By Susan Wright
The only note of frivolity during the biweekly meetings of the Ormond Writers group is the small stuffed owl placed near the head of the long conference table where they gather.
Otherwise the group might represent a corporate board meeting, or a college class with students who are quite a bit more senior than usual. The owl is the group's mascot or symbol -- it's referred to as OWL, the acronym for the Ormond Writers League.
The owl wears a tiny mortarboard and round, scholarly glasses. The writers who show up in the meeting room in a back space off a hall in the Ormond Beach Regional Library on Thursday afternoons are much less formal, but also quite serious in a comfortably casual way.
The meetings are presided over by Veronica "Ronnie" Helen Hart, the president of OWL, and she runs it like a benign, interested writing professor, calling on the next writer to read his or her work in turn, they go around the table in order and after each reading the others are called on in turn to offer their critique.
At a recent meeting, an artist read a poem about a drawing she'd done and afterwards the first comment was: "Again, very profound. One major change I would suggest is in the second line from the bottom, I'd remove the word only. I think it's more effective without."
Another adds, "The flow is great. I'm not really a poetry person, (which elicited gentle laughter around the table) but I thought it was very amusing." And so on around the room.
Dave Archard, who had a long career in radio, working as everything from announcer and DJ to executive, ad salesman, copywriter and production manager, already has written one book about his early career. Working on another book of memoirs, he said, "This is my kind of poetry because it rhymes," then goes on to suggest two phrases be deleted. Deletions that should strengthen the flow he thinks.
The poet is the exception -- the others all read prose works, each is allowed to read just seven pages at each meeting and the critiques are brief and constructive -- no one is out to demolish anyone else's work or dish out harsh words.
The readings that day include a section of a book that seems to be about a young man who gets involved with the mob and is full of Soprano-style dialogue, ("This is the mob, they don't tolerate mistakes"); the start of a book about a cowboy who picks up a middle-aged woman writer for a stay at a lodge or ranch in a remote Western state -- a chapter that ends with a sudden kiss; and a description of a very young man's first day at work at a radio station in the 1950s, part of a memoir.
One writer is told his tenses aren't consistent -- "it's confusing," but the storyline itself is praised.
As each writer reads his or her allotted seven pages, the others follow along on their copies, scribbling corrections or suggestions on the pages.
The group has a website that lists the regular members with a brief biography and lists books or other works published and where. Many of the writers have self-published books, including Mr. Archard, whose first book, "Through Slanted Windows: A Journey Into Radio" was self-published. He's using the OWL meetings for help editing and revising the first draft of his new book as he goes along.
Ms. Hart reports she and just one other member have published books "the traditional way," by having their works produced by commercial publishers who provide advances and pay royalties (once the book makes enough money.) In fact, she has a book that just came out this month, "The Reluctant Daughters," published by Double-Edged Press. Ms. Hart, who also once ran a murder mystery theater in New York State and wrote an award winning musical, has also had other books published and has another due out next year.
She said she enjoys being part of OWL for "the camaraderie" -- and because it helps her to improve her writing to read her books out loud.
The meetings are working sessions. No one supplies refreshments, there's no real social hour, it's all congenial, but also focused.
Anyone who is interested in writing and getting constructive feedback on their work is welcomed.
Victoria Page, who read the selection about the middle-aged writer visiting a ranch/hotel in the west, calls herself a "newbie," who has only been attending the meetings for a couple of months. She said she likes the group because "I'm always looking for a good editor" and at the meetings she's got several and gets useful feedback.
"There's some talented folks here. I'm enjoying some of the other writers' works," she said, adding she particularly values Ms. Hart's suggestions.
Ms. Hart said to join all anyone has to do is show up at 12:30 p.m. on the first or third Thursday of the month at the library (and fifth Thursdays in months that have one.) The sessions last until 3 p.m. or until everyone has a chance to read.
Some, like Ms. Hart and Mr. Archard, have become OWL veterans. They've both been regulars for years and have served as presidents of the group. Some others show up a few times and then simply stop. Ms. Hart said she believes that often happens with those who turn out to be really bad writers. Not that anyone says that to them, she insisted, but they somehow realize after a few meetings -- and maybe a lot of suggestions for improvement,
"After a while, they get it," she said.
For more information, call the Ormond Beach Regional Library at (386) 676-4191, attend a meeting at 30 S. Beach St., Ormond Beach, or visit voiceoftheowl.org.