Growing as writers, from MFA students to Sourlanders

Some members of the Sourland Mountain Writers Circle gather in the cottage. (Back row, left to right: Lauren Guastella, Steve Kahofer, Julia van Middlesworth, Regina Toth Wackerman and Kitta MacPher

After discussing plans for our new Sourland Writer Review anthology (available now on Amazon), some members of the Sourland Mountain Writers Circle gather for a monthly meeting in a New Jersey cottage. (Back row, left to right: Lauren Guastella, Steve Kahofer, Julia van Middlesworth, Regina Toth Wackerman, and me, Kitta MacPherson. Front: Jessica Brokaw, Vicky Evans Brand, and Elizabeth Jaeger.)

First we had the idea.

Then, like Neo in “The Matrix,” we took a leap of faith.

We called our friends. We charmed and cajoled them. We bribed them with offers of coffee and wine.

In the end, 26 people in January 2015 signed on our FB page to join the Sourland Mountain Writers Circle. Now, about ten “regulars” meet monthly in an enchanting cottage in Somerville constructed by the husband of one of our members. (This wonderful person also builds and tends a fire for us in the cooler months.)  We have just published, via Amazon’s Kindle, the first anthology of our work: The Fall 2016 Sourland Writer Review. (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01LVXVEGL/ref=pe_385040_118058080_TE_M1T1DP#nav-subnav)

The endeavor can be traced to a friendship between me, who you could describe as a journalist with a book dream, and Julia van Middlesworth, a petite, eccentric, and brilliant fiction writer. We became friends in January 2011 when we found ourselves, though normally capable, mature adults, as clueless newbies in Fairleigh Dickinson University’s low-residency MFA program. The friendship endures because it was forged with the fire of midnight brainstorms, gut-wrenching public readings, and the anxiety-producing effort involved in meeting the high expectations of our wonderful faculty. We worked our way through short stories, long-form non-fiction, research papers, style analyses, book reviews, and theses. The program is such a gift to people like me. Through twice-yearly residencies in Madison, N.J., and Wroxton, England, as well as much on-line workshopping with mentors and classmates, the program makes it possible for working stiffs to maintain their jobs and meet financial responsibilities while pursuing authorship and a terminal degree.

Upon graduation in 2013, I found that I missed my professors and the camaraderie of the poets, fiction and non-fiction writers I had met. When I asked Julia if we could sustain the momentum by starting a writing circle, she jumped at the idea and suggested we hold the monthly meetings at her house. We had, after all, learned the principles of workshopping from our FDU faculty mentors. Now we could implement the techniques of discussion and constructive criticism to advance our aesthetic ideals and further our writing careers.

There are limitless good things I could say about the exceptional talent and dispositions of the Sourland members, who, in addition to Julia and me include: Helen Branch; Jessica Brokaw; Victoria Evans Brand; Jin Cordaro; Elizabeth Jaeger; Steve Kahofer; Vibha Rana; and Regina Toth Wackerman. I’ll keep it simple – it’s a talented bunch.

Julia is leading another effort with Sourlanders and some others to launch our own peer-reviewed literary journal, the Sourland Mountain Review. The magazine, which will feature selected writers of fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry, will tap into the fascination with the unordinary that seems to mark so much of New Jersey life. We will be releasing the Review sometime this fall.

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