Conundrum in Confluence

wherein rising water, one road out to town and twelve crime writers on retreat in a flood zone brings to mind some famous words from The Clash, “Should I stay or should I go now?”

If I ever write a horror novel, I’m going to title it The Narrrows.

For the uninformed, as I was until three days ago, a narrow is “a narrow passage, usually connecting parts of a stream, lake or sea; a strait connecting two bodies of water.” If you are in Confluence, Pennsylvania, a narrow is a one lane road with railroad tracks on one side and a steep drop to certain death on the other.

I’m explaining this because I braved such a road (white-knuckled and whimpering, I confess) to get to the Pittsburgh’s Mary Roberts Rinehart Chapter of Sisters in Crime writer’s retreat this past weekend, where I’d been invited as a guest speaker and workshop leader. As last week progressed, it became clear that it was not a good weekend to trek to western Pennsylvania, but this gig had been planned for a long time, and everyone was eager and ready to learn and write and share (and eat)  and it would take more than a little ol’ flood to stop it.

Ha. Hahahahahahaha.

We’d been forewarned that the Youghiogheny River (or the Yuggogheny, for Michael Chabon fans) might rise and flood the area. Not a big stretch of events for a town called Confluence, when the weekend forecast was rain, rain and more rain, and a record-setting amount of snow was upstream, scheduled for an early melt.

So I drove the four and a half hours anyway, confident that there would be no flooding, or danger, or fear, based on the personal meteorological theory I call “But I don’t want that to happen.”

AKA “denial.” Which was why, when that very brief window of “you can leave now or not at all” came, I chose to stay. We had food, the house was safe, we were a group…what’s the worst thing that could happen? A few days’ delay in getting home?

I’m going to allow my fellow retreat survivors to blog about the caravanning into town, a nd the riding in the back of Dan’s van-o-sandbags, and the mysterious hooks in the van, and the debate about walking the train tracks to safety, and  the jokes about Lt. John’s “unit,” and the many, many murder scenarios we dreamed up because, after all, a dozen crime writers trapped in a guest house with a rising river in the back yard, and the only way out is through “the narrows”? Come on! You can’t make this stuff up.

Despite all that Mother Nature threw at us, the retreat soldiered on. You just can’t stop a group of determined writers.  Or, some might say, optimistic fools, but why get into semantics?

The water receded on Sunday, we climbed back into the back of the van. I sat on the wheel hub, grabbed onto one of the hooks (still don’t know why they’re there) and closed my eyes as we drove over the narrows.

It was a great weekend. I’m very glad I stayed. Sometimes, denial is the way to go.

UPDATE: Here are some posts by other retreat survivors!

Annette Dashofy at her blog, Writing, etc.

Martha Reed, today at the Working Stiffs


8 thoughts on “Conundrum in Confluence

  1. It was great meeting you this weekend, Ramona. And what better way to bond than being trapped in a house for a weekend.

    FYI, to solve one mystery, I happen to know the hooks are for transporting kayak paddles or oars. I knew that, but no one seemed interested in asking what their real purpose was. Better to conjure up horror tales.


    1. Annette, the pleasure was all mine! It was a great adventure. If I had to be stuck for a weekend with any group, you guys win, hands down.

      Kayak paddles? Oars? Nah. I think I’m sticking with murderous meat hooks. We certainly did some macabre brainstorming bouncing around the back of that van.


  2. Wow! What an incredible aventure! I’m impressed! Sometime I’ll tell you my “perfect storm” story. Now I’m waiting to see how you use this adventure in your fiction!


  3. Ahh, those hooks are there to hang the coffee mugs from, of course. (although I suspect Annette’s more correct than I am, given the size of those units! Uhh, hooks.)

    It was great meeting you, Ramona. Can’t wait to see you at Pennwriters in May.


  4. Thank you, Ramona, for joining our adventure! Pittsburgh SinC is an intrepid group, if nothing else and we loved the volume of insights you brought to the Retreat.

    See you in May at PennWriters! Should we expect a tsunami in Lancaster next? Rock on!


    1. Martha, intrepid is the word. I will never forget this weekend and I’m thrilled to be an honorary member of the group. (If a Canadian Mountie would have handed me the button, I’d have been even more thrilled.)

      The weekend went so well because you all were open and sharing with your work, willing to toss out helpful ideas and equally willing to listen to suggestions for your own. I hope you realize what a treasure you all are to one another!


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