Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What You Don't See

by Elizabeth

I drew the good luck to get to post the first impressions of our very first official speaking event. As we have no doubt made clear in the previous weeks, last night the six of us at What Women Write were privileged to be the monthly guests of The Writer's Guild of Texas at the Richardson Public Library.

If you were there, drop a comment and let us know what you thought. If you were there, did you grab one of the terrific cookies Pamela was so kind to bake, giving us credit for her delectable work by sticking a mini-card with all our mugs on each bag? If you were there, did you detect the scent of fried chicken emanating from underneath the speaker's table? (That was my fault. As someone who shall remain nameless chose to point out, I talk and think and dream and plan about food a lot, and decided there was no way we could go on without dinner, and since Golden Chick is right across the street... Yup, any excuse to chow, that's me. It really is.)

I arrived a little earlier than planned, clutching a box of chicken and a magazine, thinking I'd scarf my dinner and read some trashy gossip. My plans were happily spoiled by the presence of Julie. Julie was already there! This was a first (she was the last to arrive at our retreat both years, too), but, as she later explained, this was at night. Our usual group meetings are around 11, which might be lunchtime for me but is still early in the day for a woman who doesn't go to bed until the sun is rising in Sydney. We both grabbed a piece and as we munched shared our latest news, then waved our drumsticks in welcome as Pamela and Susan rolled in, followed by Joan, and last but not late, Kim.

Then it was time to get busy. If you were there, this is what you didn't see:

Joan pacing on the far side of the room, ever the researcher, practicing from the notecards she'd studiously prepared. (There is a reason this is a woman who has not only completed several novels, but managed to excel in her career, be a football mom, and still manage to find time to help out her fellow writers when they need critique).

Pamela dashing about, arranging the cookie basket, buying water for everyone, dispensing hugs as needed, our mom, always taking care of us.

Elizabeth and Susan listen while Joan presents her part of our talk.
Kim and Susan and Julie and I--you know what? I don't even remember. I recall noting that Kim hadn't struck me as a wing-girl. I remember Julie's tale of her thirteen year-old's shout that she needed drama masks--as Julie headed out the door, flinging the good news that she was lucky to live in the age of Google if she insisted on waiting until the last minute to share such information. And Susan? Maybe fussing with technology, doing something that looked like fun but probably helped make the world just a little better.

I turned down Pamela's water offer, changed my mind, cadged a buck and a quarter off Joan, raced upstairs to the soda machine, pressed the wrong button, and ended up with a strawberry Fanta. I handed it off to Kat Smith, our hostess that night, and got a couple of styrofoam cups of tap water to quench my thirst instead. Mossy, but did the job.

Then, planted at the table at the front of the room, I watched our audience, our fellow writers, trickle in. Thrilled to see so many faces from The Lesser North Texas Writers, a critique group that meets every Thursday at the Barnes and Noble in Plano (that's a city in Texas, and yes, I heard the "plain ol' Texas" jokes long ago). These were people who'd heard my work, whose own work I'd critiqued (Pamela's and Joan's, too), and it meant a lot to me to see them show up to hear us speak. Well, okay: so most of them are regular members and attendees at WGT; I choose to believe they made the trip out that, um, not-really-very-cold evening just to support us.

And then Kat took the lectern, got some business out of the way, introduced Earl Stubbs who read a gorgeous and authentic tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. (I didn't know he'd been baptized "Michael," did you?), and then we were up.

Kim responds to a question as Joan looks on.
The rest, if you were there, you saw.

There is so much we never see. Last night that was true, and it's true when we pick up a fresh book, do the first thumbing of its pages, and then settle in for a glorious read. Whether it's historical fiction with perhaps years of research backing it up, or a whimsical middle grade bolstered by the writer's memories and experiences, every book holds so much more than the fifty- or hundred-thousand or so words between its covers.

That's maybe one of the best bits of magic about writing--about life. There is always so much more, and a really gifted writer hints at all the more there is without ever bragging about what is not there. We simply know it is. Because the writing is true. The characters real. Just as you know the librarian who takes your card or the cashier who takes your money or the phlebotomist who takes your blood has a life beyond the desk or the register or the hospital, so it is with great characters. Great reads. Great books.

There was a lot going on before Kat turned it over to Pamela. Her part centered on our own backstory, the tales of where we all met, how this blog began, what chemistry and serendipity and alchemy brought us together in that basement room, old friends and new smiling their encouragement, the smells of yeast rolls and coffee and fresh baked cookies perfuming the air. Last night, we got a chance to share our story.

Of course we didn't say everything; how can you say it all in just a few minutes? But with any luck, if you were there, you believed there was more, just as you do when you read your favorite author. And I hope--we all hope--that what we said left you, like with that great book, knowing there's more, and wishing for a sequel.
Julie, Pamela, Joan, Elizabeth, Kim and Susan after the talk.

Those sequels are our works-in-progress. If you were there last night, you heard us say we realize only one of us will be first to get a contract. When she does, what you won't hear will be the heartfelt cries of joy. What you won't taste will be the tears of congratulatory joy rolling down our cheeks. What you won't see will be the champagne spilling into glasses. But believe me now: we will shout, and tears will pour, and even this teetotaler will lift her glass to her friend and drink to the success I know she'll have earned.

Photos by Rick Mora.


  1. What a great moment. Thanks for sharing. I remember thinking all through your presentations, "Wow, what chemistry you all have." I've worked group dynamics long enough to know that what you were able to do with such a diverse group of people is rare and special. And I believe that you'll be rewarded because of what you have been able to build together. It's truly inspiring.

  2. Thanks, Tony, both for coming last night and coming here today. It is amazing the chemistry we have. In advance of our first retreat, I had moments wondering how the heck this would work out, three nights with some women I barely knew in real life--but it was truly like a group of old pals. I hope you are right about the rewards! It's heartening to hear we are inspiring others. That's what so much of writing is about, too, isn't it?

  3. Great job. Each of you was well prepared and shared something helpful and interesting. I agree that your group is rare--not only due to your personal compatibility, but the compatibility of your writing skills as well. Since some of you joined the alliance without reading one another's work first, I'm amazed that you are so well matched. A critique is only as good as the critique partner.

  4. Thank you all for sharing your cooperative writing lives with us. I left feeling completely wired, writing ideas still coursing through my mind at one in the morning. Yesterday I met with a writer friend who had also attended your presentation. Her experience reflected my own. I have to say there was more than the scent of chicken and cookies emanating from that room Monday night! Thank you, ladies.



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