Writing a Life

Garden Cottage at Bay Breeze Guest House

Why write? Not for the money. You may hit the big time, some do. Most don’t. So why spend years and years cranking out words to expose what’s inside? And why do so many people choose to write? I’m sure there are plenty of reasons. But keep in mind that writing is more than a job. To be a writer is a way of life that can be lonely at times. But the mighty pen takes you on fascinating journeys and surrounds you with smart, witty people—readers and writers—a cabal of kindness and generosity.

This past weekend, my writing life led me to Bay Breeze Guest House on Mobile Bay, the home of Bill and Becky Jones. I arrived the night before the Gulf Coast Association of Creative Writing Teachers Conference in Fairhope, Alabama, where I was slated to read my blog post, “The Best Education for Writing Memoir.” After giving me a tour and making sure I was settled into a garden cottage, my hosts went to bed upstairs and left me to prowl their downstairs which was filled with a fine collection of books and antiques. I even strolled down a long pier to a dock where I absorbed the sounds of lapping water and gazed at the stars.

One of the reasons I decided to participate in the conference was its setting. I’d been to Fairhope a few years ago and had vowed to return. Another reason was to tame my fear of public speaking. But mostly I wanted to spend time with Kat and Angie, the publishing editors of Rose and Thorn Journal—gal pals I’d befriended on Facebook and Twitter. Kathryn Magendie is the author of three wonderful novels, Tender Graces, Secret Graces, and SweetieAngie Ledbetter is revising her first women’s fiction manuscript and dabbles in poetry. But she should add stand-up comic to her repertoire because her sharp wit can curl the tightest lip.

After prowling the premises of Bay Breeze, I settled into a cozy, red upholstered chair in the main house to read and grew sleepy. When I stood up to head to my cottage, I twisted my ankle in mid-step and crashed to the floor.

My ankle swelled immediately, so I untied and removed my sneaker as I swallowed a scream. Embarrassed by my clumsiness, I did not want to waken the Jones’s. I managed to hobble outside to my guest cottage, fill a Ziploc bag with ice, and fall asleep with my foot nestled on a stack of embroidered pillows.

The next morning I awoke to pain and a foot and ankle doubled in size. Unable to drive, I panicked and tried to call Kat and Angie, but they had opted for a remote hideaway with wavering cell phone service. So I called the only person I knew who lived in the small town of Fairhope—Sonny Brewer—the author whose book of collected essays I recommended at the end of the blog post I had planned to read. Not only did he answer on the second ring, he offered to drive me to the conference.

It’s not as if he had nothing better to do. Driving to the event at the University of Alabama’s Baldwin County Campus, Sonny’s cell phone rang constantly. He is a well-known author, a busy family man with children to wrangle, and he’s in the midst of organizing Fairhope Writers’ Colony. Yet he took the time to take care of me, someone he’s only met a couple of times at book events. He even sat beside me at the conference as I read with my foot propped on a chair, then regaled the audience with his own story of how he swayed John Grisham to contribute an essay for his book, Don’t Quit Your Day Job: Acclaimed Authors and the Day Jobs They Quit. 

That night the Rose and Thorn gang picked me up for dinner. Two of the journal’s poetry editors, Cynthia Toups and Marilyn Shapley, joined Kat, Angie, and her twin sister, artist Alaine Dibenedetto. We shared appetizers of fried green beans and new friendships sprouted. When Angie humorously pointed out that I’d only eaten one of the greasy appetizers and demanded I eat another, I was reminded that writers are observers and you can’t slip much past one. They will make sure you eat plenty, pick you up when you need a ride, and sit beside you when they sense you are nervous about reading in public.

Why choose to write when it doesn’t guarantee a paycheck? When it means you will spend a great deal of time alone in a room, often in agony over a word choice or worse—a blank page. The writing life is all those things. But it’s also rich in friendships with kind, generous men like Sonny Brewer. And it does guarantee you will more than likely end up in a car after dinner with a smart, witty woman like Angie Ledbetter, who sends you into fits of laughter, which blossoms out of control as you listen to her twin sister in the backseat with Betty Boop lookalike, Kathryn Magendie, as they giggle and snort, giggle and snort.

In the tradition of generosity and kindness I received in Fairhope, and for working so closely, sitting next to me in spirit up in the Ozarks as he edits every one of my blog posts, including the one I read at the conference, I’d like to introduce and thank my first-reader, editor, teacher, and dear friend, the talented poet and playwright—Dave Malone—as he launches his new website. Please visit him here.

Also, be sure to read the spring issue of Rose and Thorn Journal out today.

If you’re ever lucky enough to visit Fairhope, Alabama, I highly recommend Bay Breeze Guest House on historic Mobile Bay. Be sure to tell Bill and Becky Jones hello for me. 

About Darrelyn Saloom

Darrelyn Saloom co-wrote My Call to the Ring: A Memoir of a Girl who Yearns to Box (Glasnevin, 2012) with world champion boxer, Deirdre Gogarty, but her pugilistic passions are confined to a keyboard. Darrelyn lives with her husband and various critters on a horse farm in south Louisiana, where she is working on a collection of personal essays and stories. To learn more, visit her website at http://darrelynsaloom.com or follow her on Twitter: @DarrelynSaloom
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