I had just sold my novel to Counterpoint Press when I got the email from Tod Goldberg telling me that Dickinson House was accepting applications for a summer fellowship in Belgium. At the time, I should have been strictly overwhelmed with excitement at my book’s sale, but instead, I felt an undercurrent of fear and insecurity. I had been working for so long to get to the place of finally being a published novelist, and suddenly I was almost there. Now what? All the tools I had were for traveling somewhere, not arriving. I was frozen. You’re only a debut novelist once.
I needed to be shaken up like one of those snow globes so that when the white flakes, like blank pages, settled I could see something different. I wanted to be somewhere I didn’t recognize. There, I thought, I’d be able to find something unexpected. Maybe a new perspective. I wasn’t sure.
I got an answer in Belgium. Dickinson House was full of wonder—train rides, bike rides, corn stalks that seemed to grow a foot every night, thigh-high Shetland ponies, a seven-foot-tall blue horse walking the property line, flowers you could eat from their stalks. Chocolates. Of course, Belgian chocolate. And then there were Éireann’s banquets—the delicious meals she’d cook from her garden. Any chef would be jealous.
Being among writers in this beautiful setting, I felt welcomed, taken care of, and unhurried. I found myself exploring—Paris, Bruges, and beyond—and found myself on the other side of my writing problem—the left side is what I’d call it, not the front where I was used to staring, wishing I could see something different. The sentence that had eluded me seemed to rise up and hang there in front of me as I typed in Dickinson House’s living room. It was just a sentence but it was thee sentence that connected one section of my novel to the next and the result was a butterfly effect. I understood something about my main characters—a mother and daughter—that I had missed before. It touched my editorial choices from then on.
Dickinson House allowed me to find something wonderful in all the white.
Natashia Deón is a writer, lawyer, law professor, and mother of two. Her debut novel, Grace, is due out June 2016 with Counterpoint Press. Find out more on her website, here.
Interested in applying for a 2016 fellowship? Click here.