Short-story writer, essayist, and now novelist Marianne Lonsdale is a founding member of Write On Mamas, a San Francisco Bay Area writers group. She will be presenting “Finding Your Writing Community,” Sunday, June 28, 2 p.m. at the California Writers Club–Marin Branch meeting at Book Passage. I interviewed her on the phone the week after the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley, which we both attended, though we never crossed paths.
Q: Tell me about your writing.
I’m working on a novel now, literary fiction. About a woman in her mid-30s in Oakland, in 1991. It follows the arc of a stormy relationship. The novel being such a long form, I’m usually also working on a personal essay, which is mostly what I write.
Q: Your talk is on finding your writing community. Why is that important?
For me, finding a writing a community that I liked was a surprise. I usually think of myself as introverted. But I found that being involved with other writers keeps me energized. I hear a lot of the same stuff at these workshops and gatherings, but I’m riveted nonetheless. I feel like I’ve found my passion. Last year, Brooke Warner, my writing coach, asked me on behalf of someone she was working with what tips I would give someone about being involved in writing communities, and at first I was taken aback, and then I realized how much I’ve become engaged in these communities, several of them.
I’m not a very published writer. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to get my work out there if I weren’t making connections.
Q: How have you made those connections?
One was through Left Coast Writers, led by Linda Watanabe McFerrin, at Book Passage. She pushed me to pitch my work, helped me find a home at this literary website called Literary Mamas. I stumbled into an opportunity I would not have otherwise known about. The other place was the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, where what I gained more than anything tangible was the feeling of community. It was the first time I felt such a bond with other writers. I wanted to keep that bond going. After I joined Left Coast Writers, I help found Write on Mamas in 2012.
It started as a small group. We write for the first 90 minutes of the meeting, and for some people, that’s the only time of the month they carve out time to write. We meet meet the second Sunday of every month at Mill Valley’s O’Hanlon Center for the Arts, and we also have been sponsoring some readings and interviews at the Mill Valley Library.
Q: How have you benefited most from your writing community?
Write On Mamas published an anthology that included a piece of mine, and we had readings all around the bay. I was thrilled to read as part of the launch at Diesel Books. I would not have been part of that anthology if I hadn’t been part of this community.
Some of the women I met at Write on Mamas also produced “Listen to Your Mother,” a national event leading up to Mothers’ Day that grew out of the blogging community. The national organization looks for local moms to put on the show. We sold out the Brava Theater in San Francisco.
Last year, I also curated a Write On Mamas’ event for LitCrawl, called “Your Mom Had Sex.”
Q: In Write On Mamas, how do you balance skilled and published authors with newbies?
The group is open to writers of all levels, published as well as those who do more thinking about writing than writing. It’s more of a salon than critique group. We write, then get short critiques, what I call “critique lite.” It’s a very nurturing community.
Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?
I work full time at Clorox, manage HR operations. I live in Oakland with my husband and 18-year-old son, who’s soon to leave for college. I’m going to take over his bedroom for a study. A big step. A writing space of my own.
Q: When did you first start identifying yourself as a writer?
That what my piece in the Write On Mama’s anthology is about. I remember as young child being interested in writing, but I didn’t start until I was in my 40s, after the birth of my son. I took a writing class Piedmont Adult School.
Q: Who do you like to read?
I read widely. Literary fiction, personal essays. I love the essays in The Sun. I recently finished Armistead Maupin’s Last Tales of the City. An Irish mystery writer named Tana French. We Are Not Ourselves, by Matthew Thomas, was fabulous. I also liked The Dovekeepers, by Alice Hoffman.
Q: What do you know now that you didn’t used to know about writing?
I used to think that being part of writing groups and writing communities would take time away from my writing. Instead, I get more pages written because of the energy and opportunity. In my early years of writing, I didn’t meet people. I didn’t realize how welcome I’d be at most readings and workshops.
Join Marianne Lonsdale Sunday, June 28, 2 p.m. at Book Passage for the California Writers Club–Marin June meeting. You can find her essay, “Giving Birth to Creativity,” in Mamas Write: 29 Tales of Truth, Wit, and Grit. There’s more at mariannelonsdale.com.
John Byrne Barry is a member of the CWC-Marin board and author of Bones in the Wash: Politics is Tough. Family is Tougher.