Up North Authors Circle

Last night was my first meeting of the summer at UNAC in Lakewood, Wisconsin. The group was small, seven adults plus one very well behaved seven- or eight-year-old. This child said not one word, but observed everything through her glasses. I think they were pink, but they could have been yellow, or even green. At one point her gum fell out of her mouth. She looked crestfallen at me across the table. I mouthed, “It’s okay.” She reached into her shirt, found it, popped it back into her mouth, and almost smiled.

The first hour of the meeting consisted of a back-and-forth about writing. One young man has completed five books in a series about how a young girl discovers magic during WWII. He’s been working on this project for eight years. An older man said that he had written a ghost story and sent it out. As yet, he had received no response. This man has written some excellent short stories based on his experiences during the Vietnam War. I think he should put them out as a collection. The UNAC leader is compiling a book about military men killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to go along with the graveyard she started on a little island off her property in Townsend. She’s also written a sequel to a humorous play she wrote about Women of the Northwoods.

I asked one woman I had never met before what she is writing. Her answer: “A book.” Everybody laughed.

One woman I do know is completing a memoir, layering in more historical references. Her memoir is titled The Purple Wedding Dress; at least this was the title last summer.

At the end, I read two short stories I’ve been working on this summer. One is titled “What a Housekeeper Sees,” the other is “The Waltz.” The group liked certain things about the first, such as the character of the housekeeper and the situation in the story. They think this story needs fleshing out; in other words, I am seeing things, the reader is not. They all seemed to like “The Waltz,” which they said they could see and could feel. Someone said it is fraught with tension.

Jo

After reading a June 4, New York Times article by Sarah Kershaw “Therapists Wired to Write” my cousin Dorothy sent me last summer, I decided that for my writing to grow optimally I needed most particularly a support group. In the article’s first paragraph the following words caught my eye “The six psychotherapists…make up what may be the most nurturing and deeply connected creative writing group to arrive on the literary scene.” The words “nurturing” and “connected” jumped out from the page.

I emailed my friend Jo in Lawrence and asked if she was interested in such a venture. She responded quickly. Yes.

We were quite formal at our first meeting. Two professionals, we sat over our note pads and wrote down ideas and possible goals. She read the New York Times article and made a few comments. She liked certain parts of it but not others. She would think about what she might like to write. Having been in a women’s group with Jo for five years, I already knew her essential character: knows her own mind, smart, deeply committed to humanitarian concerns, goal setter and achiever, reliable, a good listener, kind.

We decided to meet once a week on Thursday mornings for an hour to read and discuss what each of us has written. We have kept it up, taking turns. These meetings hold me accountable for producing new work each week. Now I look forward to listening, reading, sharing, and commenting with Jo. I can count on support, nurturing and a feeling of connection for the writing process.

Feast for Seven Women

Who would have thought that six weeks ago, seven women writers would bare their writing souls so willingly using the Amherst Writers & Artists method, developed in Amherst, Massachusetts, by Pat Schneider and described in her book, Writing Alone and With Others (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003) and have it work? From young, to, ahem, not so young, the group gathered to write, listen and offer critique.

It started with a friend passing the word along that there was a sign up in our little local bookshop, The Raven, a six week Women’s Creative Writing Workshop, run by two Kansas University MFA’s.

Why not try some fresh faces, new ways of approaching writing?

I liked that the leaders insisted on meeting each member first over coffee. I liked that the flyer stated, “Writing can be easier, more satisfying, and more fun than we often make it, but it is always an act that makes one vulnerable.” That one sentence gave me hope.

The leader, who understood the importance of vulnerability, was also organized–“We’ll move onto this writing exercise now. We’ll break for a little refreshment.”

The other leader is doing her own work in non-fiction and immediately exhibited her insight, humor, and vulnerability in writing anecdotes about her family, which set the tone for doing it ourselves.

During a session on conveying the complexity in family gatherings, one woman wrote about her relationship with her sister using the metaphor of a ripe peach; fresh and juicy, but always with a hard pit at the core that she had to spit out in order keep her own identity. Another writer wrote of meeting her notoriously violent brothers–in-law for the first time on a family rafting trip when–wouldn’t you know–the violence erupted.

Over the course of the first week, parts of manuscripts were submitted to the group so that the next week’s session would include a formal critique. By the second week, we girls knew the drill. Respect of people and procedure brought security so that jokes salt and peppered the meal and made it very tasty.

Fresh eyes on the page, and new ears on the spoken words stimulated our writing appetites, so that we wrote more easily and with a sense of fun. After all, to a writer, there’s nothing more satisfying than a writers’ feast.