Saturday, November 20, 2010

About Our Anthology

Opening reception at the Vermont Folklife Center.

Yesterday I spoke for the first time with Val Perry of the Bloomingdale Writers' Connection in Florida. Val contacted me after seeing our exhibit at the Vermont Folklife Center, and we spoke for an hour; we could have spoken for another hour if I hadn't been late for a date with my sister at the Berlin Park & Ride. Anyway, Val's group has been thinking about publishing an anthology, and she had some questions for me about how we did ours. I told her that we used an online print-on-demand publisher (in our case, CreateSpace.com), and that we raised the money through Kickstarter.com and old-fashioned fund-raising. The Vermont Community Foundation and the Lamson Howell Foundation gave us a substantial portion of our funding, and the rest was donated by individuals and small businesses in the community. Donors saw great value in our project as a means of building community and preserving local and family history. To read about our Kickstarter campaign, click here.

We are selling the anthology through our local independent bookstore, Bud & Bella's, and at book-signings, workshops, and online through out blog (click on the cover image at the top of our home page and it will take you to Amazon.com.) The proceeds are helping us continue and expand our memoir-writing project. The greatest rewards are personal, though. To give you an idea, here is the beginning of a piece my mother began writing the day after the book-signing at Bud & Bella's:

The room is very crowded. A little bell sounds as the door opens and closes, opens and closes. Our audience is beginning to stand as all the chairs are taken, and some are even sitting on the floor. The room is becoming warm, even though we are seated where we get cool air from outside when the door opens and closes, opens and closes. How very rewarding. This is my first time as author-presenter-autograph signer and I couldn't imagine that there would be more than a token number of family members and close friends. Instead, we are overwhelmed, if not over-run. A small group of octogenarians are ready to read excerpts from the anthology the Hale Street Gang has recently published, our very first. I'm one of the group, one of those who will be reading. In fact, I am the first reader.
Our large audience is very appreciative. No one leaves before we have finished reading. They buy a number of copies of our anthology, The Hale Street Gang: In Cahoots; make complimentary remarks about it as they get their copies autographed; and leave me feeling happy, although exhausted after only two hours of exertion that couldn't be much less demanding.
Now that I am in my ninetieth year (I like to put it that way instead of just saying I'm 89), my participation in the Hale Street Gang is one of the most pleasurable activities in my limited repertoire of activities. Thank you, Hale Street Gang, thank you daughter Sara for providing us with the necessary leadership, thank you, Jack Rowell, for your wonderful photography and for all you have done to further this project, and thank you to many others who have contributed their help and support, including financial support. I'm inclined to think that the writers' group is running neck and neck with two other favorite activities: reading, and visiting with family and close friends (not too many at a time).
Ruth Demarest-Godfrey, Idora Tucker, Nancy Rice.

Exercise: Write a Scene

My mother in her teens.

Recently we've been working on scenes as a way of strengthening our writing. Here's one written by my mother, Idora, for her memoir entitled "Musical Memories." As the music teacher in the Randolph school system for 25 years, Miss Esther Mesh made a deep and lasting impression on my mother and countless other students. Scads of admirers turned out last month for a reception honoring Miss Mesh (now 101 and utterly charming), in whose name over $100,000 was raised for the restoration of Chandler Music Hall. She gave a 20-minute speech that had us all laughing and crying, and she didn't even use her notes. A few days later, my mother began working on a piece about the impact of music on her life, a story in which Miss Mesh plays a pivotal role. "An important aspect of my association with that gifted teacher was what I gained from participation in the chorus," my mother wrote. When she read her work-in-progress to the group last week, I suggested that she highlight some of the turning points in her narrative by turning them into scenes. A week later she read parts of it again, including this lovely passage:
"On a warm spring evening I am seated on the bleachers in a crowded auditorium.  Although it is a large space there are so many bodies in it that it is becoming a little too warm.  Several hundred boys and girls from the high schools in Vermont face the audience.  Although the audience is conversing softly, the members of the chorus are absolutely silent.  The conductor enters the auditorium and everyone in the audience rises and applauds. The members of the chorus applaud, but do not rise. There is a pause, and at the conductor’s signal the members of the chorus stand without making a sound.  We wait for the opening notes from the orchestra.  I am tempted to hold my breath, but experience has taught me that it is better to take a few deep breaths, so I do that.  This is not my first time at the annual Music Festival in Burlington, the highlight of my school year.  We have spent a large part of the year learning the music that the state chorus will perform, as well as music which our high school chorus will perform on another evening under the direction of Miss Mesh.  The magic begins.  Beautiful sound begins to wash over and around me.  A few tears escape as I open my mouth and begin to sing.  Every eye is on the director.  Every motion means something.  The pauses must be in perfect accord, the increases in volume must be absolutely right, enough but not too much. The conductor’s baton provides us with the cues we need. There’s nothing quite like it.  During my high school years I went to the Festival three times and was so impressed with it that when I delivered the salutatory address at my high school graduation I told about the Festival chorus in the essay part of the address.  I was to have only one more comparable experience during my lifetime, and that was when I was a senior in college."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Hale Street Gang: Phase 2

In early January, I will hold a workshop for people wanting to start a memoir-writing group that meets outside Randolph village. The Greater Randolph Senior Center serves Braintree, Brookfield, and Randolph Center—in fact, most of the Hale Street Gang drive to the center from outside the village. With winter coming, it seems like a good time to do a little outreach into the more rural parts of our service area.

The photo, by the way, is of my aunt, Ruth Cooley (now Demarest-Godfrey), who drove that little Austin all over central Vermont back when she was an itinerant music teacher in the public school system.

If you've been thinking about joining a memoir-writing group and would like to participate in the January workshop, send me an email and I'll give you the details once I've established a time and place.

You do NOT have to be a senior to join, although the workshop will be designed to attract seniors. As the workshop leader, I will organize participants into small groups (5–7 people is ideal) that will continue to meet once a week for 12 consecutive weeks. There will be a small charge for the initial workshop, which will include some follow-up during the 12-week period.

Let me know if you're interested, and I'll make sure you get a follow-up email.