Writers’ conferences are on all the “to do” lists for aspiring authors, along with branding, blog, social media presence and the like. Finding community is two-pronged: Authors need to build community with both potential readers and with other authors, agents and publishers.
I found the Moravian Writers’ Conference through Beth Kephart, whose book I liked: Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir. She was keynote speaker. Also on the schedule was a two-day memoir-writing workshop with Beverly Donofrio, who has been called the Catholic Ann Lamott.
Bev, who is published by Penguin, particularly appealed to me because she has incorporated her Catholic faith into two of her memoirs. That is extremely hard to do, since trade publishers tend to shy away from books with a spiritual element. I wanted to know how she did it, for there is no way I can write about moving from grief to joy as a widow without referring to my faith. She gave me good advice: Write experientially, not doctrinally or theologically. Keep it personal.
She is an excellent teacher, though at times the workshops felt more like therapy sessions than workshops. We wrote, then we read aloud, then she offered constructive suggestions for developing and improving what we wrote, then we wrote again. The first assignment was to set a scene about a disagreement or argument with action and dialogue. Next, we had to choose between “I hate to brag but…” and “The day I was born.” Amazing how many remembered the day they were born. I have no idea what was going on that day. Finally, “What I wanted, what I got…” or “I would have liked this but this happened…” or “A song that is—or was—my anthem.” It seemed that everyone else had darker, more dramatic pasts than I. This was not for the weak or the faint-hearted. However, I finally know how to write a transition paragraph when I switch back and forth between time periods or move from one vignette to another.
This was a writers’ conference, with just a couple of agents and independent publishers on hand. The agents were both young women, and they confirmed what I had already heard—that more people are writing than ever and there simply isn’t time to read all the queries that come each. Each said she read about 1,000 proposals a month. About half get only a quick glance. They keep reading the ones that interest them, the books they want to read. As agents, they will read the books they sell about 15 times. And editors at the publishing will read the books many times, too.
I thought, “Why would a young woman want to read a book for widows, especially one written by someone old enough to be her grandmother?” Grief is depressing. I don’t want to read my own manuscript 15 times. But it helps explain why there are so few books out there and why a disproportionate number are by and for young widows, though they are a tiny percentage of the widowed population.
The market is huge. The most recent American Community Survey, published in 2014, estimates that there are almost 25 million women over age 65, but fewer than 20 million men. Seventy-two percent of the men are married, but about 26 percent of the women. A little over 11 percent of American men are widowed; more than 35 percent of women.
But very few books for us are in print. Which is why I am writing.
About the photo: Moravian College—sixth oldest college in the U.S. and the first to admit women—is situated in Bethlehem, PA. It is still affiliated with the Moravian Church of North America. Moravians are the spiritual descendants of John Hus (1369–1415) of Bohemia and Moravia, who might be considered the first Reformer. If you have been to Prague, you have seen the larger-than-life statue of Hus at the city square, where he was burned at the stake for his faith.
Please tell me about any helpful books for widows that you have read.