07-14-18 Cassandra O’Leary

Monday, January 16, 2017

On The Way To Being Published--Hilltop House

By Michelle Monkou

Per our theme this month, I'm sure there were many funny things that happened on the way to being published. Alas, I can't remember them. Sometimes the less than perfect things stick in the mind. But I do recall a setting and place that played an integral part of my writing development and eventual publishing success.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia was the city for Washington Romance Writers' annual retreat. There, we had the hotel - Hilltop House, which overlooked the bluff where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers merged. It was picturesque and steeped in history with a little bit of the ghostly stuff. But here we gathered each year with editors from the publishing houses, agents, and eager writers in the company of several famous and successful writers for a wonderfully, creative weekend.

In the 90s, I'd come here in the spring for our retreat. We'd park our cars and head for the bar. The lobby would be filled with the laughter and chatter of the attendees. There were no distinctions, we were all in the company of writers and supporters of our endeavors. On the third floor, at the very top, living under the roof, I'd stay with several author-friends. I think it was room #66 and reportedly was haunted by a child. We'd talk into the wee hours of the night, sip on wine, and chat about everything on our minds, including hoping not to see, hear or feel signs of our ghostly roommate. 

On the left in the gray brick section of the hotel was the dining room on the first floor. Food was not 5-star and they didn't pretend to serve such sophisticated cuisine. It was fried chicken and every carb under the sun. Then there would be a table of desserts and a soft ice-cream machine. All buffet style. After dinner on that first night, there was a walking ghost tour, but really you could go upstairs and enjoy a bit of the ghostly presence without the upward charge on the hill. 

Workshops for the entire stay were held on the lower level.

As you can see, we were literally on the edge of the land. And that part of the building on the edge held our workshops and, on the lower level, provided seating close to the scenery once you got your drink from the bar. 

The hotel as far I know was established by the Lovett family who moved to the area after the Civil War. They owned another hotel, but one of the children built this hotel in 1890. Several fires in different years almost demolished it, but the family kept rebuilding until they sold it in the 20s. Notable guests have stayed at the hotel, such as Alexander Graham Bell, Mark Twain, Presidents Wilson and Clinton.

By the early 2000's, Hilltop House was showing its age. Complaints and failing inspections caused us to find other locations for the annual retreat. But there is a soft spot in my heart for this place and the history that it brought to us. Now it's a shell, a broken one, that is abandoned and only serves as a point of discussion for our fond memories. 

I bid you adieu, Hilltop House.
Much laughter and joy blossomed under your roof. You will always be a part of my heart.

Michelle Monkou


Jaden Petrucci said...

It's not the end for the hotel. They plan to demolish in the spring of 2017 and begin the construction of a historically accurate rendition of the current hotel that will include the modern amendities.

Michelle Monkou said...

Thank you. Glad to hear that good news. But the original with its slanted floor and leaky roof were a part of my timeline that a shinier version won't have. :-)

Sarah Raplee said...

What an amazing hotel in an amazing location! I'm so glad Jaden posted about the plans for the future. Some places hold cherished memories.

Judith Ashley said...

Michelle, While I'm glad another Hilltop House will be built, I totally agree with you about the ambiance and memories. Embassy Suites bought and Renovated The Chaparral Suites in Scottsdale where the Desert Rose RWA chapter has hosted their Desert Dreams conference. While there weren't leaky roofs and slanting floors, the new upgrades and interiors have deleted the charm. I still prefer it to the multi-story hotels but some of the romance is gone.