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The Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe discuss themselves and their first anthology

March 03, 2013|By CHRIS COPLEY | chrisc@herald-mail.com
  • The Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe meet twice a month in the back room of the Williamsport cafe.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

WILLIAMSPORT — In 2011, murder mystery author Lauren Carr gave a presentation on writing and independent publishing to a packed audience at Williamsport Library. One attendee, Fay Moore of Williamsport, collected names and contact information of people interested in forming a writers group.

Out of that effort came the Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe, a 10-member writers group meeting twice a month at Desert Rose Cafe in downtown Williamsport.

The Herald-Mail sat down with seven members of the group and with Carr, who has served as a publishing consultant on their first group publishing project, an anthology, “Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe: An Anthology.”

What do you do during your meetings?

Steve: We read somebody’s writings. We discuss future plans. Right now, we’re taking turns doing a teaching session.

Tom: We do some planning at our meetings: What direction do we want to go. Certainly to get “Writers of the Desert Rose Cafe: An Anthology” published, there was lots of conversation at the meetings about money, about editing it, about uploading it, all that stuff. And then, we have a lot of fun. We laugh a lot at our meetings. We have great talks. We’ve become really good friends over the course of a year.

Steve: There are three rules we started off with. When we read somebody’s writing, we say we like it or don’t like it because (and) you gotta give a reason. (Second), we edit each other’s writings on grammar, language, content and being factual. (Third), we agree to leave our thin skins at the door.

So you try to help each other improve as writers.

Fay: Another thing we try to do is draw on other people who have more information than we do. For example, Lauren (Carr) has come and talked to us about publishing, but also about writing. We try to continue to learn.

George: We have different goals. Individual goals. I don’t know anything about the promotional side of anything. I write because I enjoy it.

Millie: This is my third writing career. I started when I was in school; before high school I guess. I wrote a lot. About 25 years later, when my kids were grown, I took it up again. And I was doing very well, getting my things published in small presses. Then I got family responsibilities. My father, I had to take on his care. Then almost right after he died, my husband retired and his health went bad. So I put (writing) aside again. I’ve been in different writers groups over time. But then I found this one. I’ve been coming steadily.

Darlene: This group has been very inspirational, because we’re so diverse, both in our writings and in our thinking. And yet, we came together. We enjoy each other’s company. And as Steve said, our thin skins are left out there.

Why is that important?

Darlene: Because I may write something, and it may stink, but I think it’s good. It’s refreshing to hear other comments. Then I can revise according to what is said.

So it helps you improve your craft when you are open to others’ points of view.

Darlene: Correct. I have written probably 200 books over the years. Writing was always my therapy. The writing I do may not appeal to other people, but it helped me over the years. My children — I have three natural children and one adopted. Every one of them has a major illness. (Writing) helps me.

So there’s a social aspect to the group?

Fay: When we started the group, one of the things we had in our rules was we did not want it to disintegrate into a social group. We wanted to stay focused on our writing. And I think we’ve done that. One of the side benefits is we help each other. Writing is so personal, and what’s happening in your life, your mind, your environment, influences your writing.

Susan: (This group) also gives you a chance to look at different genres that you may not have thought were your thing. I write poetry, but I also have a children’s book that I’m working on with Vera.

What are your typical genres? Susan, you write poetry?

Susan: In the anthology, yes. But the book that I’m writing now is a romance-adventure. Truly, I’m really trying it all to see what fits for me.

Darlene: (I’m) typically poetry, family oriented, from children and childhood all the way up to the end of life. I do stories as well as poetry.

Steve: Christian fiction. Christian poetry.

Millie: I wrote mostly fiction for adults and children. I’ve done short and long — one full-length novel. I write mostly short stories now. I write poetry, essays, and some inspirational stuff for children.

George: I write fiction, short stories. The book Lauren is completing for me now is about baseball. It took me five years to write the darn thing.

Fay: I’m working on a murder mystery novel. That’s why I love Lauren.

Lauren: We talk about murder all the time.

Fay: However, I get hung up while I’m writing on that. So, when I get hung up, I’ve gone to short stories and also haiku. And some 55-worders.

Tom: I write 55-word stories. I love to write them. It’s a genre with specific rules. And I just have a great time. I can sit down and write one and clean it up, and go do something else.

Tom: George has started (our) next serial story. He wrote the first chapter and sent it to me, and I took it off in a direction that George was not expecting. Surprised him. There’s a murder.

George: He’s already killed somebody off! That wasn’t my intention. I wanted it about pedophiles.

Tom: This is a strange group.

Lauren, tell me more about the group’s anthology. It’s an e-book?

Lauren: Right now it’s only available by e-book. We’re talking about doing a print version in the next few months, because a couple of the local libraries contacted me and asked me if they can have it in print.

Walk me through your part of producing the anthology.

Lauren: I have a full publishing company, Acorn Book Services. In their case, they edited everything. But they asked me to do an editorial review. And, if any of the work I felt didn’t belong in the anthology, they would take it out. I didn’t want to take any of it out, because I thought it was all excellent. But that’s one of the things I suggest new authors do, especially if they’re going to self-publish: Have a third-party read it (for review). That really does help. Then I do the publishing, which means doing the formatting of it. There’s some specialized formatting that goes into (an) e-book that’s different from print.

If you self-publish, do you have more editorial control?

Fay: In the traditional publishing world, this anthology never would have been published. There’s two trends happening because of the introduction of e-books. One is, authors can write what they want. If they want to mix genres, they can do that, (such as) a romantic murder mystery. The second trend is a shortening of the length of books. Because people want a fast, easy read.

Did that inform how you put together the anthology?

Fay: We’re all unique, and each of us wrote what we wanted. In the past, an editor would have said, “This is the theme and style and this is the (word) count. Everything is going to look uniform.” That isn’t the way it is (here).

Tom: When we edited (each other’s stories for) the book, we didn’t edit other than for punctuation and grammar. Nobody demanded that this word be used instead of that word. So what you’re going to find in the book are 10 individual styles of writing .... And that’s kind of nice.

Susan: You know what I enjoyed? It was the fact that we didn’t have a fight over who wanted to be first and second and so forth. Even though they’re all different, it comes together kind of like a patchwork quilt. It works as a whole.

Fay: We have some reviews, which I’ll suggest you take a look at on Amazon, which excited us greatly, which are positive. So people liked it, even though it’s weird.

Describe “weird.” What’s in the anthology?

Tom: You’re going to find a collection of 55-word stories, some lovely romantic poetry, Christian fiction. There’s a story in there about a snake in somebody’s bed that George wrote that still terrifies me. There are reminiscences of painful past lives. There are reminiscences of wonderful childhood memories.

Darlene: I have a couple of short stories and mostly poetry.

Fay: Darlene has 12 (poems).

Steve: I have 12 (poems).

Susan: I have four (poems).

Millie: (I have) one short story and three or four poems.

George: I missed the meeting when they told us how long they wanted these short stories to be. So the next meeting, I fished in my folder and I came up with six short stories that are 800 to 1,200 words apiece. And, darn, I’m not going to cut them back.

How much did it cost? And how did you share the expense?

Tom: The cost to upload it was $350 — the cost we paid to Lauren. One hundred dollars up front for editorial review and marketability (assessment). And then $250 to set it up. So that was $35 apiece for 10 of us.

Steve: The joke is (Darlene is) going to head off to Cancun with all our (revenues). If she ever doesn’t come to a meeting, we’re going to start to worry.

Tom: I set up an individual bank account, and I am the responsible person for the money. We’re trying to keep it as simple as possible.

Susan: What this experience with writing did was took the learning about publishing to a whole different level. Whereas, at first, we were just learning about writing.

George: Did we mention we are also working on a Christmas anthology?

You all are writing new material?

Fay: Yes, and there’s a business decision in that. Our first anthology will get old. But we believe if our Christmas anthology does well, we can have a second one and a third one.

George: We’ve already started on some Christmas things.

Fay: April is when we hope to have all our work in and edited.

Millie: If you want it by this Christmas, you have to get it done early.

So how do you all write at home — longhand? Type on a computer? Write at 3 in the morning? What’s your writing style?

Millie: I still write in longhand. I write now because my typewriter’s down, so I have nowhere to type it, but I have it all ready. Usually (I write) in the living room in my recliner. I think that’s where I come up with my best ideas.

Darlene: I write at 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. And I do longhand. Usually, after 37 revisions — all longhand — I think it’s OK.

Steve: I write anytime of day. I wake up five, six times during the night with another idea. I keep a pad of paper and a pen, just to scribble down, but sometimes I think, “This is too good, and I got to go to the computer right now.” I’ll work on my stuff every day on the computer.

Susan: My poetry (composing) is similar (to Steve’s) — where you get hit with a moment. I rhyme, and you can tell when the rhymes are coming to you: Even when you’re not trying, it’s rhyming. So I just let it flow, then come back to it and clean it up. When I’m writing the romance novel, I’m one that needs kind of quiet to stay in what I’m doing. Sometimes, (I get in a groove). My husband comes home (in the evening) and I’m exactly (as) he left me — I haven’t left the room. You feel like, “Wow, I accomplished a great deal.”

George: Well, at my age, at 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, I gotta get up and go to the bathroom. I do this in a semi-stupor. That’s where I get some good ideas. I write longhand.

Fay: I have a little HP mini (computer), like a laptop shrunk. And I like that, because I can take it anywhere. I’m like Millie. I do most of my writing in the living room in my La-Z-Boy, or on the couch. But I’ve done it in the car. Done it anywhere. Because I work on several pieces at once.

Tom: My shower every morning is my time for what I call sorting. The water coming down is like a drone, and I can think. Generally, the story ideas will pop into my head sometime during that shower. Many of them are based on occurrences from the day before or the week before. And I’ll get out of the shower and get some ideas, and turn the computer on.

Tell me about problems or pitfalls you encounter while writing.

Fay: (My) novel — it’s been fits and starts, fits and starts. I’ll go for a while, and then all of a sudden, my characters shut up. You, know, they have to tell me where this is going. And so, I’ll go (write) something (else), until one of the characters (talks to me).

Susan: When you (George) started with us, you had writers block. You came to this group so frustrated. And you were at a point at which some of us were asking you to write and were giving you a topic that wasn’t true to your heart. And we talked it through, about why (we) write what (we) write, how you can tell when someone writes because they love it or because they feel like they have an assignment.

Lauren: At one point I had writers block for a year, between my second and third book. My father-in-law had passed away, and I had been his primary caregiver. I just sat and stared at my laptop for a year. I decided I’m not going to write anymore. And I went out and did volunteer work. I started meeting people. I started talking to people. I got out of the house, and suddenly I was inspired. That’s one of the things that writers will often forget. You think, “I’m going to sit and write.” But what inspires you is getting out, meeting people. Even fellow writers (can) hold each other accountable.

Fay: When Tom joined us, he had this novel he started 30 years ago. It’s great. And we said, “Finish the novel.” But he was stymied. He wasn’t writing. He wanted to write, but he wasn’t. Then he found a genre — 55-word stories — and now he writes all the time.

So how have you benefitted from being in the group?

George: We motivate each other.

Lauren: That’s one of the things that’s difficult for writers to do, because writing is a solitary thing. You sit by yourself to write. You lock yourself in your study, or in your studio. But then to get your inspiration, you need to go out.

Susan: I think what helps is the fact that as a group, each meeting has an expectation, a deadline. For each meeting, we had things to do and they were done.

Fay: Break it down into steps. One step at a time.

Lauren: Writers who don’t have a publisher leaning over them must set their own deadlines. And that’s what a lot of writers do. Writers who are published, who are out there publishing books, they’re setting deadlines. They treat it like a job. Even though they might have a day job, they treat (writing and promoting their works) like a job.

Susan: But that happens here — Steve once stayed up to 2 o’clock in the morning with an edit because he was afraid of holding us up. It’s that peer review of making sure “It’s not my story that’s causing us not to progress.” No one wanted to be in that position. It’s not an artificial deadline. It’s real. So instead of putting it off, you’re getting it done.

Lauren: I think the reason you guys stay together and a lot of writers groups break up is they respect each other. Those rules. You don’t tear each other apart. Because I’ve heard so much about writers groups that break up because people don’t respect each other. Someone thinks they’re better than everyone else.

Fay: Susan was saying that this group turned her loose. Everybody in this group has been turned loose in their creativity. Sometimes by doing things that are outside our comfort zone in an exercise. Or hearing something here that turns you loose. That’s why we gather.

Who the writers are

Steve Fehlauer, 53, of Hagerstown, planning to return to college

Karel Henneberger, 72, of Smithsburg, retired

Darlene Hewett, 69, of Hagerstown, retired

Mildred Hluchy, 78, of Hagerstown, retired substitute school teacher

George Johnson, 81, of Hagerstown, retired school teacher

Tom Logan, 70, of Hedges-ville, W.Va., retired college administrator

Alice McCarthy, 62, of Martinsburg, W.Va., substitute teacher

Fay Moore, 58, of Williamsport, farmer and property manager

Vera Sines-Klank, 30, of Rockville, Md., pet sitter, artist and costume designer

Susan Stepnick, 54, of Hagerstown, executive director of  Porter Fieldhouse Foundation in Boonsboro

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