Over the last several weeks, I've opened my laptop countless times, fingers poised over the keyboard, ready to recap the reader retreat hosted by Innkeeper Gwenn of Blessings on State Bed & Breakfast.
But no matter how long I stared at the screen, or how many sentences I typed, deleted, then rewrote, I couldn’t find the right words. After all, how can you reduce such a profound moment in your life to a few paragraphs?
Short answer: you can’t. But I’ll try my very best to give you a glimpse.
As a writer, there are several pivotal “firsts” in your career, significant moments you’ll never forget.
Your first finished manuscript, your first published book, your first review, the first time you hit a bestsellers list, etc..
The weekend I spent at Blessings on State in Jacksonville, Illinois begot several such moments, most notably my first in-person author appearance, first book signing, and the first time I saw one of my books in a bookstore.
All three of these events are monumental in their own right, and similar to a wedding, can be built up and romanticized in an author’s mind to such a degree that reality can’t possibly compare.
While I’m still amazed to admit this, I can honestly say without any hyperbole, the entire weekend surpassed even my most optimistic expectations.
And there are two foundational factors: the gracious, unparalleled hospitality and exceptional event planning skills of Gwenn Henderson Eyer and the extraordinary warmth, kindness, and camaraderie of the readers who attended.
I’m no stranger to the comfort and homeyness of staying in a bed & breakfast, but Blessings on State is an experience on its own level. Not only does Gwenn think of every detail—from the cozy robes that feel like a cotton candy hug to the scrumptious bedside box of chocolates (late night snack, anyone?)—Gwenn and her husband Glenn are such sweet, delightful hosts, you’ll instantly feel like you’re visiting longtime friends. Friends who happen to love pampering their houseguests.
On top of her impeccable hostessing skills, Gwenn is a consummate event planner. I’ll attach a copy of the weekend’s itinerary at the end, but seeing the words on the page simply can’t do it justice. Everything from the food to the flow of each fun-filled gathering was flawless.
Confession: there’s an element to this type of event that I find intimidating. Most of my career is spent behind a computer screen, and there are tiny whispers of doubt and insecurities whenever I consider “putting myself out there” on a more public, personal scale.
But largely thanks to Gwenn’s thoughtfulness and consideration for every possible detail (she even brought her own stash of books to the bookstore after they sold out so I could see them stacked on the front table—a dream come true!), I’ve never felt more honored and humbled. As I jokingly told my husband, I felt like a “real” author.
I also have to thank the readers who attended the retreat. Each one of them touched my heart in a way I can never adequately express. When I think back to all the laughter rippling through the house as we decorated Christmas trees, to the stories told around the fire pit, to the genuine friendships formed over the most mouthwatering meals, I’m in absolute awe.
Book lovers truly are the most incredible people—warm, sincere, and wellsprings of generosity who genuinely strive to build others up.
The night before we left, my daughter wasn’t feeling well, so I didn’t join everyone for the final brunch to prevent spreading potential germs. And as I said farewell from the top of the sweeping staircase, gazing at a group of the most beautiful women—inside and out—tears filled my eyes. I didn’t want to say goodbye.
To keep the tears from falling, I comforted myself with the thought that maybe we’d all meet here again for an annual Christmas tradition.
At that moment, I couldn’t help feeling a little bit like Abby from Blessings on State Street.
She arrived at 1109 West State Street and found so much more than she’d expected. She found blessings she couldn’t foresee or even imagine.
And if you ever have a chance to visit—and I sincerely hope you do!—I know you’ll discover the same.
I'd also like to thank the residents of Jacksonville, IL. It's truly a Hallmark-worthy town and I've never felt more welcomed. When you visit, you'll experience all the charm and friendliness you find within the pages of your favorite small-town romance novel. And I’m sure I’ll be gathering inspiration for my fictional town of Blessings Bay for years to come. I already look forward to my next visit!
PS~ There was far too much to share in a single post, so be on the look-out (or subscribe to my newsletter) if you'd like to hear more.
And to be notified of future events. ;)