Writing Groups Provide Support to South Florida Writers
“We have probably killed 200 people between us,” Bob Williamson said suggestively, a dark gleam in his eye.
All fictional deaths, of course. Williamson is referring to the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America, where he serves as president. With over 3,000 members, 300 in Florida alone, MWA is one of the largest writing organizations in the country. The group sponsors writing symposiums, provides writing scholarships, and sponsors child literacy programs, as well as awarding Edgars® to deserving crime and mystery authors.
An engineer by training, Williamson has lived in South Florida since the 1970s and has been a member of MWA for seven years. His first novel, The Seriously Pink V, was published in 2002.
“I wish I had known they existed,” he said. “The biggest mistake I made was not getting involved in a writer’s group sooner.”
Daniel Keyes, MWA member and renowned author of Flowers for Algernon and The Minds of Billy Milligan, explained, “Writing is a lonely thing.”
Amateur and professional writers alike spend long hours alone staring at computer screens, keyboards clattering as they struggle to put their ideas to good use. Writing groups can help, providing support, criticism, and networking opportunities.
“When I got to town, I didn’t know anybody,” Keyes admitted. “I don’t get out very much because I’m writing all the time.”
At the monthly MWA meetings, he met people like Michael Largo and Barbara Parker, experienced authors who shared his passion.
“It’s good to be connected to other writers who have the same interests,” Largo said. “It’s a catalyst to keep motivated and stay connected to what’s happening.”
Largo is the author of four books, including Welcome to Miami and Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die, a nonfiction account of death throughout the ages. Originally from New York City, he currently lives in Kendall and has been a member of MWA for five months.
“In order to get feedback you have to join a writer’s group,” he added.
Oftentimes, the free exchange of advice and ideas helps inspire writers. In fact, the inspiration for Williamson’s latest novel came from a comment made during one of MWA’s monthly meetings. “That kind of interaction isn’t available when you’re writing alone,” he said.
“You can’t write in a vacuum,” explained Barbara Silkstone, author of 527 Naked Men & One Woman: The Adventures of a Love Investigator. “It’s like any synergy … If somebody laughs at your jokes, you tell more jokes. If someone appreciates your writing, you write more.”
She is a member of the Fort Lauderdale group Tuesday Night Writers, started in 1998. Organizer Jon Frangipane, a pianist, composer, and editor of Lighthouse Point Magazine, hosts the group every second and fourth Tuesday. Tuesday Night Writers is a mix of amateur and published authors.
“It’s great because sometimes you get inspired listening to these people really motivated to write,” said Wendy Ramer, who recently published her first book, Enzo’s Mamma. “Everyone feeds off each other.”
At the group meetings, authors read 15-minute excerpts of their works, and then ask for criticism and advice from other group members. Frangipane also gives out writing assignments to help inspire members struggling for ideas. “They develop into some wonderful stories,” he said.
John Dufresne, author of The Lie That Tells A Truth—A Guide to Writing Fiction and Deep in the Shade of Paradise, hosts the Friday Night Writers at Florida International University. He is also a member of Associated Writing Programs, an organization consisting of students and teachers from university writing programs.
“I suppose I’ve learned to see what works and what does not,” Dufrense said of his work with the Friday Night Writers. “I’ve learned to be a better editor of my own stories.”
He started the group in 1990 with three students from his first class teaching at FIU. Dufresne believes his group provides many benefits for aspiring writers. “You get a generous reading from a dozen or more smart and interested ‘editors,’” he explained. “You get encouragement and you get a structure which might be all you need to finish that story. Don’t expect to be applauded and praised—you may be, but we’re here because we’re trying to get better, and we need your honest and specific response to the story or poem in order to see where we are.”
Many local writing groups are free, but some professional organizations, such as Mystery Writers of America, require yearly dues. To join MWA, members pay yearly dues of $95, in addition to $20 per lunch meeting to cover the cost of food. Some of these dues finance the group’s philanthropic activities, including sponsorship of Kids Love a Mystery, the group’s literacy program, and hosting a booth at the Miami Book Fair International, held November 12-19. Professional organizations also hold conferences, such as MWA’s Sluethfest, which will be held in April in Miami Beach.
Membership in professional organizations is important, but for aspiring and professional writers alike, local writing groups can serves as meeting places and workshops where the intimate atmosphere is conducive to the free exchange of ideas. Alinka Zyrmont, author of Murder by Roses and Husband Hunting, is a member of Romance Writers of America, but she also enjoys her work with Tuesday Night Writers.
“I have not found any drawbacks at all in joining this group because the members are very supportive of one another with constructive criticism,” she said.
For more information on Mystery Writers of America, visit mwa-florida.org. The Tuesday Night Writers meet the second and fourth Tuesday of every month at 2051 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale. To join the Friday Night Writers, e-mail [email protected].