Sharing life’s legacies: Writers workshop leads to new body of authors
By Melanie Tucker | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A group of people who mostly didn’t know each other and who certainly had never published a book before, bonded during a recent writers workshop at Maryville Vineyard Church.
The finished product is one we can all work off of as we seek to leave behind our own footprints upon this earth.
The writers workshop was led by Phyllis Dolislager, a part-time resident of Townsend who herself has published several books.
She attends Maryville Vineyard and agreed to present this three-month workshop as a small groups session.
Vineyard members and the community at large were invited to take part.
Little did they know that at the end of the workshop they would have in their hands a book full of each’s personal stories.
The group — Al Adams, Brian Stevens, Cindra Ellen Boring, Deborah Adams, Erin Mobley, Michelle Wright, Dolislager and her husband Ronald, Samuel Turnmire and Sarah Small — self-published it through http://create.com .
Proceeds from the sale of the book, entitled “Lives & Legacies — Stories from the Vine" — will go to The Box, the benevolent fund at Maryville Vineyard.
Not your typical small group
Getting together in a small group setting to write stories isn’t the format of most church small group settings, but that didn’t prevent the Vineyard from wanting to offer it.
“I was amazed that a church valued the arts so much that they had a small group on writing,” Small said.
She said self-publishing used to have a stigma attached to it since it usually meant no one else wanted to publish what you had written.
That’s not the case anymore. Lots of people go this route because they want editorial control.
This workshop gave her the confidence to write and share stories from her childhood and beyond.
It also was the spark she needed to take on another project her family is thrilled about.
Her dad, who is 88, has been writing down his own memories of the time he was a young boy to his days in the Army.
Small went to his house, obtained the stories from his computer and compiled them into a book she gave her dad for Christmas.
It was the Christmas presents of all Christmas presents, Small said.
Setting plots into motion
Deborah Adams, who said she had never been a writer, took the course because she was friends with the Dolislagers and was up to the challenge. She said the first session grabbed her.
“She has us draw a map of the street where we grew up,” Adams said. “We sat down and started drawing the street and what we could remember, this neighbor or that shop.
You would be amazed at what a map of your neighborhood will look like and how that triggers memories that were just in the back of your mind.”
Dolislager gave writing assignments each week and the students came in the following week to read what they had written.
Reading her stories out loud wasn’t something Wright was thrilled about at first.
She said their first assignment was to write about something from their childhood.
As each began reading, Wright realized most have picked a light-hearted moment to write about.
Like Samuel Turnmire, who told the story of how he almost burned down the kitchen as he experimented making rock candy.
Wright’s story was about being an elementary school student and having to wear a brace on her leg. She wrote how one child had come out and asked her “Are you a cripple?”
Wright said she didn’t know how to answer because she had never heard that word before. But that experience of letting out her emotions and revealing a hard time in her life helped her see the value in what they were all doing: searching their souls and their past to leave part of themselves behind for others.
Wright now has several ideas she wants to put into print.
The next step
Boring, the librarian at William Blount’s Ninth Grade Academy, has been a writer most of her life.
She worked as newspaper reporter years ago. The workshop, she said, was a good way for her to learn how to publish her work.
For Mobley, this opportunity is one she wishes everybody else would take.
She taught second grade for years and said the public school systems aren’t set up to encourage creative writing. It’s not a skill that a lot of students have, she said.
Turnmire is now working on another writing project because of the positive experience he had at the workshop. He said he didn’t know any of the others before signing up.
He wanted to be able to put his memories on paper for his family and future generations.
“It is almost like telling our legacy,” he said. “Really, you are telling your own story.
Now whenever I go to family events and people start telling stories, I tell them ‘You need to write that down.’”
Tears and laughter were part of the process. One week, Turnmire was telling how he was able to cope with the death of his father. Another time, the story of his kitchen nightmare brought huge laughter.
Stevens shared stories about his electrical engineer grandpa and his own battle with ulcerative colitis while in college, in the book.
That narrative is part of the chapter entitled Life-Changing Events. Stevens was also responsible for getting the book into print.
Boring has introduced her students to her writing in hopes they will be inspired to test their own creative writing skills.
She is also working on another project, a book she started years ago.
Wright has been trying to research her great-great-grandfather who was a soldier in the Civil War.
Turnmire wants to make recordings of family members and help his daughter gain a better understanding of who her grandfather was. He died before she was born.
Be a detective
Mobley learned in recent years that her grandmother was engaged to a man who died at Pearl Harbor. Mobley had run across an old photograph and didn’t recognize him so she simply asked.
“We all need to talk to our families and find out those rich stories,” she said.
Matt Farrand is worship and communications pastor at Maryville Vineyard. He gives credit to Dolislager for being able to draw these stories out of people who may not have realized the gems they uncovered.
“Without Phyllis’ prompting they maybe would have never written that story,” he said.
As Farrand sees it, we sometimes let life get in the way of what we care about. Creative writers get bogged down in the everyday scenarios and quit writing. The next group at the Vineyard will tackle writing songs. There will be another small groups session for visual artists.
“A lot of people think there is no place for stuff like that inside the church,” Farrand said. “I think there is a new renaissance coming and these guys are a part of that.”