Sunday, March 25, 2012

So Many Different Stories

The theme of our Mastering Writing - How To Get To The  Heart of Our Story -resonated with an amazing array of stories brought to the all-day workshop by 12 talented women writers.  We wrote about werewolves and gypsies; men and women falling in and out of love; fairies magically appearing; two women sharing over coffee their obsession with writing; a daughter looking back after the death of her mother. 

The format of our workshop was centered around writing instruction, critique and the read-around. Writing instruction was led in the morning by my friend and colleague, Cindy McGroarty.  Cindy got us thinking about how to summarize our story; ponder the aspirations and motivations of our characters; bring a scene alive and create a mood . . . how to stay on track and not veer off on sidetrips that fail to pay homage "to the altar of our story." Job well done, Cindy.

The afternoon was devoted to critiquing each other's 5-page work, which had been read by the group in advance of  the workshop.  The format was clear:  Give the writer ideas on what works and what doesn't.  What does the story seem to be about? Did you connect to the piece?  How? Try to write a helpful comment on the manuscript.

Wrote Becky on soul cards passed around at the end of the day, "I brought my nerves about sharing.  I took away confidence and excellent practical feedback.  Awesome day!" 

Paula wrote, "I brought copies of each woman's writing and I took away the many voices I heard in the writing and many ideas." 

From another writer, "I received the objectivity of the reader's ear because my writing often lulls me so that I don't take that step out as observer and ask myself, how will the "other" read this and what more will she want to know?"

The day included a catered lunch by Wegman's and hospitality from the Fairfield Inn.  We are fortunate to have such wonderful businesses in our community.

We ended the workshop with the Women's Writing Circle read-around.  We gathered in a circle.  Our candle burned brightly, illuminating the myriad "talismans" we had brought to bring meaning and grounding to the day's session. Amethyst quartz, a colorful box that conjured a special memory, a sister's gold bracelets.  For me, it was a photograph of twin rainbows over the Santa Catalina Mountains in Tucson.  It was in the desert that I found renewal and magic and the energy to start a writing circle here in my home in Chester County, Pennsylvania over two years ago.

For it is always this community of writers, this sharing of our journeys that most inspires and energizes me; that, and the mystery and wonder of the creative spirit offering so many different stories.

Job well done, ladies!


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Candle, Chime and Women's Stories

The magic of rituals is associated with renewal, celebration and spiritual connection.

In a story-telling circle of women, ritual  honors the sacred voice of the feminine experience.

A circle is a contained area.  It holds the emotional and intellectual aspects of writing.  "If I think about it (the writing) too much, it doesn't work," one woman said of why she resists editing and revision.  Another writer honors her inner voice.  "I'm always editing even as I write," she said. 

No matter what the intent or method, the frame of reference is the Circle.  It holds a collage of voices, experience and exploration. 

The candle symbolizes the dedication to our journey. As the candle burns in the center of our Circle, we shut out the distractions of an outside world that often attacks the introspection of the woman's emotional life.

At this month's Women's Writing Circle, we added a chime to our ritual.  As our group of storytellers grows, we have a lot of reading to pack into a brief two and a half hours. This month's read-around was the largest ever with 15 writers gathering at Wellington Square, a bookshop tucked behind trees in suburban Philadelphia.

Each writer gets 10 minutes to read or ask what she wants from the listening audience.  When her time is up, I strike the chime.  It is a  melodious signal . . .  a huge  improvement over me announcing  in a loud voice, "Time is up!"   Many thanks to Jan for donating the chime  to the Writing Circle.

The magic of our group yesterday resonated in stories and poems. What brings us to the Circle?  What story to tell?  

We light the candle.  We begin our journey. The women read about a snowfall on a still and silent night; the loss of a beloved pet in his final hour; a couple's "mysterious chemistry"; a woman going to work, but not understanding purpose anymore; a husband and wife whose marriage is a duty, not a joy; a woman who remembers a home where the things left unsaid were often the loudest - "a slammed door, a shriek of car brakes."

 It is the "ordinary" in our day-to-day lives that lifts us to the extraordinary art of capturing life. The magic of candles and chimes enhances this.  Together we share a sacred journey.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Story Continues . . . Prologue

Again In a Heartbeat explored love's enormous risk in the face of chronic illness, the untimely loss of my husband, John, and moving on as a single woman and mother.

Morning at Wellington Square, a writer's journey continues the story of life in middle-age; where to go when you have lost your husband and your career.  Can you start over?  Can you find passion and renewal, and, if so, how? As I  put the finishing touches on my new book, I look forward to again sharing my story of life's lessons learned along the way.

My book will be available by late summer. Here is the Prologue to Morning at Wellington Square. 

I hope you enjoy!


Sometimes I wake up at 3:30 am wondering what would happen if I died?  My body might not be found for days, like a character from Six Feet Under, that darkly comical HBO series about a family who owns a funeral parlor.
Having experienced tragedy in my own life, I grew fond of the show’s unblinking focus on life’s grotesque twists and turns.  Recently, I started putting my glasses and my cell phone on the night table next to my bed.
John has been gone for years, yet I hear his voice like a breeze whispering through high grasses along the beach.  He calls me his “beautiful, blond reporter.”
He comes to me in my dreams.  Don’t forget me, he says.
That’s impossible, I whisper.  You are the only person who ever understood me.   I sit up in bed, turn on the lamp, and stare at the photograph on my dresser. 
Forever young, he wears denim and dark shades.  His arm casually leans against a fence; the tan slopes of California countryside fill the background.
Chivalrous, great looking, an amazing husband, a fantastic father.  Passionate and loving, he thrilled me to the bone.  I’ve been to the top of the mountain.  Where do I go from here?
I switch off the lamp and settle back against the pillows, turning my back to the familiar clock where 4 a.m. glows orange red.  Tomorrow, as Scarlett said, is another day.
I had magic with John . . . a contagious kind of magic that suggests once two objects meet they will continue to affect each other even after the contact between them has been broken.   I need to believe in magic.
So what if the calendar and mirror conspire to say I’m older.  I’m not dead  . . . yet.  John came my way once.  Unexpected, a total surprise, his magic, our magic, changed everything in an instant.  I need to believe that everything can change . . . just like that.

Friday, March 2, 2012

I Remember - A Writing Prompt

I remember . . .  Powerful opening words to prose or poetry.  The words conjure the theme of journey and exploration.

The D.H. Lawrence poem Tortoise Shout explores many themes; love, desire, relationship, something complicated, something realistic. In the excerpt below, he explores sounds.  He begins with the words, I remember, when I was a boy.

This is our writing prompt for the March 10 read-around at Wellington Square.  

Start with the words, I remember . . .

Try not to edit yourself.  See where the pen leads.  Take a journey, explore, meander. 

Excerpt from Tortoise Shout

I remember, when I was a boy,

I heard the scream of a frog, which was caught with his foot in the mouth of an up-starting snake;

I remember when I first heard bull-frogs break into sound in the spring;

I remember hearing a wild goose out of the throat of night

Cry loudly, beyond the lake of waters;

I remember the first time, out of a bush in the darkness, a nightingale's piercing cries and gurgles startled the depths of my soul;

I remember the scream of a rabbit as I went through a wood at midnight;

I remember the heifer in her heat, blorting and blorting through the hours, persistent and irrepressible;

I remember my first terror hearing the howl of weird, amorous cats;

I remember the scream of a terrified, injured horse, the sheet-lightning

And running away from the sound of a woman in labor, something like an owl whooing,

And listening inwardly to the first bleat of a lamb,

The first wail of an infant,

And my mother singing to herself,

And the first tenor singing of the passionate throat of a young collier, who has long since drunk himself to death,

The first elements of foreign speech

On wild dark lips.