Writers’ Roundtable in St James Plantation Thickens the Plot
Tanya Binford is a psychiatric nurse practitioner—a professional who writes orders for psychiatric nurses to follow—who wanted to push her boundaries. JoAnn Franklin Klinker, a professor emeritus, has always been intrigued with the way the mind works both intuitively and reflectively. Flora J. Solomon was a mom of three and used writing to “escape the drudgery of drool and diapers.” Like others in this cast of characters, Frans Kuipers, aka FJ Harmon, stalled his writing ambitions for more than two decades; many put them off for more lucrative careers or for raising families. Dr. Tom Kelso is a full-time orthopedic surgeon who moonlighted as a writer. Jeff Siebold has an MBA in computer systems and for thirty years bought and sold apartments around the country as a commercial real estate agent. Evelyn Petros was accused of plagiarism as a youngster because her teacher didn’t think she could have produced the glowing copy she’d handed in.
All of them wanted something more.
All these characters live on the southeastern North Carolina shore. They’re all creative. Over the past three years, they’ve shared each other’s hard-earned lessons and disappointments, guided one another and celebrated each victory as if they were their own.
They learn from each other.
Members of the Writers’ Roundtable, which meets bi-monthly in St. James, a residential community in Southport, have a single goal: to become published authors. They achieve this goal by critiquing each other’s work so they can improve their craft and by guiding and supporting each other through the fickle world of publishing and marketing.
And it’s working.
To date, nine novels from group members have been published. Six more are in process.
Prior to the Writers’ Roundtable, there was a group of writers who met informally in St. James. When JoAnn, who’d dabbled in writing but forsook it to pursue her career, moved to St. James about three-and-a-half years ago, she tried to find others who shared her interest in getting published. She was told to contact Flora, a member of the previous group. Together with Frans, they started the Writers’ Roundtable.
JoAnn currently serves as the unofficial leader of the group. Meeting agenda items are provided by all members. They start each meeting with a five-minute roundup of what members have been working on. The Monday meetings are devoted to issues of the craft of writing while the Friday meetings address marketing challenges. They often blend both ‘subjects.’ The genres represented include women’s literature, general fiction, mystery and suspense, and non-fiction.
While members have the common goal of publishing, there are differences among them. For instance, all but Tanya and Jeff live in St. James (the group is open to “serious writers” from the area). Tanya, Frans, JoAnn and Jeff are self-published while Flora is traditionally published. Flora had entered an Amazon contest for writers and when she won first place they found a publisher for her.
While most members write novels in a variety of genres, Evelyn has also written a screenplay. Everyone in the group has been published but her and Tom, both of whom have completed the writing process. Tom has written three novels and is working on the fourth and fifth; he wants to have several ready to publish before publishing. Evelyn has completed a screenplay and is working on three novels with musicians as main characters; she was a professional opera singer so she knows that world well. Both Evelyn and Tom have strategies for publishing in place.
During a recent meeting, Frans advised Evelyn to look into a class led by a particular instructor who is oriented to screenplays.
“That’s an example of why this group is so good,” Evelyn points out.
The reasons for joining the group may differ for members, depending on where they came from in their publishing career. For instance, Tanya hadn’t written much before writing Crossing the Wake, one woman’s great loop adventure, which she published last year.
“I feel like I learned how to write in this group,” she says. Sometimes, the critiquing of members’ writing that occurs, while helpful, may sting a bit.
“I had to get a black and white printer because I couldn’t handle all the red,” Tanya jokes of the process. Crossing the Wake was a 2016 Seven Sisters award winner, awarded as “a celebration of the stories of women and those who tell them.”
Flora says she loves the editing the group provides, adding, “You really want to get as many kinks out [of the manuscript] before putting it out there.”
“I’ve always thought of this group as an AA of writing,” Franz says. He advises writers to listen to all the advice on changing the manuscript but to disregard the advice on how to fix it. In the end, they’re your stories, your words.
JoAnn adds, “When you have conflicting advice on how to correct [your manuscript] you have to go to your inner core,” or the voice inside your head.
Case in point:
Tanya was working on the as-yet-unnamed Crossing the Wake with an editor who “came up with a title that made it sound like B-rated porn. I was like, ‘Wow. No. Really?’”
For several, the Writers’ Roundtable has reignited a passion for writing that had been put on hold. For instance, JoAnn talks about one of her three unpublished novels, a romance she started 30 years ago and recently revisited.
“I thought, ‘It’s a good thing you found another profession,’” she says with a grin. The characters were shallow and lacked complexity. Those characters, she says, will stay where they’ve been for decades: in her closet.
Members help support each other through the writing process and through the challenges of publishing and marketing. Sometimes it can be discouraging. But they cheer each other on and celebrate when things work out. The common piece of advice they offer to writers? Write every day.
“I share my office with dead people. Their memories haunt me.” So reads the opening lines of Tanya’s second work-in-progress, about her work in her “first” profession. Not bad for someone who doesn’t consider herself a writer.
For more information about the Writers’ Roundtable please visit http://www.writersroundtable.net/