Three Writing It Real Members Publish the Story of Their 24-Year Writer’s Group
I am asking for Writing It Real members to write articles about their book creation and publishing experience. We kick off the series this first month of 2023 with an article about the story behind the publication of Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets: Twenty-four years of a successful writers’ group co-written by the authors, Jackie Collins, Diana Kinared, and Sally Showalter. Their article ends with selected excerpts from their book.
Sally Showalter lives in Tucson, Arizona with her rescue cats and husband of forty-three years. Transported from Illinois to the desert in the mid-1970s, in writing she reflects on the seasons and childhood of the rural Midwest and the diverse colors, culture, and flavors of the Southwest. She loves to flower garden, paint, prepare gourmet meals, and reflect on the blessings that come her way.
Jackie Collins lives in the front range of the Colorado Rocky Mountains with her husband and their dog Rusty. She has written an unpublished memoir capturing memories of growing up on a farm in the Midwest with its joys and trials. She is drawn to shared stories that provide insight and inspiration.
Diana Kinared lives with her husband of fifty-nine years and three cats in the resort atmosphere of Oro Valley, Arizona. She and her husband love road trips around this great country, and she writes daily for her own pleasure and enlightenment. She is the mother of three remarkable adult children and one amazing grandson.
The Story Behind Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets: Twenty-four years of a successful writers’ group
by Jackie Collins, Diana Kinared, and Sally Showalter
The journey to publishing our book started in 2005 when our writers’ group decided to write about the many lessons learned as we grew as writers. Teachers and mentors had often asked us insightful questions about our group connections and how we managed to stay together for ten, then fourteen, and now close to twenty-five years.
We would be lying if we said it was a piece of cake. We had jobs, families, unforeseen serious illnesses in our families, losses, and additions that needed our attention. Despite the drawbacks and distractions, our love and enjoyment of writing kept us meeting twice a month to exchange stories and prompts and, eventually, as often as possible, to work on Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets as encouragement for anyone who can benefit from the support of a writers’ group. Then we discovered the road to publishing a book is full of obstacles and detours, some expected and some a total surprise.
In late summer 2018, we completed the project, or so we thought. We asked Sheila Bender to review our manuscript. She offered encouragement and sage advice suggesting we make our original attempt more personal by threading a group narrative throughout our anthology of fiction, memoir, poetry, and essays with tips for making a writers’ group successful. This meant not only sharing our writing but sharing our experiences of being together for nearly a quarter of a century.
And so began the “art” of reshaping and editing the manuscript.
We explored publishing options including traditional, hybrid, vanity, and self-publishing. We wrote, called, and participated in zoom meetings with publishers, even meeting personally with a local one. We contacted other authors for advice on their choices. We found the process of selecting a publisher even more arduous than writing a book. We began submitting our manuscript to a list of carefully researched publishers in December 2020. We compiled this list of publishers by searching through Writers Digest, Poets & Writers, researching various university presses and small presses online, and visiting local bookstores to leaf through books in genres close to our book’s subjects and to learn who published those books. The qualities we were seeking were based on budget and professionalism. We read through lists of books from the publishers we chose and inquired about their flexibility in working with three authors. Once we narrowed the list to fit our book, we divided the list and each wrote query letters to these publishers using their criteria for submissions.
We accepted and signed a contract in May 2021 with Atmosphere Press. At that point, we entered the world of publishing with more editing ahead and choices to make.
During the editing process, we became so frustrated we were ready to throw in the towel. An editor assigned to us by Atmosphere was less than helpful. She claimed their software was at fault when we were sent several revisions for weeks with sentences truncated, paragraphs missing, and other odd “editing” mishaps. We were spinning our wheels trying to make sense of the snarls and tangles, the jumble of misdirection caused by the person we were relying on to help us to publish. It took weeks and several phone calls and zoom meetings to get the proper attention including meeting with the CEO/Executive Editor. During that time, we read and reread our manuscript, making editing corrections ourselves. When we received the final copy to approve for publication, we found an additional fifty-two errors we needed to correct. Amazingly we were able to stay focused on our goal and keep each other’s spirits up because our desire and ambition for this book were deeply rooted. Months later we finally reached the last and satisfactory edits.
We weathered a flurry of emails and zoom meetings as we reviewed multiple options for cover art and interior design. We were very happy with the options presented by the cover art director at Atmosphere. He took our vague ideas and created the exact cover we envisioned. Our choices were all made, and the final proof copy was mailed to us for evaluation and acceptance in June 2022. Yeah! An actual book in our hands. Our publication date was September 6, 2022.
But it still wasn’t completely satisfactory. When we received the first few books to use for our marketing and sales, we discovered missing pages in several of the books. We also had one book sent to us with our cover but a completely different novel inside. An oops? We suspect there was no oversight at the printer. The press made good on all requests, and we were ready to go.
During the time from signing the contract until the publishing date, we designed and created a website and blog for our book to encourage others to write and/or form their own writers’ group. This was another large challenge that we conquered.
Sally and Diana made in-person contact in the Tucson area with bookstores, libraries, and coffee shops to promote our book and find venues for future book launches. We contacted media outlets, newspapers, and magazines to get our names and the book in public view. We had three local periodicals publish an interview with Sally and Diana about the book and our group.
Jackie contacted stores in the Colorado area where she lives now. Everyone we contacted was very receptive to promoting local authors and we were able to place our book on consignment in smaller venues. We contacted writing groups and book clubs with information and made presentations on how to start and nurture a writing group using our book as context. It was another learning experience that we all embraced.
After the new year, we will hold book parties at local venues and participate in the Tucson Book Festival in March.
It was all worth it!
Narrative excerpts from Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets, Twenty-four years of a successful writers’ group
These excerpts are gathered from “Chapter 3, Packed Bags…Air, Land, Sea and Notebooks.” They are a slice of the notetaking each woman kept of their observations and thoughts. I think you will see that their freewriting of details contains idiosyncratic moments, which are fun to read and always present opportunities for more writing.
From “Let’s Get Acquainted” – The book’s mission
Our book is about three women, total strangers, who become great friends by telling tales, tall and small, and revealing secrets through stories, poems, and creative nonfiction. There is a varied cast of characters throughout. In the fashion of good legends, each woman is the heroine of her own story. After twenty-four years of storytelling, the true character of each woman is exposed. We learned from and about each other through story. Stories have been the foundation of civilization since the beginning of time. Our lives are collections of stories. We penned tales about people, places, and experiences, real and imagined, using writers’ tools called prompts to initiate the flow of creativity. Herein is the arc of our journey as a group with some of our compositions and commentary on the group. We ventured away from our desks, exploring outside our group, diverse avenues for inspiration, together and separately. We depended on each other for critiques and comments to support our writing obsession. That is what makes a successful Writers’ Group.
Notes each of the women kept on their trip to Seattle and Port Townsend, WA for a writers’ conference.
I had never been to Washington, so could barely wait to hop on the plane with my fellow writers and explore Seattle. Our time before the conference was limited, but we were able to visit Pike Place Market. I heard they threw fish and once I experienced the performance, I instinctively knew to duck. It was a delightful place. I’d also never ridden a ferry; another exciting and new adventure. Sally and I had fun comparing toenail polish and took a picture of our feet together. We do that a lot, tease each other, and delight in sharing antics we think are hilarious. Luckily for us, Diana enjoys our out-of-control laughing and playing tricks. She tosses her head back and bursts out infectious laughter. I love her for that because there’s no doubt in my mind Sally and I and our crazy fun lends itself to occasional public annoyance, like the time we attended the conference in Steamboat Springs.
Prompt: In Exercise One, our assignment was to walk a street of Port Townsend and depict something we noticed in a story. Exercise Two was the same assignment—write about a situation we experienced, only add tension.
Looking at the water, I was reminded I was searching for a place to release mine. “If we don’t find a place soon, I’ll be minus pants to walk back to the conference.”
On this trip to Port Townsend, Washington for a weeklong writers’ conference, Jackie, Diana, and Sally flew to Seattle, rented a car to Fort Casey State Park, ferried across Puget Sound to the small hotel facing Port Townsend Bay. We three shared a room that overlooked the bay with boats of various sizes moored along the docks, masts tipping to the horizons with the lull of the current, seagulls, and an occasional burst of soft rain, which would inevitably create a rainbow connecting one shoreline to the other. This view planted our pens for new creativity. I was anxious for the first evening of introductions to new faces, backgrounds, and interests.
Prompt: Our assignment was to walk the quaint portion of Port Townsend to find a spot and observe, then describe what we saw in a story.
I was happy with my little writing assignment. These pieces were not to be critiqued but read aloud as a testimony of what we can truly observe and make note of. Back in class that afternoon, each student read their observances and it was clear quaint Port Townsend is quite a busy community…a story is always out there.
In 2007, three of us, Jackie, Sally, and I took the opportunity to enroll in Meg Files, Jack Heffron and Sheila Bender’s Writers’ Workshop in Port Townsend, WA. We flew to Seattle and spent a day exploring the sights of the city. I was a resident of the area for over forty years and took great pleasure in showing off places of interest, especially Pike Place Market. The salty air permeates Pike Place near the harbors of Puget Sound. A bouquet of scents wafts through the outdoor marketplace from the farmer’s stalls. The earthy, pungent odors of fresh tomato, onion, and garlic meld with the herbal basil, parsley, mint, and rosemary…The fish market adds hundreds of varieties of sea creatures laying on ice for tourists to ogle.
Prompt: Write a poem inspired by Carl Sandberg’s “Gratitude Unlocks the Fullness of Life.”
Excerpt from Diana’s Poem “Gratitude”
Unfolding from sleep I turn to the open window
Desert breezes puff gentle kisses across my eyes and lips
Sage and desert broom play a luscious harmony for my nose
With feline grace dawn arches blue-gray-pin over the mountaintop |
Bringing another day
Thank you for the new beginning
I walk the park path in the cool dawn air
Desert heat rising soon
A voyeur listening to the gossip of palo verde leaves|
Am I the topic of their soft whispers?
Many more of the authors’ adventures together, their writings from prompts and their responses to one another’s writing as well as their deepening bonds from being a writing group are in the rich 310 pages of Telling Tales and Sharing Secrets, Twenty-four years of a successful writers’ group. Visit their website to read more about what they call “A Way with Words: Our Journey of friendship Through Words.”