Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Wow! One of the biggest meetings of the year with nineteen writers in attendance.
Rod sent a note that he and Betsy were down with a bad cold and would miss the meeting. Ernie filled in as co-leader. We all hope that Rod and Betsy get feeling better soon and look forward to Rod’s return next meeting.
We began with announcements from the group:
Ian Schagen announced the publication of his book, A Wartime Journey Revisited, Ian and Sandie Schagen’s story of following Ian’s father’s footsteps across five countries as he escaped from the Nazis in Occupied Europe to reach England in 1943. Ian’s book was published in the UK and is available on Amazon in the US. He will speak at the Selby Public Library, Geldbart Auditorium, Friday, April 6 at 10:30 AM.
Bruce Haedrich announced his new book, A Gathering of Demons, is now available on Amazon.
We welcomed three new members to our group: Linda King, Bob Melton, and Henk Portier. We hope they enjoyed the meeting and will return.
Ernie shared with the group a discussion piece he prepared with suggestions for readings and critique. The idea was to draw our members out on what we can do to help each other while asking are certain basics in a writer’s craft present? Can we listen for specific elements and comment on them in our critiques?
Another aspect addressed in this piece was the length of the reading selection. Taking into account the attendance of the meeting, a time limit of five to seven minutes would appear to be sufficient time to analyze the writing, generate a critique, provide feedback, and promote discussion for as many readers our limited time will accommodate.
As for thoughts on providing critiques to our writers, the discussion piece suggested focusing on three general areas of writing craft: Organization of the written piece, writing and saying it well, and characterization.
A lively discussion followed.
Bill Elam expressed concern about reading short pieces or excerpts. He contends, such a short time limit would not provide the needed context for the reader or listener to properly evaluate and critique the piece. The group agreed, it would be important for the reader to preface their piece with comments providing important background information.
The group struggled with the idea as to what kind of commentary and feedback each writer was looking for in a critique. The consensus grew that it is important for each writer to ask the group specifically what to listen for and for the writer to share what they were struggling with or trying to achieve.
One of our long-time members, a noted publisher, shared an observation and complemented our group by relaying her experience with a highly exclusive writers group elsewhere. (The other group shall remain anonymous, and we do wish them well.) It is her personal opinion, our open group has writers whose talent levels exceed that of some members of the exclusive one.
The truth is, there are writers groups out there to fit different personalities and needs. We are glad to offer an open group that welcomes new people, fresh ideas, talent, and opinions. We have writers of every skill level from beginners, to journeymen, even some we think of as masters. We welcome active and retired professionals: publishers, journalists, professors, college teachers, and English teachers, among others. Our group has included writers of all genre. Our idea is to follow the motto of the Florida Writers Association: Writers Helping Writers. Thank you to our long-time member for the compliment. We hope we live up to your high praise and we omit specific details and your name to avoid any embarrassment to you or the other group.
New member, Bob Melton posed a question for the group. Bob shared his background as a professional songwriter as well as a writer of prose and relayed an ethical dilemma. He asked how we deal with truth and disclosure. In his dilemma, he is struggling with recollections of a powerful experience and how to honestly write about and truthfully convey what he heard and felt. He wishes to honor those memories with a true account. While he believes he recalls that which was said accurately he has a concern that his own powerful feelings might cause him to overstate what he heard.
Our group’s collective experience came into play. Bill Elam offered an observation to the effect that an author’s statement that he (or she) believed the account was “true to the best of his (or her) recollection” would probably suffice. Bill did not claim expertise in the matter and did not offer that as legal advice. Bill’s observations were reinforced by Don Westerfield. Last meeting Don announced the publication of his military memoir Echoes of Engines and Men. Don had the aid of his daughter-in-law, a retired corporate attorney in the editing and preparation of his book. He read the disclaimer she prepared for his book, which was similar to Bill’s observation, but even more extensive. Others volunteered how writers can find several similar disclaimers online. I’m sure Bill Elam would tell everyone to consult an attorney if they were seeking authoritative legal advice. Peter Frickel helped conclude this subject by encouraging Bob to get his piece written down. Then with the work in hand, he would be better able to determine the truth of his piece and any needed disclaimers.
Our discussion turned in a different direction when George Lavigne ask the group for their thoughts on the subject of characterization. A lively discussion followed with strong opinions. Ed Ellis strongly advocated detailed character descriptions. He suggested that writers prepare a detailed biographical and physical sketch of their main characters, and in describing and bringing characters to life by use of not only a physical description but also by a description of their actions as well. Ed’s engineering background was evident when he shared a reference to his blog which contains detailed lists of character traits for writers to use. Ian Schagen begged to differ with the thought that some things should be left to the reader’s imagination. Things got interesting from there with many comments and opinions from the group. Perhaps the best conclusion on the subject is that this is where each writer finds his or her place and where individual creativity answers the question. If it works for you and your readers, then you have found the answer to characterization for you.
As we wrapped up our discussion period, when asked, Peter Frickel expressed his desire to see more discussion and perhaps a more in-depth look at how we think, organize, and present our thoughts even down to sentence and paragraph writing. Peter is our master of rhetoric. We all agree his readings are a tough act to follow, and we hope to hear more from him on those ideas.
Asked to think on the general subject of our readings and critique, we adjourned the discussion with the hope additional thoughts will find expression at our next meeting.
Our first reader of the night was Doug Sahlin, reading from his detective story in progress featuring Yale Larsson and his girl Lori as they investigate a crime scene. Crisp, precise dialog and minimal word waste personify Doug's writing style.
Peter Frickel read excerpts from his published work River, currently available as an ebook on Amazon and soon too be available in print version as well.
Cecile Bell returned to our group again after a long absence, we were glad to see her and learn that she is doing well. She read several pieces written for her community newsletter sharing personal news items of and for the residents. We are glad to share her desire to celebrate her neighbors’ lives and lift their spirits.
Having introduced us to this new work at the last meeting, Bill Elam read from his story of a down-on-its-luck ocean park, Orca Reef. The plot by a greedy and ruthless out-of-state developer who covets the park's valuable acreage targets the park’s main attraction, an Orca or Killer Whale. Has the magnificent creature been framed?
Ian Schagen read excerpts from his book, A Wartime Journey Revisited. His father traveled through Europe avoiding the Nazis during an escape to England during the height of the occupation. A great story of human compassion and desire unfold.
Bruce Haedrich, our final reader for the night, read a fictional civil war letter taken from his published book, The Gettysburg Gold (available on Amazon.) Bruce shared that he'd done extensive research and readings of Civil War letters to gain a feel for letter-writing styles and use of language in the period before he wrote his own piece. His letter sure had that authentic ring to it.
Thank you to all of our members for your support and for your participation. To our writers returning north, have a safe trip, and we hope to see you next Season. Until next time, keep on writing, and we hope to see all of you that can attend at our next meeting Wednesday, April 4th. Rod, we hope you and Betsy get well soon and that you are back with us at the next meeting.
For the Group,