Writers Groups III made a case for participating in writers groups in my last post, and in this one I’d like to follow up with some specifics about the first group I joined.
The group started, as many do, as a spin-off of a fiction writing class. All of the “founding” members had taken a University of California at Berkeley novel writing class from Donna Levin. Donna has published two great novels—Extraordinary Means and California Street—and has written two nonfiction books on novel writing. She has also ghostwritten several major projects and has discovered and nurtured a number of authors, including Lalita Tademy, who wrote the Oprah book Cane River.
The membership of the group changed over time to include others who hadn’t taken classes from Donna, but were “sponsored” by then current members. I felt the group was very successful: we met continuously for many years, providing great feedback, support and camaraderie to all the members, and three of us eventually published novels or short story collections that had been critiqued within the group. Furthermore, I can say without hesitation that all of the writers were talented enough to have book-length material published—and all had short fiction or poetry published in quarterlies. Other priorities in life may have gotten in the way of completing novels or other book length work, but lack of ability was not the issue.
Here’s a picture from one of our later holiday dinners. From the left are George DeWitt, Mike Padilla, Terry Gamble, yours truly (in my goatee phase) and Susan Pinkwater. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get a waiter to take the shot, so our final member, Monica Mapa, had to do the honors. (To catch a glimpse of Monica, follow this link to a picture of Monica, her TV star brother and partner Marie at the GLAAD Media Awards.)
The book-length output from the group includes the following: Mike Padilla’s short story collection Hard Language, Terry Gamble’s first novel The Water Dancers and my own first novel The Immortal Game.