Hood River, Oregon is a cool little town on the banks of the Columbia River, just an hour east of Portland. It’s home to wind surfers, skiers, snowboarders, and mountain bikers.

It was also the home, for a week at the end of March, to 32 fiction writers who joined Donald Maass and Lorin Oberweger (in addition to other editorial advisers) for BONI – the Breakout Novel Intensive retreat. (You can find information about BONI on the Free Expressions website here.)

Overall? Five Stars. Perhaps that’s a cliché. Let’s say:  Five Golden Fountain Pens, Pencils, or Quills.

Here’s what to expect if you attend BONI

  • morning classes with Don Maass – three hours crammed with information and thought-provoking pointers guaranteed to make you assess your manuscript with a fresh eye;
  • one-on-one sessions with Don and Lorin, and optional meetings with each of the three other editorial advisers, to discuss your work in progress and how to improve it;
  • optional evening critique groups;
  • assignments designed to help you immediately apply techniques discussed in the morning class;
  • a collegial, fun, supportive environment;
  • instructors who see their job as helping you address your goals for the week;
  • a nearby coffee joint;
  • an even closer bar.

Don Maass is an extraordinary instructor – knowledgeable, unstumpable, entertaining, energizing, and energetic. Lorin Oberweger and her editorial crew are outstanding editors who are at ease discussing all aspects of fiction (and every genre) and who love to brainstorm solutions to the ills that plague your plot.  It’s impossible not to come away motivated.

Attend BONI if

  • you want to learn how to take your manuscript from good enough to great,
  • you want to discuss your work with industry professionals honestly,
  • you want to work hard, laugh, and connect with other writers.

Don’t attend BONI if

  • the last thing you want to do is revise your manuscript,
  • you like your nicey-nice characters just the way they are,
  • you hate a challenge.

Don’t just take my word about the value of BONI. Among the 32 participants at BONI were nine writers who had attended previous BONI retreats. Not because of any failure on their part — no, once you finish your formal schooling, you don’t repeat a course because you flunked it first time around. You repeat it because what it gave you was valuable and worthwhile. And because it’s an experience that you want to enjoy again. The nine repeat customers are the best recommendation for BONI.

I’ll go to BONI again. But first I have a few characters to complicate and several stakes to raise.