The Sandhill Writers Retreat

Saturday, May 14, 2016
9:00am - 5:30pm
Saint Leo University
Saint Leo, Florida

The Fourth Annual Sandhill Writers Retreat will renew the writer in you.

The full-day retreat will take place on the beautiful, serene University Campus, located in rural Saint Leo, Florida, approximately 35 miles north of Tampa. The retreat will feature twelve hands-on writing classes in fiction, nonfiction, journalism, poetry, comics and writing for veterans. A faculty of nationally-acclaimed writers/poets includes Pulitzer Prize winner Lane DeGregory of Tampa Bay Times; novelist Rita Ciresi (Bring Back My Body to Me); poets Peter Schmitt (Renewing the Vows) and Erica Bernheim (The Mimic Sea); and comics writer Claire Stephens. These four renowned writers will be joined by Saint Leo writing faculty members Dr. Patrick Crerand, Gianna Russo and Iraq war veteran writer Brooke King to guide attendees through lessons in craft and imaginative exercises that lead to new works The retreat will also include a faculty reading and book signing, a reception, and an optional lunch-time open reading for participants. Participants are encouraged to bring their own lunch or order a box lunch for an additional charge.

A very limited number of private one-on-one manuscript consultations are available on a first come, first served basis.  There is an additional fee for the 15-minute consultation of up to 10 pages of fiction, nonfiction or poetry.

Who Should Attend

You are invited!  The Sandhill Writers Retreat is open to writers of all levels who wish to hone the craft and renew the joy of writing.  Teachers, students, the military and the general public are all invited to attend.

2016 Faculty:

FICTION: RITA CIRESI (University of South Florida, Tampa)

Rita Ciresi is author of the novels Bring Back My Body to Me, Pink Slip, Blue Italian, and Remind Me Again Why I Married You and the story collections Sometimes I Dream in Italian and Mother Rocket. She is director of creative writing at the University of South Florida and a mentor for the Bay Path University online MFA in nonfiction writing. Visit her website at

JOURNALISM: LANE DEGREGORY (Tampa Bay Times, Saint Petersburg)

Lane DeGregory is a Pulitzer Prize-winning Tampa Bay Times feature writer who prefers writing about people in the shadows. She went to work with a 100-year-old man who still swept out a seafood warehouse, hung out beneath a bridge with a colony of sex offenders, followed a feral child who was adopted.

Lane graduated from the University of Virginia, where she was editor-in-chief of the Cavalier Daily student newspaper. Later, she earned a master's degree in rhetoric and communication studies from the University of Virginia. For 10 years, she wrote news and feature stories for the Virginian-Pilot, based in Norfolk, Va.

Lane is a fellow in the Society of Professional Journalists and a freelance writer for Our State Magazine. Her newspaper stories have appeared in the Best Newspaper Writing editions of 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008 and in the new anthology Newswomen: 25 Years of Front Page Journalism. She has taught journalism at the University of South Florida - St. Petersburg, been a speaker at the Nieman Narrative Conference at Harvard University and at the international Conference on Narrative Journalism in Amsterdam. She has won dozens of national awards, including the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.

POETRY: PETER SCHMITT (The University of Miami, Miami)

Peter Schmitt is the author of five books of poems, including three full-length collections: Renewing the Vows (David Robert Books); Hazard Duty and Country Airport (Copper Beech).  Two chapbooks, To Disappear, and Incident in an Apartment Complex: A Suite of Voices, are with Pudding House.  He has received The Julia Peterkin Award  (Converse College);  The Lavan Award (Academy of American Poets); The “Discovery”/The Nation Prize; grants from The Florida Arts Council (twice); and an Ingram Merrill Fellowship.  His poems have appeared in many leading journals, including The Hudson Review, The Nation, The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Southern Review, are widely anthologized and have been featured on NPR’s Writers Almanac.  A native Miamian, he has taught creative writing and literature at The University of Miami since 1986.

POETRY: ERICA BERNHEIM (Florida Southern College, Lakeland)

Erica Bernheim holds degrees from Miami University, The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is currently Associate Professor of English at Florida Southern College, where she directs the creative writing program. Her first full-length collection, The Mimic Sea, was published by 42 Miles Press (Indiana University South Bend) in 2012. She is also the author of a chapbook, Between the Room and the City (H_NGM_N B__KS, 2007). Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Backlash, and The Iowa Review.

COMICS & POETRY: CLAIRE STEPHENS (University of South Florida, Tampa)

Claire Stephens is a Visiting Instructor in the English Department at the University of South Florida, where she has taught professional and expository writing, comics, fiction, and composition and also serves as Assistant to the Coordinator of Creative Writing.

She is currently writing and drawing Split City Blues, a graphic novel that was the 2013 recipient of the University of South Florida Outstanding Thesis or Dissertation Award. Lady in Ink, her chapbook comic about women and tattoos, was published in 2014 by Sweet Publications. Her work has been included in two textbooks and published in Prick of the Spindle and A Bad Penny Review. You can find her on twitter @rclairestephens and on her site

SLU Writing Faculty:


Patrick Crerand teaches writing and literature at Saint Leo where he is a co-founder of the on-line literary magazine Lightning Key Review.  His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Collagist, New Orleans Review, the Tampa Bay Times, and other magazines.  He lives in Dade City with his lovely wife and three kids.


Brooke King served in the United States Army, deploying to Iraq in 2006 as a wheel vehicle mechanic, machine gunner, and recovery specialist.  As a wife to a fellow veteran and mother to twin boys who were conceived in Iraq, Brooke began writing her unique experience down as a way to cope with PTSD, but found that her writing ability along with her combat experience gave her a distinct voice within the war genre. Since obtaining her B.A. from Saint Leo University, Brooke has refocused her writing, bringing perspective and insight into the involvement of female soldiers in combat and war.  Her work has been published in O Dark Thirty, War Literature and the Arts, Prairie Schooner, Press 53's fiction war anthology Home of the Brave: Somewhere in the Sand, University of Nebraska Press and Potomac's Red, White, and True Anthology. Her chapbook, Love in the Shape of a War Zone, was released in October 2013 by Green Rabbit Press. Currently, Brooke is working on her memoir.


Gianna Russo (Retreat Director) is Instructor of English and Creative Writing at Saint Leo University.  She is the author of a full-length poetry collection, Moonflower, winner of the Florida Book Award Bronze Medal, the Florida Publishers Association Silver Award and an Eric Hofer First Horizons Honorable Mention.  A Pushcart Prize nominee, she has also had publications in Tampa Review, Ekphrasis, Crab Orchard Review, Florida Review, Florida Humanities Council Forum, Karamu, The Bloomsbury Review, The Sun, Poet Lore, The MacGuffin, and Calyx, among others.  Ms. Russo is editor-in-chief of Sandhill Review and founding editor of YellowJacket Press, currently the only publisher of poetry chapbook manuscripts in Florida.

Registration Information

Retreat registration includes access to all writing workshops, a reception and book signing, the faculty reading and an optional open mic. Both a box lunch and a one-on one-manuscript conference may be purchased for an additional charge.

Manuscripts of 10 pages of poetry, up to 20 pages of fiction and up to 20 pages of nonfiction may be submitted for close personal review and private conference with the appropriate faculty. Slots for one-on-one conferences are extremely limited and will be arranged based on a first come, first served basis.

All participants must be pre-registered to attend. Early registration will close on at midnight April 30, 2016. Late registration from May 1-13, 2016, incurs an additional late fee of $15 per registrant.


General public $85
Teachers, student, seniors $65
SLU faculty, staff, students
Veterans and active duty military
One-on-one manuscript consultation
Box lunch


*Five student internships, for which there is an application process, waive the registration fee. To apply for an internship, contact the director.

Questions should be directed to Retreat Director and Saint Leo creative writing faculty member, Gianna Russo, at (352) 588-8282 or


Click Here for Registration Page


Hotel accommodations are available at:

Retreat Schedule

Saturday May 14, 2016

8:30-9:00 Check in Sign up for Open Reading
9:00 Fiction with
Rita Ciresi
Poetry with Peter Schmitt
Writing for Veterans with Brooke King
Poetry one-on-one with Erica Bernheim
10:15 Break Sign up for Open Reading    
10:30 Reading your Poetry with Confidence Gianna Russo
Journalism with Lane Degregory
Fiction with Patrick Crerand (St. Ed’s RM 116)
Poetry one-on-one with Peter Schmitt
11:45 Lunch and Participants' OPEN MIC      
1:00 Fiction with
Rita Ciresi
Poetry with
Erica Bernheim
Comics and Poetry with Claire Stephens
Journalism one-on-one with Lane Degregory
2:15 Break
Book Sales
2:30 Poetry with
Peter Schmitt
Journalism with
Lane Degregory
Poetry with Erica Bernheim
Fiction one-on-one with Rita Ciresi
3:45 Break
Book Sales
4:00 Faculty Reading (TECO Auditorium)
5:00 Farewell Reception and Book Signing
5:30 Conclude


Retreat Administrators:

Gianna Russo, Retreat Director

Angel Jimenez, Assistant Director

John David Harding, Staff

Contact Information

For questions about the conference, please contact:
Gianna Russo, 2016 Retreat Director
(352) 588-8282

E. Bernheim, Part One: Making Poems: The first workshop session will focus on making poems: methods of reading, discussing, and generating poems, as well as on techniques and suggestions for submission and publication. We will talk about form and content, how they may or may not work together and where the idea of form fits into contemporary poetry.

E. Bernheim: Part Two: Poems You Have Made: The second portion of the workshop will focus on discussion of poems you have made, using ideas and suggestions gleaned from our earlier session. You will have the opportunity to showcase your own work, as well as to become a more astute reader and editor of the work of others. We will learn to function as a supportive community of writers able to provide productive critical criticism as we help each other in moving towards and through the revision process.

Rita Ciresis

9:00 a.m. Introducing Characters

In this workshop, we will explore a variety of ways to introduce major and minor characters into your fiction and look at how creating compelling characters at the opening of a novel or a short story functions as a hook for readers.

1:00 p.m. Flash Fiction

Flash fiction--short-short fiction with a word count between 6 and 500--also is known as "minute fiction," "sudden fiction," and "micro fiction." In this workshop, we will explore the artistic demands of flash fiction and write a six-word story, a three-sentence story, and a single paragraph story.

Patrick Crerand: Dialogue

Using examples from film, plays and short fiction, we'll explore how to construct vibrant dialogue that drives narrative, conflict, and characterization forward. In addition, we'll look at common pitfalls in dialogue and strategies for revising those scenes.

Brook King: The Backdrop of War: Finding a Voice from Conflict

Writing creatively is like a “second throat” we all have, but which some of us live our whole lives without discovering. This type of writing clarifies our past, rips wide our world and astounds us with everything the language can do. Anyone who calls themselves a writer (and everyone is, in one way or another), should want to write in as many ways as possible. By writing, reading like a writer, and talking about writing, you have no choice but to become one. Now compound that writing necessity with the ability to give voice and perspective to war or conflict. Writing about war doesn’t have to be complicated, it doesn’t have to be one-sided, and you certainly don’t need to be a veteran to write about conflict and what it does to the human condition. This course will look at writing about war and conflict, explore the world of writing through guided exercises, and learn how to get past the imaginary blockade that we’ve placed in our minds concerning war or conflict writing. It’s time to lean in to the page in front of you, instead of leaning away.

Steve Kistulentz: Poetry with Unflinching Honesty

We’ll talk about (and write about) different ways of forcing ourselves to create visceral, honest poems. We’ll discuss strategies for fooling our harshest critic and censor (ourselves), as well as look at some poems, both contemporary and canonical, that tell admirable, difficult truths in ways both stunning and beautiful.

Peter Schmitt: Where Lyric Meets Narrative I and II

Finding the balance between song and story in your poems.


Writing Sessions:

You may attend any of the classes, so arrange your schedule to your liking. You may also “take a breather” at any point and simply recharge or write as the muse inspires.


  • TECO Hall is the main auditorium inside the foyer of the School of Business.
  • Saint Edward Hall is right next door to the west of the School of Business. Room 116 is right inside the easternmost door (closest to the School of Business). Room 165 is at the opposite end of the building, right inside the westernmost door.
  • Cannon Memorial Library Patio is on the front east side of the library. Follow the sidewalk that leads north from Saint Edward Hall.


Located in the School of Business lobby near the elevator next to TECO Hall. There are also restrooms in the hallways at each end of Saint Edward Hall near classroom 116 and 165.


If you did not prepay for lunch or bring your own, you may want to visit the vending machines located on the first floor in the School of Business lobby and in Saint Edward’s Hall.

Suggestions for “time out”:

Write! There are quiet spots and computers in the Cannon Memorial Library. Upon exiting the door from Room 165 in Saint Edward Hall, follow the sidewalk north right to the library.

Walk the campus. Saint Leo is considered one of the prettiest campuses in the Southeast, so explore the beauty.

Read one of the faculty books that you purchased at the book table outside TECO Hall.

Network with other writers. Making new friends is always fun!


Department of Language Studies and the Arts

Daniel A. Cannon Memorial Library