How a Novelist Became an Innkeeper

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“These days, my relation arsenic an innkeeper occupies maine astir arsenic overmuch arsenic fiction,” writes Joyce Maynard, who, during the pandemic, hired locals successful a Guatemalan colony to crook her penning retreat into a guesthouse.

A presumption    from a platform  shows a ample  bluish  water  with mountains and volcanoes connected  the other  shore. The entity  is filled with puffy clouds.The platform  is woody  with manus  crafted woody  rails, and unsmooth  logs for support. There is simply a tiny  array  with a tray holding 3  glasses successful  the halfway  of the deck. On either broadside  of the array  are modern, woody  chairs.
Joyce Maynard’s guesthouse, Casa Paloma, connected the banks of Lake Atitlán successful Guatemala.Credit...Tanja Mikolcic

May 23, 2023, 5:00 a.m. ET

It’s adjacent to midnight, 2 weeks into a precious penning residency successful New Hampshire wherever I person travel to decorativeness a novel. My telephone rings.

From Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, a fewer 1000 miles away, comes the dependable of a pistillate I’ve ne'er met: “I near the cardinal to my casita connected the bed. Can idiosyncratic fto maine backmost in?”

I’ll get close connected it, I archer her. A fewer hours earlier, I had spent an hr connected the telephone with a plumber discussing the installation of a caller Jacuzzi and ordering wood for the sauna. The time before, I had arranged for a usher to instrumentality 2 guests connected a hike to spot the prima emergence supra the volcanoes, and the time earlier that, an airdrome pickup for a household of 5 from Indiana, and meal connected the terrace for a mates from Germany celebrating their honeymoon.

With my spot manager retired sick, the past fewer days person been busier than usual, but it’s a uncommon time successful which I don’t find myself occupied with astatine slightest 1 impermanent staying astatine the humble spot I’d bought 23 years agone arsenic a refuge for writing. It present includes 2 houses, 4 casitas, 2 docks, a fleet of kayaks, a sauna, a yoga platform, a waterfall and a pizza oven.

I’ve been a writer each my life. But these days, my relation arsenic an innkeeper occupies maine astir arsenic overmuch arsenic fiction. I ne'er intended this, but introducing travelers from each implicit the satellite — peculiarly those from the United States, the state of my birth, whose State Department website has posted warnings astir question to Guatemala for years — has go a cardinal interest of my life.


Joyce Maynard astatine the MacDowell artists’ retreat successful New Hampshire, wherever she precocious completed a novel.Credit...Joanna Eldredge Morrissey

My past successful Central America began much than 50 years ago, astatine property 11, erstwhile my parent took my sister and maine connected a six-week sojourn connected buses and a bid from the Texas borderline to San Cristóbal de las Casas successful the Mexican authorities of Chiapas. My acquisition of Indigenous civilization that summertime opened up my world.

A decennary later, I was invited to articulation an orchid hunt successful the highlands of Guatemala. Never caput that a civilian warfare was going on.

Our slashed tires didn’t support maine from falling successful emotion with the state — astir particularly, the 50 quadrate miles of turquoise Lake Atitlán, and the radical who made their homes there, who inactive dressed successful accepted Guatemalan covering made from hand-woven cloth, cultivated maize connected the hillsides and followed the Mayan calendar.

I vowed past that I’d instrumentality to the lake, though years passed earlier I did. By then, I’d raised 3 children and watched them caput disconnected for adventures of their own. For $250 a month, I rented a small location connected the shores of the lake, signed up for salsa lessons and Spanish school, wrote a caller and experienced a greater consciousness of well-being than I’d known successful years.

I lived alone. I had nary phone. There was nary internet, truthful each fewer weeks I took a vessel crossed the water to look astatine my email. At the extremity of my penning day, I brought my buying handbasket to the marketplace to bargain vegetables for that night’s dinner. Every morning, I swam a fractional mile successful the lake.

It was connected 1 of my swims that I spotted a motion connected the shore: Se Vende. For Sale. The onshore was chaotic and steep, covered successful brush, with a tiny adobe house. A twelve taxon of birds I’d ne'er seen perched successful the trees. Across the h2o stood 1 of the 5 volcanoes that encircle the lake.

These were days erstwhile a idiosyncratic of constricted means could inactive get against her home, which was however I came up with the $85,000 to bargain astir 3 acres of onshore connected the shores of 1 of the astir beauteous lakes connected the planet.

I named the spot Casa Paloma. A fewer times a year, I traveled determination to constitute and swim. It was my backstage small oasis.

With the assistance of 2 young men from the village, Miguel and Mateo, I built a garden, with retaining walls and chromatic paths winding up the steep hillside. Over the years, the effect trees we planted matured, and roses bloomed — besides orchids, Thunbergia vines, figs, pomegranates, bananas.

I finished fractional a twelve novels successful that house. Every afternoon, I carried a vessel of popcorn down to my dock for the children who came to aquatics there, and each morning, I greeted the fisherman who showed up successful the small bay successful beforehand of my location without neglect to harvest crabs conscionable arsenic the prima came up down the volcano.

Having recognized aboriginal connected that this was a spot offering inspiration and peace, I started a penning workshop, hosting a tiny radical of women for a week each winter. For $35 a night, they stayed astatine a elemental edifice successful the colony but gathered astatine Casa Paloma each time to enactment connected their manuscripts.

Much changed implicit those years. A hurricane hit, causing a landslide. Travelers arrived successful greater numbers, on with storefronts advertizing healers, yoga teachers and shamans (cranial sacral massage, dependable healing, a spot known arsenic the Fungi Academy). I added connected to my house, planted much flowers, built a temazcal — a Mayan sauna — and a small guesthouse wherever I acceptable up my penning desk. Back successful California, I fell successful emotion with my 2nd husband, Jim, and introduced him to the lake. The information that we were successful our 50s present didn’t halt america from climbing the volcano together.

The twelvemonth aft we married, Jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The 2 of america traveled to the water unneurotic for what turned retired to beryllium his past winter. After helium died, I returned alone. Many times implicit the years, I’d recovered solace successful those waters. Now I did again.


During the pandemic, Ms. Maynard hired section carpenters and workers to physique further impermanent accommodations.Credit...Tanja Mikolcic

I had scheduled my memoir store for March 2020, the period the pandemic struck the United States. As always, I’d booked a twelve rooms for my penning students successful a tiny colony hotel. Though coronavirus had not been reported successful Guatemala, I was uncertain whether anyone would amusement up, but 16 women traveled there.

Two days later, the president of Guatemala announced that the airdrome was closing, and 8 women flew home. Eight stayed connected — making bash with meals of atom and beans and guacamole, and plentifulness of wine.

Twelve days later, the State Department provided a level to instrumentality U.S. citizens home. But I decided to remain, and invited 2 of the women from the workshop, Jenny and Xiren, to enactment with maine for a fewer weeks.

In the end, we stayed for six months — Casa Paloma, we realized, was astir apt the champion spot to be. People successful the colony appeared blessedly escaped of Covid. But different contented plagued them: With each tourists gone, they had nary mode of supporting their families.

Some of the expats successful municipality took up a postulation to help. I had lived successful this spot agelong capable to cognize what the assemblage needed more: jobs. So I embarked connected the task of gathering a guesthouse.

Every day, a unit of astir 20 men made their mode down the hillside with their picks and shovels, bags of cement oregon stones connected their backs. Every morning, conscionable arsenic the prima was coming up, they greeted Jenny, Xiren and maine arsenic we sat astatine our laptops.

Sometimes a harpoon fisherman stopped by with a food he’d caught 10 minutes before. That would beryllium dinner, eaten by candlelight.

In the months that followed, I kept coming up with gathering projects. Five much casitas, each 1 different. One featured chromatic walls with hand-carved chromatic heads built into them, made by a antheral successful the village. In 1 we built a precocious partition utilizing the aged methods of adobe construction. I bought a seat made by a section craftsman, carved retired of a azygous monolithic avocado tree. He carried it connected his backmost the mile oregon truthful from his home.

I americium not a affluent woman. In California, I could ne'er person employed a unit for 18 months. As it was, paying the men a bully section wage stretched maine to my limits. But I knew this: When you gave a idiosyncratic a occupation successful this village, a household of 10 would devour that night.

The men did beauteous work. Sometimes, checking successful with them astatine the extremity of the day, I’d observe immoderate item — a spiral of tiny snail shells cemented into a ablution wall, a breached ceramic monkey attached to a twisted portion of wood, with bougainvillea spilling from its caput and metallic insubstantial from a cocoa barroom wrapper for eyes. Miguel and Mateo trained plants to turn successful the shapes of a giraffe, a llama, a rabbit and a heart. A carpenter named Bartolo built maine a array of conacaste wood successful the benignant of 1 I recovered connected Pinterest that was designed by the woodworker George Nakashima.

Our days and weeks took connected a rhythm. Every morning, arsenic I made my mode up the elevation to my penning table with my laptop and my coffee, I’d greet the unit of men coming down. As I sat astatine my desk, I’d perceive the dependable bushed of the men’s hammers, the dependable of rocks emptying from buckets.

It came to maine that successful each my years of penning books — astir fractional a period — I’d ne'er known specified an contiguous transportation betwixt the stories I made up successful my caput and the satellite of carnal labor. When the men and I called retired our greetings each morning, we knew that each of america had a occupation to do. The 1 supported the other.

By the pursuing winter, conscionable implicit a twelvemonth from erstwhile the satellite had unopen down, with vaccines disposable astatine last, we welcomed 12 penning students. This time, they could enactment connected my spot successful the 5 caller houses the men had built, sharing meals connected the expanded veranda, looking retired astatine the lake, with meals prepared by our section chef, Rosa.

I’m a writer, not a businesswoman. It came to maine that if a idiosyncratic empties her slope relationship to physique a spot for 16 guests that requires a unit of much than 20 radical to support it, the spot cannot beryllium empty. And that is however I came to beryllium the big of a edifice and retreat center.

With the clip and thought I’ve devoted to gathering Casa Paloma, I astir apt could person written a fewer much books. The casitas carnivore the names of immoderate I person written: “To Die For,” “At Home successful the World,” “Count the Ways.” One, Casa Una, is named for my newest granddaughter. Over the past year, my team, made up astir wholly present of section men and women, has hosted much than 300 groups of guests — yoga practitioners, hikers intent connected tackling the volcano, couples celebrating a honeymoon, families bringing children they had adopted years agone to the state of their commencement for the archetypal time. This past precocious season, we were booked astir each night.

Back successful 2020 — that agelong of months erstwhile it felt arsenic though the satellite stood inactive — I experienced a authorities of specified unprecedented attraction that I was capable to decorativeness a novel.

So — with the men inactive moving — I started different caller astir a pistillate from the United States who, successful the aftermath of a idiosyncratic tragedy, lands successful a tiny colony connected the shores of a water surrounded by volcanoes, successful an unnamed Central American country. She finds herself unexpectedly moving a magical edifice surrounded by orchids and birds.

At the time, I believed that what I was penning was a enactment of axenic fiction, astir a fairy tale. It was a afloat twelvemonth aboriginal that the thought occurred to me: I’d built a hotel, myself. Now I’d amended fig retired however to tally one. And I did.

Joyce Maynard’s astir caller novel, “The Bird Hotel,” was published earlier this month. The sequel to her caller “Count the Ways” comes retired adjacent spring.

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