A LETTER FROM ROSEMARY : My Blog : My First Letter

to the Zona Rosans and Our Friends Everywhere

My First Letter


Zona Rosa - The MusicalFirst, I admit my bias against blogging – while I adore the freshness of a writer’s first thoughts, I also believe that we should keep our best stuff for the works we hope will make the bookstores, or otherwise be preserved for posterity.  On the other hand, I’ve recently noticed – with the proliferation of writers writing blogs – that some of us are, yes, able to write both of the moment, just as we would write a letter to a friend, and keep other material for what we hope will be timeless.  And while you may find this message as long as a chapter in SECRETS, please feel free to read from first one part, then another.
The months since the publication of SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA:  HOW WRITING (AND SISTERHOOD) CAN CHANGE WOMEN’S LIVES have been so much fun, so full of excitement – with good times made even better by the presence of my Zona Rosa sisters – as often as not wearing our pink trademark Zona Rosa T-shirts Zona Rosan Pamella created especially for the Book Tour.  They’re fitted and sexy, with baby-doll cap sleeves, and while some protested that they were too small before they put them on, everyone I’ve seen wearing them to date looks both adorable and also bathed in a warm flattering pink glow – or is that just the radiance we share at every Zona Rosa event?

Our first en masse appearance in the T-shirts was at my signing for SECRETS at the Ansley Mall Chapter 11 Bookstore in Atlanta, my old stomping grounds near the little house on Monroe Drive where I lived for 13 years, and where the current resident, a florist, has a little shrine to the books I wrote there – a sweet fact he shared after a reading a few years back at the iconic Georgian Terrace Holel on Peachtree Street, across the street from the equally iconic Fox Theater, a vast structure built like an endless mosque, with a dark distant ceiling featuring glittering stars in its theater.  The theater was a setting I thrilled to time after time as a teenager, sitting above the orchestra pit to see Rita Hayworth or Claudette Cobert on the big screen, or to hear Johnny Ray sing, “Cry, Cry, Cry” on bended knee.  Along with the Carnegie Library on Peachtree Street, where I spent many hours in a stuffed green chair in the Children’s Room, or later upstairs in the adult section, imagining I could read every book in the library – or at least, absorb them by osmosis, the theatre was part of the imagery of my childhood, deeply imprinted in my brain.  And later, the little house on Monroe Dive became the site of my first writing workshops when I invited poets to gather in my living room to talk about poetry.  (Some of those poets, most notably Walter Griffin, have now become well-known.)

Thus, at the Chapter 11 Bookstore, a short distance from many scenes from my former life, and looking out of a sea of sister Zona Rosans wearing the same T-shirt I was wearing, I felt like I had come back home. As I spoke, I interspersed my own words and experiences of Zona Rosa with readings from SECRETS – Kathleen’s and Linda’s stories, and the section on how Connie came to write her Ph. D. dissertation on my and diarist Anais Nin’s journals, ending with Connie’s famous Out-of-the-Box credos. 

The first person to speak during the Q & A was a young man who had just wandered, he said, into the store.  “And this was just where I was meant to be.”  He told the story of having “run away to Atlanta” – that his mother didn’t know where he was.  When I told him I was a mother, too – in fact, I had been a mother who had had the same experience as his – I recommended that he write down his feelings, and call his mom and tell her he was okay. Soon, as I talked with others, I saw him scribbling in a notebook in a corner of the store.  “Was he a plant?” someone asked afterward, referring to the fact that our exchange had seemed so natural.  But no, his being there had merely been the synchronicity of the Universe, and I had been happy to save some other woman the pain I had had when my own kids had taken it upon themselves to hit the road. 

During the signing – while I met Zona Rosan Stacy’s visiting parents, and chatted with old friends, the bookseller came up and said “You had more people here than anyone we’ve had in ages – more than E. Lynn Harris!” (“Who’s that?” I asked, then saw an army of Mr. Harris’s books strategically poised near the cash register.)  Afterward, my sister Anne told me that our friend Janet, whom I’ve known since early in my writing life, and who’s now the super-smart head of a business that manages non-profits, said, “It looks like Rosemary has found her true calling.”  It was not the first time I would hear that during the next months, and I would know they were right:  leading Zona Rosa, and talking about SECRETS, and the ZONA ROSANS in it, is as natural to me as breathing. 

Indeed, that I had finished the book at all was incredible, given that three of the people closest to me had had relapses from chronic illnesses not long after I had agreed to the deadline for the book; and that I had written much of it with my world falling down around me, not to speak of the stacks of books and notes I needed to write it, plus manuscripts to be read for the ongoing Zona Rosa workshops that I was still driving or flying to on a regular basis.  Thus, everything about the book’s birth was miraculous, and when I looked back on it, it was like looking back on labor:  I now had this beautiful, unique babe, as well as Zona Rosa, but I could remember none of the pain.


But the excitement had begun long before my appearance at the Ansley Mall bookstore.  It began months before the book came out in May, 2006, when I served as keynote speaker for the annual conference of the Story Circle Network in Austin, now headed up by former Atlanta Zona Rosan Patricia – “Trilla” to us – Pando.  My subject was “When Strong Women Tell Their Truths,” and shortly after arriving at the conference hotel and a brief meeting with SCN head, super-intelligent-and-prolific author Susan Wittig Albert, and the rest of the dynamic women who make SCN work, it was time for me to speak.  As I looked out over the sea of shining feminine faces, I felt the rush of connection, an energy that rose as I talked.  (One of the things I would learn during the conference was of the term “gena rose,” or generated by the rose, which was perfect as an alternate term for our peer, or Sub Rosa groups.)

Afterward, two women rushed over to me before anyone else to introduce themselves as Glenys Carl and Elaine Nelson of Santa Fe.  They said they wanted to plan a Zona Rosa workshop there, and before we parted, Glenys thrust into my hands a copy of Hold My Hand, her account of caring for her dying adult son for years and against great obstacles in both Australia and London. The book would turn out be one of the more moving memoirs I’ve read in years (in addition, Glenys is Welsh and has a lovely, lilting accent).  

While in Austin, I also got together with the dynamic Judith Dullnig, who I knew from our Zona Rosa retreats in France and Italy, where the energized Judith takes the time to serve as sous chef to Pamella, our Cook Par Excellence – she’s fluent in cooking both French and Italian! – and thus is partly responsible for our Foods of the Goddesses while abroad.  (But this is merely part of Judith’s claim to fame:  she has also received an award from the Governor of Texas for instigating and leading her highly original  – and very hands-on, as I would see as a guest in her new home later in June – Story Book Project, a program in which women in prison are facilitated in reading stories aloud on audio for the children they’ve left at home.  

At the moment, beside leading the program, Judith was in the process of building not one, but two, houses – in Austin, and a getaway house in Maine, where’s she’s from – and she, her husband, and her adult daughter – back home from Italy, where she had been living and working in an architectural office – were temporarily crammed into a little apartment.  As she ushered me inside, I felt at home; the stuff of busy, creative people was everywhere, just in my little blue house in Savannah, including her daughter’s drawing table and boxes of materials for the prison program.  Now I knew that Judith was truly a woman who puts first things first! 

Indeed, not only was she doing all these things, she had also just co-hosted a beautiful tea in her friend Alegria’s home where I talked about SECRETS and we both talked about our upcoming Zona Rosa workshop in Austin in June, to take place in Judith’s sparkling new house.  She also gave me her recipe for the lemon curd tartlets I couldn’t stop eating – lemon curd from a jar in store-bought shortbread cups!  As they are for other busy women, shortcuts are a part of Judith’s life.

Back at home, I immersed myself in plans – e-mail, not my favorite thing, taking over my life, but for good causes – expanding Zona Rosa and letting people everywhere know about SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA.  Needless to say, the details of even big plans can be tedious.  But as Thomas Carlyle said, “Genius is simply attention to detail.”  And when one has all-consuming goals, even the details become exciting.  After brainstorming sessions with my agent Gail and Sarah, my publicist at Holt, I got down to work doing things that to outline here would take pages, along the way creating a notebook and file folders to hold my plans.

As I pondered where I should be the actual pub week of the book, which was destined to be released on May 2, I thought of one of my favorite cities in the world, New Orleans, and my friends there:  I hadn’t been back since before Katrina, and a visit to them was overdue.  I had also just received an invitation from my dear friends, Adrienne and Bill, to their annual Pig Roast; Adrienne is a novelist, Bill is a documentary filmmaker/manager for musicians, and these legendary events are attended by pals from all over the country  But this year, it would be in their new home in New Orleans, where they had made a gutsy move only months after Katrina (Adrienne, a wonderful writer, had been sending me her blogs recounting the aftermath).  Indeed, that was also the week of the Jazz Fest, which I had never attended.  Adrienne generously offered to turn their already huge party -- this year, the writer and director of SIN CITY would be there, as well as numerous musicians from Bill’s world, playing throughout the night -- into a book party for SECRETS!  

Next New Orleans Literary Leader and old friend Rosemary James offered a book signing at her bookshop, Faulkner House Books, on Pirate’s Alley in the French Quarter.  The shop, housed on the lower floor of she and husband Joe’s historic five-story house (which is two rooms wide), is surely one of the more unique bookshops and houses in the country.  Once I had the pleasure of being Rosemary and Joe’s houseguest up winding steps in the fifth floor bedroom where Faulkner had once lived, a heady experience indeed!).  Then when my dear friend Marda (she’s in Chapter Eight of SECRETS) offered the slave quarters, or the Red Palace, as we call her the adorable lipstick-red apartment behind her gorgeous Royal Street condo, I was all set.

 3.  IT’S A BOOK!

Soon – the week before pub date – I was off to Phoenix to visit my darling daughter Lulu (where she’s a psychiatrist) in her new house:  a restful treat during which I enjoyed the wireless in her cool new adobe abode, and we watched old movies from her collection, caught up on mother-daughter stuff, and drank and ate the great fresh produce that grows so profusely in her part of the country.  But – not neglecting literary matters – we also met with April, a young woman who had written me months before, offering to help plan a Zona Rosa workshop in Phoenix for late 2006 or 2007 – April was smart and attractive – and, I could tell, talented:  I was excited at the prospect of our working together!  Next we visited a couple of Border’s Bookstores, where I left off some our postcards with the cover of SECRETS on the front, blurbs on the back, with the lovely customer service people, appraising them of the date and asking them to order the book – in fact, they already had it on order, they said.  And last but not least, we visited Changing Hands Book Store, one of the Southwest’s more outstanding author venues to chat with their events manager about a possible reading/signing at the store during my return to Phoenix next January.

From Phoenix, I flew to New Orleans for a week that was  heady indeed – in first readings from the book, first, at Adrienne and Bill’s house to a huge crowd, and then at Faulkner House Books.  Naturally, I read the part about Marda since she was there – and where I saw Zona Rosans from New Orleans Zona Rosa workshops past and announced our upcoming workshop, to be held at Adrienne’s spacious Garden District house, for later in the year or early 2007.  Rosemary J. also asked me to come back for her annual, lavish, and outstanding Words and Music Festival in November to lead a mini-Zona Rosa workshop there. Since it was Jazz Fest week, the rest of my visit was a blur of parties with, live music and great food at each, plus Marda’s and my traditional lunch of Galatoire’s with our friend, Kenneth, who first took me there years ago, an event made even more heady by his telling me that we were sitting at Tennessee Williams’ favorite table (as we did again on this trip).

Next, I took off for Albuquerque where Paul, of the Savannah Zona Rosa group that includes men, who was visiting his parents in Santa Fe, met me at the plane.  After a beautiful hour-long drive, we met Glenys and Elaine in Santa Fe just outside Garcia Street books, where I would read and sign later in the week, and Subscription Drugs, a darling coffee shop thus named because it probably has more magazines – walls and walls of them, plus art, then any shop I’ve ever seen.  I just wanted to plop down with a double latte and peruse them all.   When Glenys gave me the choice of staying in her small adobe apartment in town, or a space outside town with a car to drive (which Elaine had generously offered), I chose the cozy adobe space which was within walking distance of the book store and coffee shop.  I knew I had made the right decision when I saw its rustic, restful décor, the down comforters Glenys had piled up on the bed, the art and baskets full of art magazines, and the little walled patio out back.   (One of the challenges of my life on the road is learning to enjoy minimal time in fabulous spaces where I’d really love to spend six months or more, as per my dream years before of spending six months  in ten different wonderful places over a period of five years.)

Soon Paul and I were having dinner in a famously rustic Santa Fe hotel with Carolyn and David, old friends from the deep South.  On Friday night I gave a reading at the bookstore, an experience made headier by seeing photos of old friends on the walls, especially Stuart Woods, who had been a resident there for a while.  The next day, I went with Glenys and Elaine to something called Body Choir, based on the writings and work of Gabriel Roth, thinking I would sit out the dancing and watch.  Instead, I found myself on the floor within minutes, moving to the music along with other ecstatic men and women -- having an experience that was such a high that I wrote in my journal that night that I knew I must have it in my life on an indefinite basis!  (Years before Zona Rosa took over my life, I had been an aficionado of discos both straight and gay, dancing as many nights of the week as I could to the Village People and the Sisters Chic, and here I was, dancing again, and realizing how much I had missed it.  It was at Body Choir that I felt the true spirit of Santa Fe, which is beautiful indeed!) 

The week culminated with our dynamic – given the Santa Fe energy -- Zona Rosa workshop.  Among those who attended were many of my new friends in Sante Fe, followed by individual conferences with those who wished on Sunday.  Among the conferees was Leslie, who was working among other things, on a screenplay, and who offered to read my treatment for ZONA ROSA, THE SIT COM.  I also met with Kirsten, a darling New Yorker from Texas who I at first assumed to be a fashion model – she’s tall, blonde, and slender -- though she turned out to work in the production end of fashion, assisting the well-known designer Nicole Miller. (Needless to say, she looked gorgeous in her Zona Rosa T-shirt from the batch I had just received from Pamella via Fed Ex!) Kirsten and I discussed her life, work, and writing plans – and then, as the Goddess would have it – she offered to served as planner for a Zona Rosa workshop in Manhattan!

Before long, I was back in Austin for our Zona Rosa workshop, a two-day event at Judith’s sparkling new house, where we all reeled as we heard and read from one another’s stories. Connie, of our Atlanta Alpha Babes group, had come all the way from Atlanta, and it was wonderful to see her, newly svelte from her recent workouts in preparation for her 26-mile marathon in Alaska.  We were all stunned at Alegria’s talent as a memoirist as she described her mystical early life in Buenos Aires. Joni, a beautiful dentist, said she wanted to go with us to France.  Another woman, who shall remain nameless, described how her husband, a high-level official in the Bush administration, had suddenly left her for another woman when they were in Washington; she had come back to the Southwest to care for her sister, who was dying of breast cancer, when her sister’s daughter, a beautiful young woman with no evident health problems, died in her sleep.  But was she as “ruined” as one would think, given what she had gone through?  Au contraire – as often is the case, she inspired us with her story of courage, strength, and new beginnings at midlife.  Also, as is usual at workshops where I meet with new people, I learned something more about what people want – not just talk about writing and life and discussion of the manuscripts sent me in advance, but an on-the-spot writing-and-sharing experience. (After every reading, talk, or workshop, I always self-critique in my journal the next morning as to how things could have gone even better. And no matter how dynamic things have been, I always learn something new.)  

Despite the hours Judith was putting in on her prison project – she had to run out each morning before our ten a.m. workshops to deliver books, materials -- she also went with me when I spoke and signed at Book Women, a wonderful women’s book store where the audience was rapt, and where I would meet Maxine, who had driven all the way to Austin from Houston to hear me, and who would start our first online Sub Rosa group (see News & Events).  Two nights later, we were at Book People, called the best independent bookstore in the U.S. by Publishers Weekly.  There I met more wonderful Texans, and bought a pink cowboy hat – the store sells everything, and I had almost worn out the one Kathleen had given me from Target.


Back in Savannah, I drove to Tybee Island (Savannah Beach), 20 minutes from my house, to meet and talk writing – I thought – with Very Important Zona Rosans Pamella and Kathleen, who had rented a house there for a couple of days.  Instead, they greeted me at their little cottage with the news that over the last 48 hours, they had composed the entire book, based on the music of Oklahoma!, for ZONA ROSA, THE MUSICAL!  Both are professional musicians as well as fabulous writers – Kathleen had brought her portable piano with her from High Shoals, Georgia, where she lives – and, after making me comfortable on the couch with a cup of tea, they proceeded to sing the entire thing to me.   Indeed, in addition to being stunned by the virtuosity of what they had done, they soon had me laughing until I was crying.  (But that wasn’t all:  they were already projecting a second musical, Less Miserable.)

A few weeks later, Kathleen met with an attorney friend to ask whether it was okay to use the score for Oklahoma! as music for their lyrics  – the answer was yes – and  they made plans for a preview performance at the public library in the suburb of Atlanta where Pamella lives.  Our performance was planned for a Friday evening after our regular Thursday eve Atlanta “Alpha Babes” Zona Rosa meeting (though now national and even international, this group serves as our headquarters and think-tank). We were to meet that afternoon for a run-through at Pamella’s house, the site, since Pamella is definitely “the hostess with the mostest,” providing other Zona Rosa festivities throughout the year. 

That Thursday evening, at our regular meeting at my sister Anne W.’s house in Buckhead, Kathleen asked me to close my eyes.  What was coming, I wondered -- the Zona Rosans often give me Zona-Rosa appropriate gifts -- that is, things glittery and pink.  But never before had I been asked not to look.  Given the green light to open them again, I was so surprised I couldn’t speak:  Kathleen had drawn an amazing object from a black garbage bag, and was placing it on my head.  The huge, pink feather headdress --  worthy of the best drag queen in any Mardi Gras parade – stood at least a foot and half above my forehead.  Fortunately, Jill was there to video us and captures the sound track, which was five solid minutes of rollicking laughter!  As I often say, when I speak, the sound one hears most often at a Zona Rosa event is laughter (interspersed with our many more serious moments, and even tears), and on this evening, we laughed even louder and longer than usual! 

We have great times in Zona Rosa all the time – at every retreat, Kathleen and others sing the arrival song Kathleen wrote, as well as the departure song, and anything else that pops into their very musical heads.  In fact our” No Cocks” sweatshirts, as designed by Judith and Susan J., and ZONA ROSA, THE MUSICAL had started around our long dinner table the previous fall during our retreat in Tuscany as the group stood singing and improvising on the words “No cocks here!”

When Anne and I arrived at Pamella’s house the next day, I was again amazed – even rendered speechless again – at the preparations Pamella and Kathleen had made. Not only did we have a choreographer and director/coach in residence, but every possible set eventuality had been covered. They had even created the big Pink Tent that forms the set, and Jill – our resident technical guru – had created a power point presentation that would fill in the rest.  Kathleen, our coach in all things musical, wore a black T-shirt that read “Pretend I’m not here, I’m just the lyricist” so she could stand behind us and coach us while “on stage – help I desperately needed when it came time to “sing” my parts. The Zonettes, or Zona Rosa chorus, made up of Connie, Lynn, Deborah B., Anne, and choreographer Ellen all wore our new Zona Rosa T-shirts with short white tennis skirts, some found by Pamella at local thrift shops.  When the Zonettes bent over, each skirt revealed a pair of white cotton panties on which Pamella had glued a big red kiss – when had she had time to do all this?!  And as if they hadn’t done enough, Pamella and crew had even made pink cotton nuns’ coifs for the moments toward the end of the musical when the members of the chorus become “Sisters of the Zona Rosa,” as in, “Go my sister, and sin way more!” 

In addition, Pamella’s husband Mike had gamely agreed to play Dick, the Bad Guy, despite that it meant dressing in drag and sitting on a portable toilet while supposedly in prison in Oklahoma after waving his “salami” and more at the whole underage cheerleading squad, as played by the Zonettes, who looked like super-shapely teenagers in their outfits.  

(Speaking of being game, my husband Zane agreed to wear a black silk robe imprinted all over with our logo – red lip prints – at our annual Zona Rosa bash at my house in Savannah after our week-long Zona Rosa retreat, or “Pajama Party for Grown-Up Girls with Smarts,” at the beach.  I had ordered the robe when Pamella sent me a web page featuring a photo of a hunky guy wearing said robe as a joke – “I can’t believe you really bought it!” she said when I told her.  But when the robe arrived, it barely fit me – and in the shortest, sexiest way!  The idea of Zane’s broad shoulders stuffed into it was comical.  Still, I praised him for his willingness, if not the actual chance to show his stuff.)

Soon the audience for our musical arrived, many also wearing our official pink T-shirts – including the adorable, blonde Debee, who, looking like a movie star, drove up to the library entrance in a silver convertible with her handsome husband, Dante.  In the auditorium, red-haired Jill, looking good in her own pink shirt, sat behind her projector, guiding the Power Point she had created, complete with Red Brick Road leading to Savannah, the Pink Tent, and Zona Rona. 

And before we knew it, we were performing – however awkwardly – to gales of laughter from our obviously pleased viewers.  Some of us even added extemporaneous lines, as I did when the players sang “Slander and Libel,” and I cited the “small penis” rule, in which a man is unlikely to sue an author if his character is described as having a small member.

After the final applause, Pamella and Kathleen gave out questionnaires asking our audience for their feedback. Back at Pamella’s house, over drinks and plates of Foods of the Goddesses, we rehashed our first presentation and brainstormed new ideas.  By the time we all reluctantly said good night, we agreed that with enhancements, ZONA ROSA, THE MUSICAL, with its log line, “Bigger Than a Hormone, Deeper Than a Body Part,” is sure to leave The Vagina Monologues, not to speak of Menopause, the Musical, in the dust! 

But as usual at any Zona Rosa gathering, more than that had happened:  our new friend and choreographer Ellen – of the enviable legs and shapely figure – told us the moving story of her (for a long time, unlikely) recovery from breast cancer.  As she peeled off her Zona Rosa T-shirt to reveal the mountain lion tattooed over her shoulder, and covering her beautiful, reconstructed breast, we all gasped in awe – not just at the symmetry of her body, but at her story of courage.


Networking is part of what Zona Rosa is about, and when Jill decided to go with to Zambia with a Christian group who were going to help children there in honor of a friend’s child who had died (as had Jill’s darling son Christopher), she took one of our new Zona Rosa tote bags – pink, of course, with the logo – plus two copies of SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA, inscribed to “Our sisters in Zambia.”  “They were a big hit,” she wrote me later, adding that the toilet paper there was purple, which fit right in with our color scheme.

We bought books and audiotapes from Connie’s collection as part of her contribution to a benefit for Leukemia, inspired by her friend, who is a leukemia patient; one Zona Rosan who prefers to remain nameless, advanced Connie’s cause by paying $300 for an audiotape! Then we applauded month by month as Connie completed the personal training she needed in order to complete the rest of her leukemia challenge by competing in a 26-mile marathon in Anchorage, Alaska.  Indeed, Connie was determined to let nothing stop her, including a serious back injury several years before (through which Zona Rosan Gray had nursed and supported her).  Among her personal benefits as the months went on was a new and increasingly svelte bod which we all applauded as she entered each Zona Rosa meeting, inevitably wearing something black and beaded, and tighter than the month before. After she completed the marathon – with joy and verve, according to the photos -- her long-time boyfriend Raj, who had traveled to Alaska with her, along with her auntie and uncle from Georgia, got down on bended knee before the crowd and asked her the big question:  at her “yes,” he presented her with the tres beautiful ring he had selected with best friend Gray’s help.  It was a win-win day for Connie, Raj, and the Leukemia patients! 

Indeed, it was a time of celebration all round, as Gray married her sweetheart, Don, in a big wedding in Gray’s new home and Don’s old home of Calhoun, Georgia, an event attended by all the Zona Rosans who could get away.  Gray, the rest of us heard – and saw in photos -- was gorgeous in the full-length white gown that was Connie’s wedding gift to her, though Don was in a wheelchair with a torn kneecap – Gray and Dan were determined not to let anything interfere with their nuptials! 

Gray was madly in love – “Listen to this!” she said to me at the beach, handing over her cell phone so I could hear the sexy Deep-Southern way with which Don pronounced “Ba-bee,” as in “Give me a call, Ba-bee!”  But since I didn’t want her to forget who she is – a brilliant woman in her own right, whatever her marital status – I gave her an amber pendant from Paris, wrapped in blue velvet, rather than the requested crockery, along with a note saying “Don’t forget who you are.”)

Pamella’s house has long been a mini Zosa Rosa retreat, or home away from home; Jill and others who live outside Atlanta often crash there in order to come to our meetings. When Raj was promoted to Charlotte, North Carolina, Connie rented an apartment in Pamella and Mike’s house, as while she planned to join Raj on weekends, there was no way she was leaving Atlanta and Zona Rosa for good! Connie was especially thrilled by her first purchase for her writing retreat – a sapphire blue couch on which she already saw herself reclining, computer on her lap. Indeed, sapphire blue is platinum-blonde Connie’s special color and the color of her totem animal – the seal – tattooed above her left breast.

When I was nine, I was the ringleader of another girl-gang, the Three Musketeers, and one of things we did was liberate things from our parents’ houses to spread out on the sidewalk of our neighborhood to create a “store” from which indulgent grownups walking by could make purchases – a kind of grade-school pre-garage sale.  And during the months covered in this blog, the Zona Rosans took me back to my own past in a way I never would have imagined, first, through Pamella’s creations of the No Cock Zona Rosa sweat shirt commemorating our 2005 two-week Zona Rosa retreat in Italy, next, our baby doll Zona Rosa T-shirts, then the amazing array of products the super techo-literate Jill began to produce:  book marks, refrigerator magnets, personal cards, post cards, and our exorcises and credos, in pretty net bags – all with the book cover and our Zona Rosa logo imprinted on them.  Indeed, she even created more little net bags of pink and purple M & Ms, imprinted with the words “Zona Rosa” and “Keep It Simple” – though I hated for people to actually eat them, they would be a big hit at our annual Zona Rosa bash in June.  Soon, before I knew it, I had another little, portable Zona Rosa store on a rolling blue and white cart which I rolled out to carry our new products at Zona Rosa meetings in Savannah, or to transport via a cardboard carton to Zona Rosa meetings asnd workshop elsewhere – complete with a marbleized notebooks in which to record purchases supplied by Pamella, plus a purple net bag for cash given me by Jill, who both know how unbusinesslike I’m likely to be.  The satisfaction I get from the little store every time I wheel it out or put it into my Mustang undoubtedly flashes back to my early inclinations, as does Zona Rosa itself – girt gangs and merchandising were a part of my past, and only needed the resuscitation, the gentle watering, by these fabulous women to come again into full bloom.


These were only a few of the Zona Rosa events that filled the first few months of the life of SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA.  Our annual retreat at the beach outside Savannah in June was so crammed with great women that this year we had to rent two big beach houses instead of one.  Our week of non-stop fun and work was further enriched by newcomers who came from a distance – Shawn, from Wyoming, Charlotte, from San Francisco (where as the foxy librarian she is, as in her web page tag, she reigns over the city’s main library), Roe, from Ohio, and Sheila, from Tennessee, the latter two recommended by therapist and Friend of Zona Rosa, Don Doyle of Memphis. 

Shawn, however, got the prize for being the Zona Rosan who went through the most to be with us:  her tale of driving to Montana to stay overnight in a motel, missing her flight, and finally flying to Atlanta, where she rented a silver convertible – what is it about Zona Rosans and convertibles?  Pamella, Connie, and I all sport them, too – to drive to Savannah, where she had never been, and where she promptly ran out of gas at a major intown hotel.  By the time she got help and got to the beach – where she’d also never been, and where, sans street lights, our beach house was hard to find, to say the least – until a cruiser with the beach’s finest stopped to help her – it was after midnight. But that didn’t stop Shawn from appearing at the breakfast bar the next morning, looking like the fashion model she had once been, as she had her coffee and got acquainted with the rest of us.

The end of the week concluded, naturally, with our annual Zona Rosa bash at my house in downtown Savannah, 20 minutes away.  And while Zane couldn’t wear the lip print robe, we had plenty of great entertainment, all chosen with fun in mind – in fact, it was one of our best Zona Rosa parties ever!  First we read Connie’s over-the-top Credos in chorus, like a church liturgy.  Then Deborah B. read one of her characteristically sexy poems, and Anne W. read “The Woman My Husband Should Have Married” to much hilarity.  Then Claudia Graham and bud Wanda Brooks performed stand up, improving on the number of vibrators (way over the law in Georgia!) in Wanda’s closet, and other outrageous matters.  (Naturally,  I introduced Claudia as the originator of the quip, “The first time I had great sex, I almost went home and told my husband!”)  In conclusion, the Zonettes sang several songs from ZONA ROSA, THE MUSICAL.  And then we all ate and ate – especially the two huge pink cakes complete with red sugar-sprinkle lip prints made by our official Zona Rosa recipe, “My Third Brother’s Third Wife’s Strawberry Cream Cake,” as provided by Claudia.  Indeed, the party was such a success that vibrant Savannah columnist Rexanna Lester wrote about it in a feature for the Sunday Savannah News Press (see box).  The next month, Rexanna joined our Savannah Zona Rosa groups!


Next came my annual trip to the Writers’ Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, with my sister Anne.  While there, I usually actually have time to write – last year, I was setting my iBook afire with the final changes on SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA.  But this year, I had different tasks ahead of me:  Charlotte B., Zona Rosan, town wrangler – she’s changed the face of Eureka Springs, which was already funky to say the least, by adding a town market and a weekly outdoor cinema – and publicist par excellence and I embarked on the road trip of a lifetime across Northern Arkansas so that I could fulfill the commitment Charlotte had made for me to appear on the ABC-TV affiliate in Jonesboro, where the talk-show hostess not only talked about SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA, but called me the “founder of a movement,” words that especially pleased me since Zona Rosa is so much bigger than my book. Next, we drove on so I could speak at That Bookstore run by the famous Queen of Booksellers, Mary Gay Shipley in Blytheville (pronounced Bly-ville), Arkansas, spend the night in a Holiday Inn, then rush back to Fayetteville on the other side of the state to read at Nightbird Books (an eight-hour trip, during which I almost got us killed -- I’ll never put hot coffee in a cardboard carrier from MacDonald’s on the armrest beween me and the drive again! – and we had to gobble down Krispy Kreme donuts – mine, raspberry, Charlotte’s crème-filled --  to soothe our “nerves.”  It was the first Krispy Kreme I had had in ten years, but both of us felt that we deserved them!) 

Indeed, the whole trip – as any road trip with Charlotte is bound to be – was, well, a trip!  We both wore our Zona Rosa Book Tour T-shirts, and in yet another MacDonald’s, when I nabbed the curl off the top of Charlotte’s vanilla cone, she created a happening on the spot:  “Call Star magazine,” she squealed; “Famous author steals publicist’s ice cream cone!”  The attention we suddenly got from everyone inside was amazing, leading me to realize that everyone in America must read Star, and that leaving cards for SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA in every McDonald’s we entered might be a good move – if only I had that many.  Along the way, I also made notes on images that Meryl (former Zona Rosan, photographer and writer, and old friend who takes my official PR photos) might want to use for her next book, from the signs for the little burg of Yellville – where Charlotte yelled out the window as if on command -- to the Flippin Police cars to the pink gas stations.  Indeed, defunct stations, along with thrift shops – now I understand where she got so many pairs of cowboy boots – are Charlotte’s big thing, as are road trips:  indeed, the road trip is the central metaphor for her nearly completed memoir, Road Trip of Love:  My Life as a Texas Jew Girl! 

As we at last swung into the Fayetteville a half-hour behind schedule, Charlotte got on the cell phone to Night Bird Books and pretended to come closer and closer to orgasm as the book shop assistant led us there as though by radar.  “That was fun!” said Stephanie, our traffic controller from the sidewalk in front of the shop where she waved us in and we got out of the car.  And as we walked into one of the prettiest book shops I’ve seen – tiny birds fill a glassed-in atrium in its two-story center—the crowd – seated and waiting for us – burst into applause.  Mendy, the manager, brought us red wine and snacks and then I was ready to speak, meet more fabulous people, and see old friends such as Ginny, who wrote a wonderful piece on SECRETS for the local alternative paper. Later, we left on a high, flying and buoyant for the hour-long trip back to Eureka Springs, stopping along the way at a Subway – by then it was after midnight. 

The next morning I was ready by 10:30 to be interviewed by Jacquie Froelich of NPR – Jacquie is sharp, and has done her homework – when she asks how I feel about using pink as our Zona Rosa color when pink has negative connotations for some women, e.g. those who seek to empower themselves and see the shade as part of the negative trip laid on them by patriarchy; she also cites cultural critic Barbara Ehrenreich’s experience when handed a pink pillow as a palliative, rather than hard facts, just after breast cancer surgery – a sugary response that would offend most any thinking woman. I explain that we’re using the color almost as a form of camp – the word coined long ago by author Susan Sontag to describe the use of elements of popular culture with a new twist in order to turn a traditional perception on its head – as in, how could anyone assume any of the women of Zona Rosa are simperers, even covered head to toe in pink?  I also mentioned the Prologue to SECRETS, in which the radical nature of our position is explained in full.

Soon Charlotte was calling me for the Zona Rosa workshop to benefit the writers’ colony that begins next door with a luncheon at noon, where once more I’m saturated by good vibes, surrounded by great women, and we sell every copy of SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA, plus most of our remaining T-shirts and sets of the “exorcises” designed and created by Jill.  Needless to say, the whole week ended on an incredible high, with more to come next week, when Lynn E., a screen and TV writer at the workshop, writes to say Zona Rosa must be a sitcom, or even a reality show – my thoughts exactly! – and also gives me great feedback on who to contact.  Then Indie filmmaker Debra Kirschner, whose first film, THE TOLL BOOTH, had just been released, and who is also a resident at the colony, gives me further great feedback on the sitcom.

Glenna, also a resident at the colony, and an elegant novelist, former editor, and jewelry designer -- her mother-of-pearl pink button pendant is now among my favorite pieces—offers to sponsor me for a Zona Rosa workshop in New York.  I think what a great match she will be for the darling Kirsten Lewis, another Manhattannite I met at the Zona Rosa workshop in Sante Fe in May, who is already researching our New York venue!  Last but not least, before I leave for Highlands, NC, to lead our annual Zona Rosa workshop there, Charlotte and I brainstorm a trip up the west coast to Seattle to lead Zona Rosa workshops, start new Sub Rosa groups, and further promote SECRETS.

In beautiful Highlands, our workshop was sponsored by Shakespeare & Company Books, patterned after the original shop in Paris; Katherine Willoughby, the shop’s unique proprietor, actually lived in the shop in Paris; indeed, she was engaged to its owner, George, a literary figure famous in his own right.  Again, the workshop was wonderful, a high – a week spent with a small group of intense and talented women in the pretty little house Katherine owns and provided.  Mary Ann, from Diamond Head, Mississipi, Sandra (who came all the way from Eureka Springs, where we had met for the first time the week before), Gibson, a witty livewire at 88 and a novelist whose funny fiction I’ve been following for five years and deserves publication, and Gwen, a wonderful new member of our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group, all made the week special, as did having Sherry visit the group:  Katherine had selected Sherry for our scholarship to the workshop the year before, despite her lack of writing experience.  Yet this year, Sherry proved Katherine’s good judgment:  when we heard Sherry read a short story, and then her highly sophisticated poem, we all gasped.  Unlike the others, Sherry is a native of the North Carolina mountains, and her take on life there is both unique and uniquely presented.  Marda, a writer and dear friend  (again, she’s in Chapter Eight of SECRETS) from New Orleans who summers in Highlands also met with us. As usual, Marda, an accomplished writer, and co-author of Galatoire’s: Biography of a Bistro, had much wisdom to share re: our writing projects. 

One night we had an all-girls’ candle-lit dinner planned and served by Katherine; on another, at my signing at Shakespeare & Company Books, we were joined by old friends and writers, Cassandra King and her husband Pat Conroy (who she met around the time she was part of a Zona Rosa workshop in Black Mountain, NC).  It was wonderful to see them, and the workshop participants were delighted to meet authors of such statue.  On our last nights, we hung out at Wolfgang Puck’s little bistro on Main Street, then went to a cocktail party given by two of the many new friends we’ve met through Marda. 

As if as if I wasn’t busy enough along the way, I judged poems for an important poetry contest in Wyoming for a conference take place in October – thought the competition was blind, the three winners and two honorable mentions all turned out, much to my satisfaction, to be women – and tough ones at that:  one of the award-winning poems was “How to Drive a Dozer.”  Then, needless to say, I was accompanied everywhere – on every plane and in every stop – by manuscripts to be read for our Zona Rosa workshops in Atlanta and Savannah.


How does one go home again after a summer like that?  Reluctantly.  On the way from Anne’s house in Atlanta, I stopped in Morrow to serve as keynote speaker at the Southern Crescent Writers’ Conference, led by former Zona Rosan Anne B. Jones (see Stars in the Zona Rosa for Anne’s new book), held at the Morrow, Georgia, Barnes & Noble, where once again, I met warm, wonderful people, including the vivacious novelist Jackie Miles (soon to be an author guest at our Atlanta Alpha Babes group), and where, once again, the book sold out.  The next week, back in Savannah, I would face my e-mail – if overwhelming, also often a pleasure, with all the wonderful responses I’m getting to SECRETS from both friends and strangers – (one of the most charming is from Donna G., who says that her blind 84-year-old husband now asks her to read to him aloud from SECRETS each morning, rather than the Bible).  I would also meet what I imagine to be the chaos of my house (not to speak of the needs of my family) – I’ve been living out of a suitcase, it seems, for years – and also speak at the Savannah Barnes & Noble, and be the guest of honor at a lovely book party for SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA given by Zona Rosans Extraordinaire, Judi Painter and Lisbeth Thom (Judi lives only blocks from me, but we finally met when I spoke to her neighborhood club the year before; now she is a vibrant and important part of our Savannah Zona Rosa scene.)  But with fall about to begin, and the need to begin our plans for expanding Zona Rosa throughout the country, I realized a stopping point must come until my next account.

As I write this, I’ve relived the fun of being on the road to talk about SECRETS and Zona Rosa.  For the purposes of this piece, I’ve left out the days of frustration at the mechanical problems involved in setting up my new iBook  – the week it took for someone to type my huge data page into the address book on my new iBook (after we learned there was no way to transfer it directly from AOl; amusingly, The New York Times ran an Op Ed piece not long after, referring to the mega company as “a cult”), problems with wireless (it now works like a dream), and dealing with them en route via dozens of phone calls to Jody, the computer whiz and Zona Rosan who created this beautiful web page.  (As I began to recount these difficulties to Pamella, she stopped me in what was the best piece of advice I’ve received in years, saying “are you sure you want to relive all that?”  But that’s the kind of great feedback we routinely give each other in Zona Rosa!)   

I’ve also left out the tears of joy, discovery, and grief that we all share on a regular basis, knowing that anyone who reads SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA will have learned about those in full.   For as anyone who is a part of a Zona Rosa workshop or retreat knows, Zona Rosa is really about change – changing our lives, attitudes, and writing.  I’m saving those stories for MORE SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA: WHEN STRONG WOMEN TELL THEIR TRUTHS, which will also include updates of stories from SECRETS ONE. But as I often say, the laughter we hear in every Zona Rosa event is an ongoing tribute to the healing powers of our being together, not to speak of the act of creative writing.

I also feel the difference in writing a blog – which is of the moment – and writing for publication, when one knows that one’s words must stand as they appear on the page – hopefully, for a long time, and also translate and communicate one’s content to people who have never before heard, or even thought about, one’s subject matter. And I’ve had the fun of breaking some of my own writing rules – e.g., DEA, or “Death to (Excess) Adverbs (and Adjectives),” with thanks to Mark Twain – freely throwing about modifiers such as “divine,” “fabulous,” and “gorgeous” in order to describe the Zona Rosans, who, indeed, deserve them.

Thus I’m now happy to join the ranks of those who like to share their ideas and experiences more immediately – which, after all, is what we do in Zona Rosa – through our exorcises and our talk – every time we meet!  Time permitting; I plan to share what’s happening and what we are doing and thinking in Zona Rosa every few months or so – though subsequent entries won’t be quite so long!  Right now, the little green light on my iBook, and a million projects are calling out.

And in the blink of a mascaraed eye, we’ll be off to the sixth of our divine two-week Zona Rosa retreats -- as planned by, yes, the fabulous Susan S. -- in the South of France!

Rosemary Daniell

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