My Writing Line

by Lori Stephens

When I was in graduate school, and my creative writing professor suggested something called “writing circles,” I started scribbling the names of the most talented students before the prof had finished his definition of a writing circle. Yes, I was that student. Like most young writers, I wanted to surround myself with talented, sincere, critically astute, yet appropriately doting writers who would stroke my ego and stab me in the heart all in one smooth movement. I was ready to sacrifice myself for art.

I was lucky. Three extraordinary students—two poets and another fiction writer—miraculously joined me, and we began a short-lived writing circle that made the most profound impact on my future as a writer. They were indeed talented and sincere, and they stabbed my stories right where they needed it. We did the moveable feast, rotating apartments with an abundance of spaghetti and cheap wine; it worked partly because we drank before we started offering suggestions, and partly because we genuinely respected each other. We graduated and moved on.

The succeeding writing circles were not so successful. Strangers came and went, thin-skinned writers whose feelings got hurt, or simply too many people crowded in one room—there are many reasons why a writing circle doesn’t work. I never found the magic that came from the fab four in grad school.

Now, years later, I do have friends who read my work and offer critiques. It’s more like a line than a circle. I share my work with a close friend, Samantha, who reads it and either makes a few suggestions or grins and thanks me. I’m unnerved by her response, but in a good way. She’s honest, and because she respects good writing, I know she won’t feed me any bull. And there’s my partner, Hervé, who is also a thoughtful but supportive reader, and always, always paints the fake cartoon road to help me navigate out of the corner I’ve written myself in. Samantha and Hervé, that’s a line, not a circle, but it’s what works for me, perhaps even better than the fab four.

My first story was called Lolly and the Eagle’s Way. It was a joint effort with my older sister and our best friend, Michelle. I was in the fourth grade, and because I was the youngest, I was relegated to mostly illustrating and didn’t get as much say in plot or characterization of either our mutt named Lolly or the eagle. I have no idea where that book went, but I was darn proud that people (my mom) could distinguish my eagle from my dog. Now I draw characters with keystrokes instead of brushstrokes. All extensions of myself, although inspired on the margins by the beautiful and colorful people who cross paths with my life (or just cross me on the street).

About Song of the Orange Moons:

Song of the Orange Moons is a mosaic of stories that follows the intertwined lives of three girls coming of age. Two young girls from Jewish and Christian families and their elderly widow next door try to find happiness in a seemingly cruel world. In spite of their different cultural and economic backgrounds, Rebecka, Helen, and Adelle all share the delicate and self-conscious journey to womanhood. All three search for love and meaning in a variety of places—a charismatic church, a Depression-era orphanage, a moonlit Savannah park, an orthodox Jewish boarding school—and end up finding lasting strength in the power of their friendships.!/loriannstephens