Sex In Space, Whale Soup… and Bob: Thoughts From My Carmel Writing Retreat [With Audio]

Sex In Space, Whale Soup… and Bob: Thoughts From My Carmel Writing Retreat [With Audio]


I just went away for five days and had the best time a fifty-six year old woman can have without getting arrested.

I’m serious.

I’ve been nervous to make the seemingly Grand Canyon size leap from blog writer to author, and I desperately needed a writing “tribe” …and a net.
Real writers to give me honest, constructive critique, yet not break my heart.
I found them there, in Carmel By The Sea.

As far as acquiring a tribe goes, I am thrilled to report that they are mine, and I am theirs.

The people, the writing, the instruction and feedback were of such high-caliber, I described it one afternoon as the Harvard of Writing Workshops.


This wildly talented crew kept me on my toes, in the game, and laughing every minute of every day.
I LOVE to laugh, but I never imagined I would be laughing until my sides ached and I couldn’t breathe. These people were wicked smart; and smart people are FUNNY…and to my surprise and delight… they’re silly.
Like I said, I found my people, so I joined in.

I talked to my finger as if it were giving me sage advise, smeared gravy on my face as a parody of a fellow table mate who was enthusiastically enjoying her bread with gravy, mimicked a fellow writer’s teenage character from her brilliant novel, with a Valley Girl voiceover, and gleefully joined in, every time we would all put our hands up to cover our mouths, moving them rapidly for an echo chamber special effect, shouting,

I’m not exactly sure how SEX IN SPACE came to be. It became the “working title” for *New York Times Best Selling Author D’s science fiction thriller, even though he had a perfectly good title, it doesn’t take place in space, and the only sex he read to us, was implied.

He did write about scrotums a lot, I’ll grant you that. He is a doctor after all – and a man.

What’s for lunch? SEX IN SPAAAAACE.
Stumped on a particular section of your book? SEX IN SPAAAACE.
Just heard someone read something so incredible from their book that you want to slap their mama? SEX IN SPAAAAACE.

You get the picture……Guess you had to be there.

*by the end of day one, we all insisted that when our name was said, it had to be preceded by the title,New York Times Best Selling Author… I know.

“Examine your own use of creativity and apply your own creative intuition to formulas as this is what imbues them with power and magic. Creativity for the sake of creativity is not what the Whale teaches. It awakens great depth of creative inspiration, but you must add your own color and light to your outer life to make it wonderful. The sound of the Whale teaches us how to create with song.
You are being asked to embrace the unknown.”

In between group mastermind sessions and binge eating, fueled by exhaustion and the close proximity of delicious food; we would each, the six of us, ascend the stairs to Mount Olympus (Linda’s room) for a forty-five minute one-on-one intuitive, brainstorming session with the ‘Master’, as I now refer to her.

After each one, I would gather the contents of my brain, which after failing to contain all the mind expanding concepts discussed, had exploded in an embarrassing mess all over the room; descend the stairs…and take a nap.
It was THAT intense.

The house, like a silent sentinel sitting high above Highway One, overlooked one particularly beautiful stretch of the Carmel coast, with its giant picture windows.
Mount Olympus, being on the third floor, has a staggeringly beautiful, breathtakingly uninterrupted view of the ocean.
One afternoon, during my session, as we were working to steer my writing ship off the rocks, the sea came alive.

I’d just had an idea: “I think I’ll call it One Ride Away From…”
“OH MY GOD JANET!” Linda squealed, “A whale just breached as you said that!”
I turned my attention to the roiling waters below.
“LOOK! There’s another one over there!”

We were both on our feet now, running toward the window, screaming screams that only dogs – and whales, can hear.

Below us the ocean had become Whale Soup.
Everywhere we looked, tails were breaking the surface, slapping the water, producing torrents of white foam. Noses were poking through the froth. Water was shooting into the air from their blow holes, giant saltwater geysers reaching toward the sky in every direction.

We went insane with excitement. We had to share it with our tribe!

Knowing that on the floors below us, everyone had their noses buried in their computers, diligently typing away at their respective masterpieces, we bound down the stairs, screaming the whole way.

“Are you guys seeing this?! Oh My God, come up here, the whales are going crazy!”
Seven of us were now running excitedly, back up the two flights of stairs, to the Mount.

Like little kids we danced and squealed and jumped up and down, arms around each other, hugging and laughing, for a good fifteen to twenty minutes, sharing the magical whale show that the Universe was providing just outside our windows.

“Look over there! No! Over there, shit! I don’t know where to look!”
“It’s a bathtub full of whales!” Someone said in a sing-song voice.

“I’ve NEVER seen this before, EVER; and I’ve been coming to this house six to nine times a year, for over five years” said Linda with reverent awe, never breaking her gaze, entranced in the spectacle below.

The logical explanation was the unprecedented anchovy bloom off the Central California Coast.

Our tribe, the mystical creatives upstairs, writing our heads off?
We knew in a moment, that those majestic creatures had arranged that show. Just. For. Us.


On our final full day of the retreat, Linda took us on an early hike through the rocky outcroppings and tidal pools of Point Lobos State Park. It felt amazing to breathe the fresh, ocean air and move my ass, which had been in the seated position for days on end.

We walked along the dirt paths that weave in and out of the cypress trees, with the spectacular Pacific Ocean to our left; pairing up with one of the tribe, or hanging back, alone, lost in thought. Was it technically a “hike”? Maybe not, but it was delicious just the same.

When we came to a particularly beautiful viewpoint, we all gathered for a photo-op, steadying ourselves on the rocks, the calm blue ocean as our backdrop, Linda as the photographer.

“Are you all from here or are you visiting? Do you want me to take a picture of ALL of you?” he asked with a slight hint of a Detroit accent.

Suddenly, there before us stood a big bear of a man, with his affable manner, and giant smile. Bob, the accountant from Michigan.

“Sure” said Linda, handing Bob her phone and quickly getting into the shot.
“Now take one with my phone, I want one of all of you” he said, and even though I’m happily married and so is he, I fell a little in love.
I think we all did, as Bob unobtrusively joined our hike and inadvertently, our tribe.

I believe in the magnetism of energy. In our days, sequestered together, the seven of us had congealed into a kind of containable Super Nova. I think Bob was drawn to us, to our collective glow.

Bob was in Carmel to golf. It is the golfer’s Mecca with Pebble Beach just a stone’s throw away.
“Wow, you all are writers, I could never do that, I wouldn’t know how” he said as he took turns walking and chatting with each one of us along the trail. “Well, I can’t balance my checkbook” I said, joking around, searching for common ground.

We arrived at the spot Linda was leading us to; the branches of a long dead cypress, splayed open like a throne, wood worn as smooth as marble. It faced north, looking out over a small, placid, kelp filled cove.
“The Indians would sit here and meditate” Linda said.
“Look how worn it is, people have been sitting in that spot for hundreds of years.”

We all took turns, this group of mystics and shamans, healers….and Bob.
Bless his heart, he took a turn too, sitting inside the open arms of that magical cypress tree.

As we were gathered, waiting for everyone to take their turn, deer appeared, so we all quieted down and Bob became introspective, talking to me in hushed tones about some experiences he was having, and his revelations about love. “Now THAT’S what you can write about, everyone can relate to matters of the heart.” I whispered.
He nodded his head looking out at the sea. I could FEEL him opening in the silence between the words and even though I didn’t think it possible, I fell in love with Bob, the accountant from Michigan, even a little bit more.

I gave him this blog address as we all hugged goodbye about ten minutes later in the parking lot. He had a tee time to make and I had an appointment with my iPad.

I hope you read this Bob. You, along with this transformational time in Carmel, left a mark on us all, and THIS – from the heart; this is how you write about amazing stuff when it happens to you.

Love to all,
especially NYTBSA Dave,Murphy,Orna,Matthew,Jeannie,Denise,Master Linda and Bob
**Bob took the picture above.

Linda Sivertsen is the author, co-author, or ghostwriter of nine books–two NYT bestsellers among them. When she’s not writing her own books (Lives Charmed, Generation Green, and the most recent Your Big Beautiful Book Plan with Danielle LaPorte), Linda teaches writing retreats in Carmel-by-the-Sea. She and her work have appeared in/on CNN, E!, Extra, the NY Post, New York Times, Family Circle, Teen Vogue, the Huffington Post, and She lives in Los Angeles with her man, their horses, and a couple of perfect pups.


okay, okay, here’s the audio!

  • Orna Walters says:

    Janet! You captured our magical week brilliantly and beautifully! I love that this will live on in cyberspace forever so I can tap into the inspiration at any time… again, and again, and again!


    • jbertolus says:

      Thanks Orna! As everyone’s books get published, I’ll attach the links at the end of the post! Cheers to all of us, the latest greatest NYTBS Authors! 😉
      (and Linda’s all time favorite group)

  • Janet! You’ve captured the essence of our time together so beautifully!! When I read it I thought: “Wow! I’d love to be there!” And then I remember that I was! I’m so happy to have been introduced to you and the magical way you make insights leap off the page 🙂

    • jbertolus says:

      Thank you so much Jeannie, the feeling could not be more mutual. We shared a very special experience, and I couldn’t have had a better time with my “roomie”. Can’t wait until your book “Your Blissful Biz” is on the shelves!
      Love you!

  • This is so darling, Janet. I don’t know how you did it, but you totally captured the magic of our week together. That’s why YOU need to finish your book. Because you’re a wonderful writer. Love + miss you already, mama! xo

    • jbertolus says:

      Thank you Love! Couldn’t do it without YOU! Thanks for all the love and support 🙂
      Pulling the book together as we speak!
      Love and miss you too.

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