Catherine LaSota is a writer, writing coach, and community builder living in Queens, New York. Two years ago she launched a writing community in a space in Long Island City. Part co-working, part events space, part community gathering place, The Resort quickly confronted the global pandemic by pivoting to a hybrid model existing both online and in the real world. Since then The Resort has expanded its membership with writers from across the world.
Catherine recently launched a fundraising campaign to expand The Resort, the programming, and the community that she built. As a member of The Resort’s Cabana Club, I’ve spent much of the last two years as part of the community Catherine built and thought it would be important to catch up with Catherine to talk about its origins and the future.
ENGLISH KILLS REVIEW: When did you first have the idea that you wanted to create The Resort?
CATHERINE LaSOTA: The Resort was originally a vision that my husband and I had for a co-working space for writers in our neighborhood in Queens, New York. We’ve always loved being hosts in a variety of contexts, and a few years had passed since another beloved writing space had closed in our neighborhood, called The Oracle Club. Opening the Resort co-working space seemed like a way that we could help to fill the gap left by that closure.
EKR: The virtual component of The Resort became essential during the pandemic. Was existing in the online space always part of the vision?
LaSOTA: We signed a commercial lease for The Resort co-working space at the end of February 2020…and then the pandemic hit. The Resort was originally meant to be an in-person gathering space for writers to work, learn, and have fun alongside one another, with desks, workshops, and events in an inspiring, plant-filled environment. When the pandemic hit, it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to foster community in-person in the ways that we had hoped, and it was very important to me that the Resort’s primary mission remain connected to writing community. So I launched online classes, free talks, and meetups via Zoom, during a time when we were all learning to use that platform that has since become so familiar to so many of us!
EKR: How has the virtual community evolved since you started?
LaSOTA: Our virtual community started as a series of individual classes and free conversations on Zoom, as well as some online group writing meetups, and we would notify members of upcoming events with individual emails. Near the end of 2020, we formalized our online community by moving it to a Mighty Networks platform, which made it possible for us to have a 24/7 community space that is kind of like a Facebook group but without the ickiness of Facebook. The main Resort network is free for any writer to join, and it is a place to access weekly inspiration suggestions, resource roundups for writers, and other forms of encouragement for the writer’s life.
Within the main network, we also have a paid monthly membership program (the Cabana Club), which includes weekly group coffee meetups on Zoom with me, drop-in writing sessions, exclusive classes and AMAs with writers and publishing professionals, access to recordings of dozens of past Resort craft classes, and discounts on other Resort offerings. I’m excited that we also now have a fun weekly newsletter and a weekly podcast on writing and community, called Cabana Chats, which is currently wrapping up its second season.
EKR: The Resort has brought in some amazing writers to talk about craft, personal experiences, and career advice. As moderator, you’re involved in all of these discussions. Is there any advice that you see coming up again and again?
LaSOTA: One thing I can say for sure is that there is no single way to be a writer! No one will write the story that you can write, and the best advice I can give is to stop comparing and start community building. Let’s lift each other up! I’m so thrilled that we’ve been able to host an amazing group of writers to teach classes for us over the past couple of years, including Cinelle Barnes, Courtney Maum, Jennifer Baker, Matt Ortile, Emily Stone, Ryan Chapman, Leigh Stein, Denne Michele Norris, and so many more. Our community is strong because of all of the wonderful individuals who bring their insight to The Resort.
EKR: In May, you held a fundraiser ( link ). What are some of your priorities you see for expanding The Resort going forward?
LaSOTA: Thank you for highlighting this! We launched our first fundraiser in May 2022 with the goal of raising funds to help us reach more writers via scholarship offerings, the expansion of our course offerings, the ability to continue producing our free podcast, special new challenges and opportunities for writers in The Resort network, and more. We are so grateful for the generous support we received in May, and I’ve left the fundraising campaign link active for anyone who would like to continue supporting The Resort.
Priorities moving forward include maintaining and growing our safe and supportive online (and occasionally in-person) space to all writers, regardless of genre, experience level, or background. It is important that we have a diverse roster of teachers, and that we continue to listen to what our community needs. As we continue to expand The Resort, I’m also looking forward to offering more coaching services for writers myself — I believe that feeling supported as an individual also helps writers to build stronger communities together.
It is such a joy to me that The Resort has helped its members to start identifying as writers for the first time. By necessity, writing can be a terribly lonely pursuit. No one is going to sit in that chair and write that book for you. But — no one has a long and satisfying writing career in isolation. When we are in community together, we can share resources, help open doors for one another, and, most importantly, I think, help one another to feel less alone in our writing struggles. My hope is that The Resort is a place where writers can feel supported by finding their people.
EKR: A huge part of The Resort is about prioritizing writing, such as the Cabana Club’s accountability writing sessions, or The Resort’s encouragement for its members participating in #1000WordsOfSummer. How do you prioritize your own writing?
LaSOTA: Good question! I set up many of the Resort’s programs in the hopes that it would also support my own writing, and the accountability writing sessions have certainly helped me. I also try to be realistic with myself about how much time I have in the day (outside of The Resort and other commitments, I am also the mother of two young children), and also how much I can actually get written in a short period of time. If I can set aside just 45 minutes, 2-3 times a week, I can actually make good and steady progress on a writing project. And that has to be enough! I try to be gentle with myself as I encourage our members to be gentle with themselves, as well. I also find that taking writing workshops is a great way to hold myself accountable to deadlines, and I have a writing buddy with whom I trade new writing every week — we hold each other accountable!
EKR: You also launched the Cabana Chats Podcast to talk about community building. What sort of things have you learned in talking to other community builders that you’ve applied to The Resort?
LaSOTA: It has been so gratifying — though not surprising — to learn from guest after guest on the Cabana Chats podcast about the central role that community plays in their writing and publishing lives. In my podcast conversations with Matt Ortile, Courtney Maum, Min Jin Lee, Lisa Lucas, Halimah Marcus, K-Ming Chang, and more, we’ve continued to expand the idea of what community can mean. Through the stories told on Cabana Chats, we learn that community is not just, say, the people in your neighborhood — it is also the books you read, the libraries that gave you space to dream, the generations that preceded you, and so much more, including therapists and writing groups. The more that we learn about the support systems that other writers have developed for themselves, the more we can understand our fellow writers and maybe even learn some tips for strengthening our own creative lives. I try to bring this openness and curiosity to every conversation I have with Resort members, and I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to do so every week in our Zoom coffee meetups with our Cabana Club writers, and many other events.
Writers outside of New York City often mention how hard finding a literary community is, but with The Resort, we’re connecting with people around the country and even the world. Did you always expect to have a global presence when you launched The Resort?
LaSOTA: As I mentioned before, The Resort was launched in early 2020 as an in-person co-working space in Long Island City, and it was primarily designed to serve writers in Queens and the greater NYC area. I have a history of putting the literary spotlight on Queens, building on the LIC Reading Series that I ran for five years, with the mission of reminding the literary world that Queens is just as much a literary borough as, say, Brooklyn! But the pandemic forced some pivots on our model, and I am grateful for the doors that this has opened for The Resort and writers around the world — our community is deeply richer for it. We actually don’t have our original commercial space any longer — we managed to keep it for a little over a year before letting it go in year two of the pandemic — but we still get creative with in-person workshops and events in other locations. However, most of our activities now take place online, and they are open to anyone who has access to an internet connection. It’s been really wonderful not only for building a geographically diverse membership, but a wonderful variety in our roster of writing teachers that pass through The Resort, too, since we can host classes offered by teachers who live anywhere in the world, via Zoom and other platforms.
EKR: The pandemic has obviously left a lot of people isolated, and certainly The Resort has helped people – myself included – remain connected to a literary community during that period. Do you think we’ve forever changed the way we think about community?
LaSOTA: I hope that we can all move into the coming years with a true understanding of how essential community is not only for writers but for the good of humanity and, honestly, our very survival. I’m so glad that The Resort has been able to offer opportunities for connection to yourself and to so many other writers. It brings me a great deal of joy and purpose in our work.
EKR: What’s the thing you are most excited about upcoming at The Resort?
LaSOTA: I am excited for any opportunity to be in conversation with other writers, and The Resort provides so many chances for me to do this, whether that is through hosting our Cabana Chats podcast, engaging with Resort members in our online forum, facilitating conversations in coffee meetups and with guest speakers for our Cabana Club, producing the occasional literary event in Queens, or working in groups or one-on-one with writers as a coach. I love it all!
Photo courtesy of Catherine LaSota