed us out of our seats and revived our writer-backs.




Warrior II

we earned this

We earned this

At the end of the day, how could I help but be happy with the work we had done? Already we had completed three workshops, snuggled many chicks, painted a castle, visited Paris and Chantilly, and learned so much from craft talks and classes… and the retreat wasn’t even quite finished. Every morning and every night I would look out my window and feel thankful for the present moment and our lucky constellation of writers in this ephemeral place.

– Jessica Reidy, CWW Fiction Instructor

Looking out my window

Looking out my window

August 17 – Suspense, Experiments, and Secret Passageways au Château de Verderonne

We had a beautiful day that started off with delicious French pastries from a local pastry shop. Yum.  Rita taught a craft of writing seminar in the morning on using Rasa theory to create emotion and suspense in theater and fiction.  Everyone practiced creating emotionally charged scenes in their narratives.  In the afternoon, I taught a class where we learned about traditional and contemporary French poetry.  We even tried our hand at experimenting with some OULIPO (Ouvroir de Littérature Potentielle) writing experiments.

In the early evening, Monsieur Marié de l’Isle took us on a walk to the ice house, one of the oldest in France.  We learned that in the days before freezers and refrigerators, people would harvest ice in the winter, storing it in a deep hole they constructed underground, called the ice house.  Ice was very expensive and enjoyed by royals and the nobility as a treat.  After a walk through the woods, we carefully ventured down the ivy and thorn covered stone steps, holding hands, taking care not to step on the slugs and precious escargot!  Then, we walked through a dark tunnel guarded by many spiders and stared down into the depths of what looked like an oubliette.  It was eerie to imagine the ice stored here centuries ago, people navigating their way here with oil lamps to scrape nature’s simple delicacy for some rich man’s table.

Then, on our way back, we saw a hideout called a “muche” in the old Picard language.  Now gated, these underground dwellings served as temporary shelters and storage cellars when military raids would plague the region.  It was a very interesting walk, and we were all inspired by the mystery in the air whilst exploring these secret passageways and ivy-grown tunnels long forgotten.

– Diana Norma Szokolyai, Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Artistic Director


August 16 – Yoga & Yearning at the Château de Verderonne

Saturday began with fresh breakfast and lessons on yearning.  Jessica Reidy taught the class on using character’s yearning – both interior and superficial – to not only deepen the plot, but make it believable and authentic.  In the afternoon, we had our second workshop, breaking off into small groups to discuss and critique each other’s work. It was bright and sunny for the first time in a few days, so most groups sat outside in the chateau’s courtyards to soak up some sun and talk writing.  After a long day at Chantilly, it was wonderful to relax and enjoy the craft and weather.

– Megan Tilley, CWW Editing & Communications Intern

August 15 – Cambridge Writers’ Workshop takes on Chantilly!

Today the Cambridge Writers’ Workshop headed off to Chantilly, known for it’s lovely whipped cream, genuflecting horses, and fancy French lace! (La vie française est toujours magnifique!!) The day started off with a casual stroll through Chantilly’s downtown area where some of our participants made friends with the local cats 😉 Next up, an amazing hat and jewelry shop where our writers tried on some French berets and classic fedoras and struck a pose worthy of any good hard-boiled femme fatale 😉 After our Chantilly noir moment, we stopped by a local teahouse for some café gourmand, and then headed off to the stables to see the genuflecting horses! The show, Cheval, Rêve, & Poesie, featured dancing horses, acrobats, court jesters, and beautiful music and costumes from France, Russia, Spain, China, and India! After the program, some of the ladies sat down for a drink and observed the flâneurs passing by. Then Gina & I headed off to the Château de Chantilly to check out the gorgeous private art collection, beautiful classical library, monkey room, and animal motifs in the château. Janet captured a wonderful shot of a skinned lion tapestry (which she says helped spark her creative writing but which might also haunt her forever), and another group of writers, including Nannie, Norma, Stephanie, and Janet, went off to explore the sheep and lambs on the pastures of Château de Chantilly, and in doing so, found some hidden steps to an ancient and ruined bridge which lead to a hidden island. Climbing the moss-covered steps, they found a perfect, secluded spot to spend awhile composing a new tale and some new poetry. All in all, our little trip to Chantilly was filled with hidden treasures, secret enclaves, much delicious food and food for thought, and unexpected moments of poetry.

Rita Banerjee, Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s Creative Director

August 14 – Emotion & Suspense at the Château de Verderonne

After yoga in the morning, Rita taught a class on Emotion and Suspense in Theatre and Fiction, which included several writing prompts and a lesson on how to build both tension and suspense, as well as including emotion without being too overt or cliché.  After that, we had free writing.  The weather was gorgeous, and many went outside to enjoy the views of the chateau and gardens.  We discovered that some chicks had hatched in the chicken coop – they were extremely adorable. Yoga concluded the free writing period.  After dinner we had a knitting circle – a great end to a beautiful day.

– Megan Tilley, CWW Editing & Communications Intern