Manuscript help, book reviews and author interviews
The Scarsdale Library’s 2016 Festival of Writing by Judith Abelove Shemtob
The Scarsdale Library Writers Center marked its 2016 Festival of Writing on June 12. Sixteen authors read aloud their pieces to an audience of forty-five. I was one of them, a member of the Scarsdale Morning Scribes.
I sat in this same Wrexham House at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville two months ago to hear my critique group leader read from her recently published novel The Last Dreamer. I wanted to show support and understand more about being published.
The only seats remaining were in the last row. My fingers touched the clip holding my story together. My husband joined me.
My name was listed seventh in the program. I knew some people but not others.
The reading began. Many authors thanked Jimin Han and Barbara Solomon Josselsohn, for leading the three writing groups at the library.
Listening wasn’t easy at first. I removed the clip and counted again. Butterflies fluttered throughout my body.
Dawn Ciciola’s characters in Spice Things Up looked forward to their twilight years while dealing with the past. Khris Tahmin’s 2 Ladies compared the search for excitement and the need to belong. Lisa VanGundy’s story of befriending a retired teacher warmed our hearts. In Then and Now Margo Baum reflected on growing up, moving away, and returning to Scarsdale. Jackie Friedman highlighted the value of music and dance that lifted spirits after JFK’s death. Barbara Weinreb described making Beef Wellington that fell on the floor just before it was served to her husband.
My turn. I hadn’t read aloud to an audience since retiring last June. I left the classroom without knowing what I would be doing. I was looking for what author Judith Summerfield calls my “Someplace.”
In class, Barbara Josselsohn talked about craft and shared an article that inspired me to write This is 65, about how writing a retirement speech validated the talent within me to write. Another time she shared two readings with diverse points of view and suggested, “Talk about the moment during Hurricane Sandy when you knew this was going to be a big deal.”
I looked at the audience as I shared Our Giant Tree, the tale of a struggling deciduous which my family loved. I paid attention to the pacing. It was thrilling to read in front of a large audience who felt the suspense, laughed at the humor, followed the details, and felt the satisfying sending. I knew it. I saw eyes, felt listening, and heard applause. I left the reading stand and took my seat. My husband nodded his head with pride and mouthed the word, “Excellent!”
I listened to the next writers: Karen Pickelle’s witty poems included a fan that waves its face in a constant negative motion, never nodding yes, just oscillating no. Jennifer Manocherian presented two versions of the night that she was conceived, the imagined and the probable. Fran Scheffler-Siegel read excerpts from her Caregiving book including conversations with her late husband from opposite sides of the bathroom door. Janice Peran’s wish to attend her high school and college reunions made us all consider future gatherings.
The talk of groups, writing and revising, family obligations, and questions about pieces at intermission reminded me of our group where I was encouraged to read online writing sites, sign up for interesting courses, learn about self-publishing, discuss books, and meet new people.
The readings continued:
Lynn Beville shared her view of race discrimination after seeing slave quarters in the South. In The Cat and the Rabbit Linda Shapiro wrote about feelings of helplessness in response to world violence. Ann Foley shared a six-year old Dublin girl’s first encounter with nature in Lily. Linda Ellenbogen questioned her birthdate and linked it to events like Nazi Germany’s rise. Richard Fitzhugh’s memoire about selling a collection of memorabilia may have inspired male members of the audience to consider writing.
Hardly a novice to writing, I had an M.Ed in Reading and Language from Boston University, taught reading and writing to children in Scarsdale, and worked with Kathleen Tolan, Senior Deputy Director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. I joined the library group after agents and publishers rejected my manuscripts for children’s picture books despite the fact that my friends and their children and grandchildren enjoyed the stories. It appealed to me that Writing Center was ongoing. Many readers at the fourth festival had participated in prior years.
Barbara encouraged us to write reviews on Amazon and Good Reads and use Facebook to communicate between meetings. Marlena Baraf and I exchanged articles on picture books and sources for her blog.
My mentor gave online help as well. When I emailed her two stories, she used incredible talent as an editor to get me to dig deeper into the text and asking probing questions line by line.
I continued to revise my picture books and began assembling the help of trusted friends to read my stories and comment. I started meeting with another writer to offer prompts, write for thirty minutes, share our writing, and then talk. It’s the new “going for coffee.” Library Director Elizabeth Bermel said, “…fostering creativity and expression for local writers is intrinsic to our mission.”
And this article? Barbara asked if anyone would be interested in an opportunity to write a bylined article about the festival for writer and author Preeti Singh. After three minutes of deliberation I emailed back, “I’m interested.” The timing was right. Exactly one year to the day after I retired I received the opportunity to be published.
My writing journey has started full throttle. The Scarsdale Library Writing Center’s helped me find my “Someplace.” Grateful.