There was a full house at Interabang Books this week as Dallas’s newest independent bookstore and the Writer’s League of Texas hosted a panel discussion about community building for writers. And we hadn’t even known there would be cupcakes! (Those arrived courtesy of irrepressible panel member, author and community organizer, Arianne “Tex” Thompson, decorated with the names and logos of local writers’ communities.)
No, we were there because, despite the Hemingwayesque stereotype of writers as antisocial loners – possibly hard drinking ones at that – the local authors on the panel –
Thompson, Kathleen Kent,
Melissa Lenhardt, and Blake Kimzey – extolled the necessity of connections.
|l-r, Lenhardt, Kent, Kimzey|
“It is so important for every industry to own its issues,” Thompson said. “For football, it’s brain injury. For ballet dancers, it’s eating disorders. For us it’s –”
“Hemorrhoids,” an audience member shouted.
Well, at least anxiety, Thompson acknowledged, when the laughter had died down. “You writers, there’s something seriously wrong with you!” (More laughter, some slightly self-conscious.) “It’s important that we need a counterbalance to the word hamsters running around in our heads. You need a writing community if you’re going to stay healthy and stay in the game.”
And that, if in more chaste language, was the tone of the discussion, was the tone of the discussion moderated by the League’s member services manager, Jordan Smith.
“Why is it important for writers to be in a community?” Smith asked. “And how do you find a community?”
Kimzey agreed. Now a prolific short story author and founder/director of Writing Workshops Dallas, he confessed to starting his writing career as an alternative to his day job.
“I was nodding off in a cubicle 10 years ago,” the author of “a lot of vignettes,” but no completed stories until he found a creative writing workshop at Brookhaven Community College.
“It was transforming for me. There I was, getting feedback for the first time.”
He and the other students – mostly college freshmen and sophomores years younger than he was – took a second course together because they formed such strong bonds. (Kimzie would even take the course a third time, and end with nine completed stories.) “Now I have my gang of four, all at different stages. It’s important to have a cohort.”
“I started by going to the DFW Writers Workshop,” Lenhardt said, where she was able to grow her Stillwater mystery series and award winning historical novels. “They ‘got’ me in a way my family didn’t.”
The stay-at-home mom went to her first workshop meeting and thought, “Oh, my God, nobody asked about my kids.” It wasn’t that workshop members didn’t care about her kids, she said, but that her relationship with them was being built as a comrade, not on the family connections which had previously dominated her life.
Kent, on the other hand, already completed the manuscript that would become her New York Times bestseller, The Heretic’s Daughter, on her own. She has said in other contexts that she kept her writing a secret from almost everyone except her mother, fearing the eyeball rolls if she confessed to it, with another career and well into middle age. “I wish I’d had a group like that.”
Which doesn’t mean it’s ever too late to start, either with writing or finding a community.
“Unlike, for instance, downhill skiing, writing is something you can begin at 50,” she quipped.
(Next time – tune in for suggestions on where to find that community of fellow writers we dream about, and an intriguing offer from the ever-cheerful Tex Thompson.)