Meeting of the Minds
Writers come for the critiques, stay for the camaraderie
BY RACHEL CUCCURULLO
For more than 20 years, a “meeting of the minds” has quietly taken place at Morningside Library. A group of writers meets every Thursday from 9 in the morning until noon. Many of the group members are independent writers who are self-published. Some have anywhere from one to 10 published works or are working on their first piece to be put into print.
“We give each other advice, work on grammar and syntax and provide encouragement to one another,” says group founder Gene Hull.
Hull, a former musician, musical director and director of entertainment for a cruise line, formed the group after retiring. His enthusiasm and dedication to the writer’s group has allowed for its continued growth.
Each Thursday, the writers bring in up to four pages of text. They normally print enough copies to pass out and then read it aloud to the group. Group members read along and make notes for the author.
“The comments and critiques can be verbal or written, but either way, they are always helpful and allow the author to possibly see something they did not catch, such as grammatical errors or just helping the writer to remain on track,” says Allan Ramsay, who has been a member of the group for five years.
Ramsay has been a writer and editor for years. He spent a few decades marketing technology products, working in sales and later as a technical writer and editor. His published works fall under the realm of psychological thrillers that incorporate sci-fi and romance.
Anywhere from 10 to 30 members attend the meetings, depending on the time of year. Group members agree to avoid talking politics and to not allow personal beliefs to influence their views of the writing.
Many of the group members began writing in retirement. Kathleen Conway has been a member for three years and is working on a memoir, of sorts, about her family. It will be her first published work. Conway is a retired professor of counseling from Nebraska. She and her husband are now seasonal residents in Florida.
“This group is incredibly encouraging and makes you feel comfortable as a writer,” she says. “I think having these meetings helps everyone to master their writing as well as their ability to critique and receive critiquing.”
For self-published authors, this group is a space that allows ideas to be bounced around and for members to receive the much-needed feedback that one might otherwise get from a publisher or copy editor. The verbal and written comments provide each writer with constructive notes that they can implement into their books.
As each author reads her piece of copy for the day, the others listen intently and mark notes where necessary. While there are often minor typographical errors that others are able to catch, there is also a lot of positive response.
It is quite visible that the group is made of unique individuals, every person coming from a different walk of life. They enter each Thursday ready to offer support and advice to help their fellow members stay on track with their stories. At times, there may be playful disagreements, but they always work it out in a respectful manner.
Kris Haggblom, owner of the Port St. Lucie bookstore Poetic Justice, walks over from his shop to regularly attend meetings. He has made it a point to frequently hold book signings and author events. His shop carries a lot of books from these same local authors and writers.
“It’s a wonderful group with a lot of really great people,” he says. “I try to support local by carrying works from local authors.”
The text that is read in each meeting is derived from all different genres of writing — not only welcomed but highly encouraged.
Co-founder Peter Haase, who is currently in the publishing process for his 10th book, has even utilized a fellow member’s editing expertise.
“For one of my books, Allan Ramsay edited and did a wonderful job. He is a very important member of this group and very helpful,” Haase says.
Ramsay is passionate about the group dynamic and has been working on his most current novel for three years.
“Longtime members have listened and read many of my drafts for this book,” he says. “This group is truly a treasure.”
“For many of us, this is the highlight of our week, getting to discuss our stories and receive and provide useful feedback,” poet Judy Shaffer says.
Shaffer and her husband, Larry Shaffer, retired to Florida from Virginia. They have been members of the group for several years. Judy studied under the poet laureate of South Carolina for a short time and is the only poetry writer in the group. Larry Shaffer recalls listening to his uncle from southern Virginia tell stories and this led him to begin writing in his retirement.
Joann Stone, a retired nurse and clinical instructor of 48 years, has been to four of the group’s meetings and has enjoyed the rapport and dialogue the group creates.
The writers group has wonderful chemistry and welcomes new members with open arms. They are supportive of writing goals and encourage their colleagues to be honest with one another.
“I was retired for about a year and started searching for something that could fill my time,” Stone says. “I came across this group in the Morningside Library’s yearly calendar and gave it a try. It’s been very refreshing, and I am loving what I have been putting together to bring to the group each week.”