If you write fiction, finding your voice can be an ongoing search. My talented writing friend, Brent Lewis, has a unique voice that comes from growing up and hanging out with Eastern Shore folk. He eloquently writes about the Eastern Shore on his blog EasternShoreBrent.com and graciously gave me permission to repost Summer Marsh. It seemed appropriate for these hot summer days and the Fourth of July. Thank you, Brent.
Muggy drops of humidity hang suspended midair and almost visible.
The pungency of the marsh is pervasive, strong. It sticks to the skin. Rich with the cycles of life and death, the marsh is a sensory reminder of the changes wrought by time’s tides.
A blue heron flies low and with grace across a dish-calm creek.
Something else drifts by on the slow, saturated breeze. Something wistful. Something that smells like bulkhead creosote, tastes like warm beer from 10 oz. cans, and looks like cutoff denim shorts and bright cotton tank tops that provide free advertising to bars, beverages, and billionaire rock bands.
Feels like a dock splinter, like nostalgia.
Sounds like a summer squall. Electricity cracks the sky. The downriver horizon darkens with much more threat than warning. Regret storms in through unbattened hatches. A few minutes of intense natural fury and the tempest blows north, up the Chesapeake Bay.
Local tomatoes: heirloom red and sweetheart firm. Pale yellow sweet corn, cooked in the husk, swathed in butter. Blue crabs caught on trotlines, steamed and spiced to perfection, giving the best of themselves only to those who know their secrets.
Soft crabs fried. Served on white bread or Saltines as God intended.
Carnivals, county fairs, and the ghost-march of long extinguished firemen’s parades.
Lightning bugs announce the dusk.
Grand explosions of red, and white, and blue, and gold, and silver thunder in the night sky while the marsh lies silent below the blasts of rockets, solid looking in the dark distance and surrounded by shallow, murky waterways and paved-over wetlands.
From the intended solemnity of Memorial Day, through the patriotic celebration of the Fourth of July, to Labor Day, when we honor those who work to make this country work, there’s nothing like summer to remind an Eastern Shoreman how the marsh permeates his soul.
I have been part of a writing group since shortly after we moved to the Eastern Shore. An announcement in the local paper indicated several local writers were getting together to form a writers group. I’d never been part of a writing group, but it seemed like a way to meet people, so at the appointed time, I showed up.
The writer’s group had people who were working on a first book, people who had written for their jobs, who had been published academically and a couple of people who just wanted to start writing. At that point in my writing life (always an adjunct activity to my professional life as a Clinical Social Worker) I had published children’s fiction with Doubleday and non-fiction with Bruner/Mazel. Not too shabby. My first novel had been self-published the previous year and a second was at the printers. Yet, it took me almost a year to put something out to this new group for critique. The members weren’t mean when they critiqued. We had some guidelines about saying positive things before we made suggestions for improvement. I understood all that, but I still couldn’t get myself to submit anything.
Others seemed to have an easier time. I suppose I had to get to know the group and really trust that they would “consider” my writing. I’m not sure what I mean by “consider” but it seems like the right word. When I finally got up the courage, the feedback was enormously helpful and I wondered why it had taken me so long. Almost seven years later I am still part of this writing group and now have no problem submitting work for critique. The group has evolved over the years so that everyone involved “works” at writing either professionally or personally and everyone has been published in some way. A few of us are from the original group and as new members join, the trust issue (for me) seems less fraught.
Laura took a screenwriting class at Johns Hopkins and with other students from that class formed a critique group that met weekly in Baltimore. That group lasted one year and then reformed and met for five more years in Annapolis. She had a weekly drive over the bridge (at night) to meet with people whom, she told me, only made her cry twice. A weekly critique group is a true commitment to one’s writing. But, if my writing group had ever made me cry they never would have seen me again. Laura joined my Easton critique group a couple of years later, after learning about it at the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference. Much of what I submit now is something she and I have worked on together. Perhaps there is more confidence in work that has essentially already been critiqued by your writing partner.
The whole experience has made me wonder why we writers are often so emotionally fragile about our creations. Even when we try to think about writing as a “business” we never seem to be prepared for the rejection letters (now emails) from agents. If not many people buy our independently published books, as least the process of getting there is not so painful and we can tell ourselves we didn’t do a good job of marketing. It must be fear that someone won’t love what we’ve created as much as we do – a rejection of our most inner selves.