This week of vacation has afforded me opportunities I would not have had otherwise to get out into the community. Last night, the Fredricksen Library in Camp Hill held a launch party for “A Community of Writers,” a collection of short stories from Sunbury Press edited by Ann Elia Stewart.
The library has been the home of a creative writing workshop funded by David Craumer as a gift from the estate of his wife, Natalie, who had been a longtime reader. Not only is Natalie’s estate funding the workshop, but the fund has been managed so that the principal has been preserved. The twice-a-year workshop is limited to 15 people, and has been an ongoing concern for 10 years.
I had heard about “A Community of Writers” at the Pennwriters’ convention the week before and bought a copy, so the evening gave me an opportunity to put some faces to the names and reconnect with people.
The event on the main library floor was packed, with about 70 people attending. After a reading from five of the writers, we adjourned to another room for a champagne toast, some book-buying and book signings.
But it occurred to me, as I stood in the back, eyes closed, listening to the readings, how difficult it is to develop a strong writing voice. The stories were different: a child telling about being forced to ride through the night with her mentally disturbed mother; a fat girl aboard a cruise ship with her beautiful friend; a satire involving God; an account of a girl writing morale-boosting letters to two soldiers in Vietnam; and a barfly enjoying her drink and cigs and looking down on everyone else (imagine Miss Haversham on a bar stool and you’re not too far off).
There were some genuinely funny moments. The scenes were vividly written. They were certainly publishable stories.
Listening to them made me realize that, with the tidal wave of stories out there, the most difficult part of the rewriting process is developing a point of view. It’s probably the one part of the story process that can’t be taught. Details can be researched and provided, there’s all the nouns and verbs in the dictionary that one can find and want. But only the writer can get inside the character’s skin and tell us how they see (or reveal, since sometimes even the characters themselves don’t know) about what they’re experiencing.
It’s like the prison guard in Stephen King’s “The Green Mile,” talking about “walking on the skin of the world.” That phrase has stuck with me since I read the series when it came out in paperback, one installment a week. That one line encapsulated, like bouillon, what he saw as his role in the world, and it has stuck with me after all these millions of words since.
Writing has its pleasures, but publication is its own reward. “A Community of Writers” contains 25 stories, each only a few pages long. It’s an onion of a book, and as I talked with the writers that night, I learned that several of them have books coming out this year. I’ll be looking forward to seeing what they’ve come up with, knowing that there’s a great local institution that helped speed them on their way.