Thursday, January 21, 2010

Shoring Up My Roots

Like some of you, I’ve been concentrating on staying in the “now.” But over the last year or so, I’ve felt a strong pull to look in my rear view mirror and revisit the people and events that have made me who I am today. I don’t consider this wallowing or staying mired in my past, but a reminder of how far I’ve come. Sometimes I need that. When I’m bemoaning where I am or feeling discouraged, I like to look at that cosmic bar graph and see the progress I’ve made. And I love catching up with people who’ve nurtured me and either thank them or find some way to give back for all they’ve given me.

Today I give you Laura Jan Shore. In my early thirties, I started writing my first novel. I knew nothing about writing novels, and the variety of short essays and stories I already had in my portfolio hardly prepared me for the depth and fortitude writing long fiction required. Except for acing the essay requirement in college English (get three As and you can skip the rest of the semester), I’d had no formal training. But I stumbled forward anyway, mostly on the back of a dare from my husband. When I told him about an idea I had for a novel – I’d read enough of them to get the gist of major plot formats – he said, “You can’t write a novel.” That was enough to make me get serious. I read a bit about fiction writing, and several experts recommended joining a writing group.

The trouble was that I had no idea how to find one. But one day soon after this revelation, the stars and fate aligned. I was at work (then, in an ad agency) when a copy of the Pennysaver (a weekly newspaper filled with classified ads, in the days before Craig’s List) landed on my desk. This in itself was an odd circumstance, because the mail always went directly to my more senior colleague, who, in another odd circumstance, because she never took sick time, happened to be home with the flu. Usually, at lunch, I read the newspaper. That day I picked up the Pennysaver. Opened it to a random page and found a small ad looking for writers to join a writer’s group.


I called the number, and heard Laura Jan Shore’s sweet, breathy voice for the first time. At the time, she was the published author of a young adult novel, was writing her first adult novel, and also wrote poetry. She led three groups - Monday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday evenings. She asked about my writing experience, which amounted to a decent-sized chunk of a REALLY shitty first draft of a first novel. I was afraid she wouldn’t take me on, as such a newbie in a world (I imagined) of “serious” novelists. But Laura told me that yes, there was room for me in her Thursday night group, which would be starting up again in a couple of weeks.

Woo hoo, I was in!

When I drove up to her Gothic Revival-style home, as spooky-looking as anything from any number of horror films, my stress level mounted. Could I do this? With a published author? I’d never met one before. And I’d have to read my work in front of strangers. But Laura turned out to be an authentic person who instantly put me at ease. I liked the other members of the group as well. Each meeting began with a writing prompt (much of it spiritual, based on native cultures or on other ways of “cracking open our heads”) and freewriting in our journals about what that had inspired. Then we segued to her dining room, where, over cups of hot herbal tea, we’d read a chunk of our projects and take turns critiquing each other’s work. Laura had (I assume she still has) this way about her…spiritual, almost ethereal, she’d encourage our efforts yet (in her own gentle way) deftly cut through the crap and let us know what wasn’t working and where we were taking the easy way out. For years I kept coming back to that spooky house on the hill on Thursday nights. Acting as creative midwife for my first three novels, she engendered in me a love for the process of writing, a love affair that still beats in my heart.

When she decided to uproot her life and move to Australia in order to be closer to her oldest son, I felt happy and excited for her before the realization hit me that this meant she’d be leaving us.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to fully express in words how grateful I am for having her in my life at just the right time, for walking me into the creative journey with an arm around my shoulder and her gentle voice in my ear, and for that day when the Pennysaver landed on my desk.

Apparently she continues to sprinkle her creative glitter among lucky writers Down Under. She tells me, in a recent e-mail, that she’s gone back to her first love – poetry – and has been building a collective dedicated to poets and those who love poetry. I hope you’ll visit and support her site, Dangerously Poetic, and read for yourself what a marvel she is. The first collection she published with Dangerously Poetic is “Breathworks” (unfortunately I don’t know how to order it outside of Australia) and here are a couple of reviews:

"This passionate and spirited collection of Laura's is not only a great start for Dangerously Poetic, but it is also a fiery riposte to the general community view that poetry is stale, obscure, irrelevant, and boring. Breathworks has spark aplenty. May the Goddess, who has clearly been called on a number of times in the writing of these poems, bless this book and its passage."

--Dorothy Porter

"Right from the beginning, from the first poem, there's the breath and the trees, the spinning earth and revolving time, the mirror held up to the self and to others, the delight in the rainforest, the fecundity of nature and the ambivalence of passion, the cycle of song that is life. A book rich in sensitivity and experience, poems negotiated through pain into acceptance and love. A wonderful first book from Dangerously Poetic Press."

--Ron Pretty, Five Islands Press

Her second collection is due out later this year.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Laurie,
    I am happy that you were able to find Laura through my blog. This post touched me deeply and inspired me to reflect on my journey and post about giving back.
    Thank you for sharing from the heart