A LETTER FROM ROSEMARY : My Blog : My Second Letter

to the Zona Rosans and Our Friends Everywhere

My Second Letter

Zona Rosa - The Musical1. IN MY FIRST LETTER TO YOU I described my bias against blogging.  I told you that, despite how much I adore the freshness of a writer’s first thoughts, I believe that it’s a better for us to use our creativity to explore ourselves and our ideas in journals, not to mention making poems, stories and books, or even starting businesses (as you know, Zona Rosa is now an LLC, so that we can sell our own books and Zona Rosa-related products).        
       I didn’t know how much fun it would be to break my own rules for creative writing, such as remembering, as Patricia O’Conner wrote in WOE IS I, that an exclamation point is the equivalent of “an eek!”  Or to set aside my bias against excess modifying, as in our acronym, DEA as in “Death to Adverbs.”  Instead, I slathered praise on the Zona Rosans as though it were Crème de la Mer (the most expensive face cream in the world), believing, as humorist Jill Conner Browne says of chocolate, that you can’t have too much of a good thing – or say too much good stuff about great people.
        When I wrote that first message to you, SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA:  HOW WRITING (AND SISTERHOOD) CAN CHANGE WOMEN’S LIVES (Henry Holt and Company, 2006) was six months old, and as my friend, the novelist Jackie, or J.L., Miles, says of such times, I’ve “been on roller skates” ever since.  Not long along, Zona Rosan Margie told us about women’s speed-skating teams, with names like “The Femme Fatales” – obviously, women after our own hearts! – and I felt like I’ve been one of them, speed-skating along beside them with barely a break.
        Life has been a whirl of beautiful letters from readers and writers all over the country, as well as Canada, Puerto Rico, Finland, and Australia; news of new Sub Rosa groups across the country; writers conferences all over the place; and as always, and my greatest pleasure, our regular Zona Rosa workshops and retreats – and even getting a little writing of my own done (more about this later).
        And it’s been fun almost every second of the race.  Fortunately, I love the twists and turns, the constant travel and excitement.  After all, I am the woman who, at a therapist’s request, drew my ideal self more than 35 years ago as wearing travel clothes and carrying a suitcase!  And who created another similar image of myself years later when doing a collage – or what Zona Rosan and life coach Deborah calls a “Dream Board,” of myself on a plane with a briefcase – though I didn’t know then that it would be crammed with manuscripts by the Zona Rosans!


As William Safire wrote in his regular column on language in The New York Times Magazine, “Pleasure is a beautiful word.  That s in the middle, pronounced like the z in azure gives a little thrill to the mouth.” And then there’s the word’s meaning:  “‘Happy satisfaction or enjoyment; delight, gratification . . .’”  And this was what we were about to experience in full as we embarked in September on our two-week, pleasure-filled Zona Rosa retreat – a.k.a., “Pajama Party for Grown Up Girls with Smarts” – in a twelfth-century castle two hours from Toulouse (question # 1: how does Suzan, our planner extraordinaire, find these places?!).  For some of us, there was also a subsequent trip to Paris, and in telling you about it, I definitely plan to overuse the word “charming” – how else can I tell you how divine it was?       
        Most of us arrived in Toulouse a day early, where we joyously greeted each new arrival to our party at our small, very French hotel, sampled fabulous food at nearby restaurants – and shopped (question # 2:  how do we always seem to book these hotels, sight unseen, that are right in the middle of everything we love most?!).  At the airport, I had learned, waiting among a group of women covered from head to toe in black burqas – just seeing women whose very clothing signified oppression made me want to reach out to them -- whose luggage had also not yet arrived, that Air France had once again lost my luggage.  And as they had been in the past, they were utterly charming about it, giving me a great little kit, later to double as an evening bag, that contained all one might need for a night (though this time I noticed it didn’t include a condom!), plus a form saying I would be repaid up to $200 if I had receipts for the items I purchased to tide me over.  Since I knew that I also had American Express insurance that would pay up to $500 for any items bought before the luggage was delivered, my sister Zona Rosan and real sister Anne went on a whirlwind shopping spree the next morning during which I bought two pairs of a shoes, a very frou-frou skirt and top that virtually scream français, and French face creams which now sit in my bathroom in Savannah, reminding me, with their pretty pink script, of the trip.  (And better yet, once I was home and sent in my receipts, Air France, along with American Express, reimbursed me for every cent of my purchases, going way over the $200 they had promised!)
        When we arrived at the walled castle near the town of Millau the next evening, we could almost see the drawbridge being pulled up during the Crusades, or extended to welcome friendly travelers.  The town is known for its violets, and appropriately enough, the first thing I saw was my mauve luggage waiting within the entrance, delivered by the ever-faithful Air France. While we were there, Connie, who loves fragrances and other girly things as much as I do, gave me a très petite bottle of violet perfume, tied at its neck with a tiny purple ribbon.
        For the next two weeks Write, Eat, Drink, Talk could have been our mantra. The days were a blur of workshops, readings (and for me, conferences with each writer), not to speak of the laughter, wine, and the Foods of the Goddesses, elegantly served to us by our superb cooks, Pamella and Judith, who, as you may already have read about elsewhere because I can’t sing their praises enough, cook fluently in both French and Italian.
        This year, Liz, an elegant American long married to a dashing Frenchman, and accustomed to her husband’s huge family, gave Pamella and Judith an elegant hand. Even the cooks were writing in every spare moment; given the atmosphere, it was irresistible.  One of my favorite memories is of the three of them sitting at one of the dining tables in the high-ceilinged main room, made cozier by its chandeliers, fireplace, and sofas, shelling peas or peeling potatoes while talking literature with the rest of us. 
        On many days, Pamella, ever the sun-lover, insisted we eat al fresco by the pool (yes, this ancient castle had a swimming pool!) where we also held some of our workshops. A high point was our pre-dinner readings.  We especially loved it when Connie wrote a poem that expressed our feminist sentiments exactly – in it, a fierce she-dragon symbolized our power -- and she and Kathleen read and sang it in chorus.  A feature of every retreat is the arrival song, written and sung by Kathleen; and finally, at our last dinner, the departure song.
        But if you’re thinking a bunch of overgrown Girl Scouts, think again – and more along the lines of the words from our mission statement for Zona Rosa Books, “Words By Women Like You:  Smart, Savvy, Sexy, Searching, And Singular.” Yes, we’re a girl gang, but also a Smart Women’s Society, with a variety of beliefs, life views, and talents.  Ironically, unlike in some womens groups, not one of us is a follower; instead we’re each unique and were usually already outstanding in our own way from the time we met.  Indeed, one of the most exciting parts of Zona Rosa for me is getting to know yet another, smart, talented woman – a heady situation, since I meet them wherever I go!
        At our retreats, some women pair up as walking buddies, others as writing buddies. One of the things we do right away at every retreat is stake out a place to write – Sandra, from Eureka Springs, Arkansas, put a table beside the top of the stone stairs that led to a great hall on the third floor, and created her space there, spreading out the voluminous journals of her seven years sailing her own sailboat (yes, it was pink – and this was long before she knew us!) alone in the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico, despite having never having sailed before when she bought it! While she meditated beside a tree in California, where she was care giving her feisty mother during a time of transition in her life, she asked God what she should do next, and a voice told her:  Buy a sailboat and sail. When I hear stories like these, I’m also struck afresh by how powerful women are, as well as by the law of attraction, and how we can overcome any obstacle to become what we think and dream.
        Now Sandra was writing her memoir, and because she was so visible on her perch, we were all inspired by her work ethic as we passed her on our way to our rooms.  We were even more impressed when she read dramatic excerpts from her adventures during our afternoon readings, one of which concluded with God giving her directions during a storm at sea as to what she should do next.  This time the voice said, Go to Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a town she had never even heard of.
        To talk about every writer there would make this entry as long as another SECRETS – indeed, I’m already collecting stories for the sequel, tentatively titled MORE SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA:  WHEN STRONG WOMEN TELL THEIR TRUTHS, and they are delicious indeed.  After every workshop and retreat, I spend hours recording the wonderful things the Zona Rosans say, do and write, with an eye toward writing about them later with their permission. 
        But to hit more of the high points:  Karen, a friend of Suzan’s, and a vivacious blonde ex-literary agent from Canada, now living in Aix-in-Provence, generously spent a day and evening with us to share her know-how on how best to get the attention of agents and editors. Greg, our favorite Brit, now living near Marseilles, where he’s a physicist, came over for a day, as he does to almost all our retreats in the South of France. He gave us updates on the revisions he’s made to his riveting, well-researched World War II novel-in-progress – all the while undoubtedly enjoying being immersed in our estrogen-rich – not to speak pulchritudinous -- company!   Indeed, we always have a few special men around -- a group of smart, beautiful women draws them like a magnet, yes?  Charles, 89-year-old Maggie’s 14-years-younger husband – and a good writer himself – has become such a part of our group that he laughs at the same jokes we do – even the ones about husbands and boyfriends!
        Then came the crème de la crème of excursions, when we all piled into the bus to travel to visit Kathleen McArthur, hereafter known as the Other Kathleen, who lives with her husband Mal for five months of every year in the Dordogne region of France. A Star of our Savannah Zona Rosa group, her recent book, ANNISA, the story of an Afghan girl, was inspired by her years in Afghanistan. 
        After riding several hours through beautiful towns, villages, and countryside – stopping once for coffees at a café filled with good-looking French men – apparently, it was their mid-morning hangout – our driver finally turned onto a narrow road outside a quaint village.  As we drove up to a charming pale stucco house, then piled out, some of us wearing our Zona Rosa T-shirts, a smiling Kathleen, Mal, Marty, Kathleen’s dear friend from Oxford, Mississippi, and a young woman from the village, came down the steps to greet us. 
        Once inside, Mal and Other Kathleen gave us a tour of the house, which was charming indeed – walls covered with art by both Kathleen and Marty, who, it turned out, had become a well-known painter in the US, selling her paintings as soon as she produces them, after leaving her previous (and less happy) life as the wife of a Washington big shot. Kathleen, too, had begun drawing that summer, and from what we saw, she’s as talented as an artist as she is a writer. Then there were the terraces and outdoor spaces – “we need them for when our kids and grandchildren come over” – overlooking the gorgeous French countryside. 
        At last we trekked back to the living and dining rooms with their adjacent sun porch, where small tables had been set with linen and china.  By now the smells from the nearby open kitchen, where the woman from the village was stirring and tending, were driving us crazy.  And no, we couldn’t serve ourselves, Mal and Other Kathleen said when I stood, thinking we would go to the kitchen to serve ourselves, as people often do in America.  And no, we couldn’t help, either.  Over the next two hours, she, Mal and friends served us, course by course, a French meal that I surely would rival any in Paris! (Later, Suzan told me that it’s considered impolite in France not to let people serve you.)  Before we left, all smiling broadly, I gave Other Kathleen a Zona Rosa T-shirt which she donned over her blouse on the spot to wear as they stood waving us off.  (And damn! — these T-shirts – Pamella got the baby-doll fit just right – look good on every one of us, whether tall, short, voluptuous or petite!  Soon we hope to make them available to all of you on our web page).
        Yet all was not over – on our last night back at the chateau, Pamella, Judith and Liz asked that we cut our workshop short and leave the main room to dress for dinner, as is our custom on our last nights.  “I don’t think it’ll take that long,” I protested, wanting to go on with the workshop.  But they insisted, and upstairs, I put on the sparkly très French skirt and top, slipped on slingbacks, and put my hair up, then went downstairs, expecting to see a festive dining room.
        Instead, as I looked out over the stone wall over the courtyard, I saw the long table festooned with a white table cloth, wine glasses and place settings, and candle glow below us, and the Zona Rosa, in their most beauteous outfits, already drifting down the stone stairs.  We were joined by the grounds-keeper and his wife, who turned out to be fascinating:  as a girl, she had fled Poland to escape the Nazis, and kept journals that she wanted someday to turn into a book.  On learning that we were all writers, her face absolutely glowed, and Kathleen, who had been boning up on her French and is a quick study at everything, Connie, who still had good French from her college days, and of course, Suzan and Liz, were all able to speak the local language with her, which made her even happier.  
        It was also our very own Lynn’s fiftieth birthday.  That afternoon, we had each been asked to write the ten things we love most about Lynn, who’s long been a mainstay of our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group. Now Connie and Deborah stood at the end of the long table to read them (one of mine was how great she looks in a mini-skirt). Then Pamella, brought out the official pink Zona Rosa cake, decorated with our cerise lip-print logo on paler pink icing, and lit the candles on it for Lynn.  We all sang “Happy Birthday” as Lynn opened her gift and held up a racy French bra and panty set (“It fit just right!” she told me the next day). All the while, cameras were flashing so fast you’d think we were being set upon by paparazzi – one of the most charming photos turned out to be of Pamella and Judith wearing the tall green chef hats they’d found in the village: “They didn’t have pink!”  And as at all Zona Rosa events, everyone looks very, very happy as though they’ve been told about “the smile without stopping for 20 minutes” meditation Elizabeth Gilbert describes in her book, EAT, PRAY, LOVE.
        The next morning, it was time to reluctantly fly home from Toulouse – except for those of us who had opted to go to Paris for a few more delicious days. Kathleen and Lynn had never been there, and Lynn wanted to further celebrate her fiftieth in the City of Lights.  They stayed in a hotel on the Right Bank, while Sheila, Connie, Anne, and I stayed not far away on the Left Bank at the Cannette St. Germain, a place I’d found on Cheap Paris Hotels on the internet, and which turned out to be charming – there, I’m using that word again; but it’s hard not to in France! -- if not fancy.  And best of all, it was once again right in the middle of everything we wanted to see and do – the kinds of divine restaurants in which what looks like small servings becomes the most satisfying meal you’ve ever had, pastry shops in which the creations were little works of edible art, and the Café Margot, where we sat on the sidewalk on Boulevard St. Germain, facing outward as the natives do, and where we talked to a tall man wearing a red scarf that made him look oh-so-French, but who turned out to be from California.
        There was lots of time for girl talk, and during our last dinner at a French-Moroccan restaurant – yum! – Kathleen and I were astounded to learn that she and I had once shared – though not at the same time – a boyfriend, who we agreed, was charming (drat! that word again!) and sexy, if a scoundrel, but who each kept us each just as satisfied for a time as one of those French meals. But then, Kathleen and I had long since bonded over our taste for a certain kind of man, formed early by our charismatic, yet crazy dads. 
        Needless to say, the English-language bookstores were among our other favorite haunts -- I’m still savoring my trove of tomes, many of them published in England where publishers still apparently revere the literary, I bought at the famous Village Voice Book Store.  Some of us took off for the legendary Shakespeare and Company Books, where, as I mentioned in my previous blog, Katherine, friend and planner for our Highlands, North Carolina, Zona Rosa events, lived for a time, and was once engaged to George, its famous founder. 
        (Katherine, as I also mentioned in Letter No. 1, has created a replica of Shakespeare and Company in Highlands, complete with an apartment upstairs like the one she lived in over the bookstore in Paris; her shop and the patio outside has been the scene of readings and good times during our stays in Highlands.)
        Alas, even the best things must end, and, as usual, we all left as changed women.  But though I didn’t know it, my adventures would be continuing – at least, for a time.  When we arrived at Charles de Gaulle Airport, I got the news at the gate that my flight had already left, in fact was pulling out at that very moment, and no, they couldn’t radio and stop it, as had the Delta reps in Miami as I ran out of breath up to the gate on my trip there.  Anne and I had traveled together from Miami – she had been on the plane, waiting with bated breath as the plane taxied back in to pick me up -- I had forgotten to check whether we were on the same flight for our return.
        As I hugged and waved goodbye to the Zona Rosans, I assumed I’d be on another flight within hours, and wandered through the duty-free shops, buying my favorite Yves St. Laurent “Paris” cologne, and gifts for my husband and kids, and gave myself permission – after all, I’d missed my flight, yes? -- to eat something wicked from the fast food concession; fast food in France is unlike any that one might encounter stateside, and like everything French, a beauty to behold.
        But au contraire:  the cool Frenchman at the rebooking desk finally told that there were no other flights I could get that day. And, he said, the Delta desk upstairs closed at 3 p.m.—on the dot, I learned after I rushed from the gate, through a maze of corridors and up the escalator, tugging my carry-on. Would I have to spend the night in the airport, like Tom Hanks in Terminal?  I wandered though darkened areas, getting lost in cavernous spaces, and trying to go through doors that only opened one way – and not the way I was going! Finally, with the direction of one lone attendant, I found, like a woman crossing a desert, a bottle of Perrier.
        Suddenly, at the foot of an escalator, I found myself in an oasis -- a bustling lower level, where at last, after many requests for directions and retraced steps, I came upon the tourist desk. There another very cool Frenchman gave me a list of possible hotels for the night.  But no, he couldn’t call one for me, but instead, indicated a pay phone across the way, leaving me to use it sans the language, which meant backtracking, at his direction, to a tobacco and news shop to buy a French phone card.
        But when I at last I sat at the little hotel bar among the other stranded travelers, I remembered how much I enjoy being in a strange place alone – and how I always feel exhilarated by meeting new challenges. Indeed, maybe being stuck an extra night in Paris wasn’t that bad after all. That night I wrote a first draft of story in which a woman misses her plane, and even though she’s bought her husband gift, just doesn’t go back – how would she find an apartment, get her money from the States, and most importantly, what back story made her stay?  It wasn’t an unpleasant fantasy.       
        But there’s no getting away from thinking about Zona Rosa, wherever I am:  The next morning on the van back to the airport, I gave cards for SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA to the women passengers, who were from Canada and various parts of the US.  “I’m a doctor in Atlanta,” one said, mentioning a writer-boyfriend, a friend-of-a-friend there; and I quickly invited her to visit our Atlanta Alpha Babes group.
        As always, the time just after a journey is one of reflection, and during the coming weeks there was a flurry of stay-in-touch messages between those of us who had been in France. 
        But everyone agreed that Rhonda, who had come from Rhode Island to be with us, made the most memorable comment: “The secret of Zona Rosa is that in Zona Rosa there are no secrets!”  It’s one we’ll be quoting for years to come!
        Soon after, Pamella took the line from Connie’s poem in which a dragon symbolizes the fierceness of women, and asked Sheila, an artist who had joined us from Jackson, Tennessee, to create a design for the back of our memorial T-shirt, which Pamella then had made for us as is her custom.  Every time I put mine on, with its drawing of a brightly colored, très femme dragon taking a big bite out of a cartoon castle, with the words “Truth, Wind, Fire” (parts of France are known for its stiff breezes; in this case, “wind” means what sweeps the debris from our psyches) beneath it, I’m flooded again by delicious memories of our retreat, and the special times we had there.
        And it’s true – no matter how long we’ve known one another before a Zona Rosa retreat, we’ve soon become like sisters.  And as Pamella says of all our retreats, “We see lives change overnight.”


In October, I flew to Wyoming to take part in the “equality state’s” – so-called because it was the first state to give women the vote, and no wonder, one thinks when one meets its feisty women --first Equality State Book Festival.  Going there again was like going home:  During the past thirty years, I first read and taught all over the state as part of Poetry in the Schools program then sponsored by state art agencies and the National Endowment for the Arts. On my first visit, I’d quickly learned that Wyoming is the Real West, full of Real Men and Real Women, as well as a gorgeous, if stark, landscape.  My essay, “Magnolia Among the Mesas” is part of my book, CONFESSIONS OF A (FEMALE) CHAUVINIST (Hill Street Press, 2001; or see our web page at www.myzonarosa.com).
        A few years later, I went back to research SLEEPING WITH SOLDIERS:  IN SEARCH OF THE MACHO MAN (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984).  I drove my rental car to oil rigs and other towns, meeting cowboys (yes, they really exist), and interviewing women who worked outdoors at 40 degrees below zero, but who showed up for our meeting as femme as any women I’d met; another who left to drive from a bar in Gillette, where we were talking, to her ranch in South Dakota, at midnight: and ranch women who lived out on the ranch, snowbound with nothing but a short-wave radio, for six months of each year. To subsidize that trip, and also to follow my passion for working with disenfranchised women, I led writing workshops in the women’s prison, where the women put me on by telling how they had once castrated sheep with their teeth (a custom of the past – to quickly stop the bleeding – but not during our lifetime), and more importantly, told their wrenching stories. The prison was small, and in a remote area, as are many things in the West, and the thought that many of them would be there for a lifetime, unable to even buy a Coke without being searched as they went back into the main rooms, was painful.  So the tears and laughter that week were especially meantingful to me.
        Later, I spent happy months at Ucross, a writers’ colony near Sheridan, going to rodeos with the other visiting artists, some New York women who were stunned by the appearance of the rodeo riders, many as good-looking as movie-stars (A tip to single women who like tough guys: out West, men outnumber the women!  When my new women friends in Rock Springs took me to a bar, the men were almost begging us to dance!)  
        In 1995, I served as visiting writer at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, where I rented a tiny, walk-up apartment from my colleague and writer-friend Vicki Lindner.  There, I wrote the beginnings of my first Zona Rosa book, THE WOMAN WHO SPILLED WORDS ALL OVER HERSELF:  WRITING AND LIVING THE ZONA ROSA WAY (Faber and Faber, 1997).  Zona Rosa was just 14 years old then, and was located only in its birthplace, Savannah – now we’re almost 26 years old, and all over the place – and when I had university jobs, everyone hung together as a peer group until I could get home for the spring holidays.
        Last fall, when I arrived in Cheyenne, my host, writer-friend, writer, and artistic director for the Wyoming Arts Council met me to take me the Holiday Inn to freshen up; in contrast to public spaces in the East, the lobby was vast, and the little bar across the way, the friendly-looking people sitting there was tempting.  But Mike soon came back to take me to the Y where his wife Chris works, and where she had planned my second Zona Rosa workshop (I had led one there years before, as well as in Laramie).  When we arrived, we were greeted by a small but warm group of women.  One, who looked familiar immediately walked up to me.  “I’m Nancy,” she said; “You stayed with me when you worked in the women’s prison. . . You told my teenage son how handsome he was, and now he’s been married and divorced three times, and he told me to ask you whether you’re single or not!”
        The next day, Mike and I drove to Casper, the state capital,
where a party was given for me that night to meet local smart women by a Women’s Studies professor at the university, appropriately named Georgia.  The next day I read poetry, and then saw the prize winners for a first-book of poetry award that I had spent the months before judging read from their works. When I had e-mailed Mike with my choices after agonizing for weeks – there are that many good writers in Wyoming, a state with a population smaller than the city of Atlanta -- and even choosing the runners-ups was a challenge. I wanted to know whether any were women, since they featured such poems as “How to Drive a Dozer,” and to my delight, Mike told me that all the poets whose works I’d chosen were femmes. The prize was $3000 to each winner, amazing awards for such a competition; the State of Wyoming truly puts its money where its mouth is!
        The next day, I led a Zona Rosa workshop as part of the conference, and again, I wasn’t disappointed in the strength of the women I met there. Terry, who took me to lunch afterwards, leads wilderness hikes; her ambition, which some deemed foolhardy, is to meet a Grizzly face to face. Wyoming is chock full of strong women writers, and that afternoon, I met Page Lambert, a former ranch wife who leads wilderness and river writing workshops and who would become a literary friend – she’s since moved to Santa Fe, another favorite place.  I also met the illustrious Annie Proulx, who has made her home there since the success of her Wyoming stories – though not everyone in the state liked her take on “Brokeback Mountain.” But then people in Wyoming rarely share the same opinions. I also loved seeing old friends, such as Vicki, her artist-boyfriend, Richard, and the poet David Romvedt. 
        I was amazed when Honor, an old friend and sister writer from New York who e-mailed to say she was at Ucross and she might drive down to hear me. First, I couldn’t imagine Honor, with her elegant New York/European sensibility, even being in Wyoming.  But then the state – and of course, its people – is full of surprises (her trip was curtailed by the weather, as often happens in a place where people live who don’t drive anywhere without first calling the State Patrol).


        November meant going to an entirely different kind of environment – fortunately, I thrive on differences, or as the French say, “Vive La Difference.”  I was on my way to the Words and Music Literary Festival in New Orleans. Founded by Rosemary James and her darling husband Joe, who also head up the illustrious Faulkner Society and Faulkner House Books on Pirate’s Alley in the French Quarter, it’s undoubtedly one of the poshest and most rewarding literary festivals in the US.  The combination of literary lunches at venerable French-Quarter restaurants such as Galatoire’s and Arnaud’s, and glamorous evening events at similar venues, plus an array of outstanding members of the literary world – among the 2006 events was a panel featuring three Pulitzer Prize winners, who gave the scoop on how it happened – make it a heady event to we sister writers.         A spring event, the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, also adds cachet to the city’s long-standing, star-filled literary history that includes Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, and many others.  Once while a house guest at the charming five-story house that houses Faulkner House Books I was thrilled to learn that I was staying in the very room Faulkner had once occupied; that same evening at a cocktail party, I also went into the little apartment over Dumaine Street, kept just has it had been by our hosts, where Tennessee had once lived and wrote.  I felt as though I was living in a writer’s dream.
        Thus New Orleans is another of my “second homes” – my novel, THE HURRICANE SEASON (William Morrow, 1992) is set there, and conveniently required a lot of delicious research, as I had fallen in love with the city the first time I had seen it many years before.
        It’s also home to many good friends, such as Marda, who you met in my first Letter as well as in SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA.  This year, she again generously invited me to stay in her lipstick-red guest quarters, or The Red Palace, we call her the darling apartment off the balcony behind her Royal Street condo, which of course, meant lots of time for girl-and-literary talk – I described how well-read Marda is in SECRETS -- and everything else that’s so wonderful about New Orleans. 
        As sometimes happens when one travels a great deal, I arrived with a raging sore throat – the night before, I wondered whether I would be able to go at all.  But as usual, my spirits soared at the thought of getting on a plane – especially one that would take me to New Orleans!  At dinner at the wonderful café next door – Marda, who doesn’t cook, considers it to be almost a part of her home -- I soothed my throat with Mojitos made with fresh mint, and the next morning, at 7:45 and miraculously cured, I was at the Montelone Hotel to speak on SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA at 8 a.m. Amazingly, a crowd had already gathered, enjoying the coffee and pastries that Rosemary and Joe always make sure are there for those who come to the morning events (which begin so early, by the way, because there’s just too much to cram into four short days).  Once again, as many times in the past, my excitement about talking about SECRETS and Zona Rosa was a miracle cure, taking with it any illness or lethargy along with it.
        The rest of my visit spun by in the usual – for Words and Music, and New Orleans – whirl of fascinating friends and meals.  A high point was dinner at Galatoire’s (the subject of Marda’s book) with Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize winner should-be Michael Malone, and writer friends Marda and Lucy Ferriss. 


        November meant the fabulous Miami International Book Fair, where I had been invited to speak, as I did a few years before after the publication to the prequel of SECRETS, THE WOMAN WHO SPILLED WORDS ALL OVER HERSELF: WRITING AND LIVING THE ZONA ROSA WAY.  The Book Fair is the brainchild of bookseller Mitchell Caplan, who owns Books & Books in Coral Gables.  And it’s truly one of the greatest book fairs ever, spread out over a large outdoor and indoor site in downtown Miami. 
        This time, my husband Zane drove me down, and we checked into an almost too fancy – and very pricey – Marriott.  I didn’t even want to muss the buttery yellow bedding and towels, and Zane – unfortunately, still a smoker – had to go down eight floors in order to have a cigarette (a tip to myself:  look for the less expensive alternative lodging to the conference hotel when in a big city. The Super Eight nearer the book fair site would have done as well, or better – especially since I had my lovebug with me.  And for those of you who know me from SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA, you also know that I consider frugality, when it works as well -- that is, excluding not buying raspberries out of season or anything less than Chanel No. 5 -- is a Smart Woman’s gift to herself, as we can always use a little more money, yes?)
        As I’ve mentioned, one of the great things about writers’ festivals is getting to meet and hear writers we admire, as all of us who are writers are still star-struck, with our own personal Stars populating our own celestial literary universe. Sitting in the hospitality room provided for the authors, enjoying the refreshments set out for us, one is likely to meet authors one has wanted to meet all one’s life.  At my first Miami International Book Fair, I met Alan Garguanus, Clyde Edgerton, and Susan Orlean (The Orchid Thief had just come out, and was not yet a movie) – a heady experience, as they were all authors I admired but had never met. (On the other hand, there’s nothing more disillusioning than hearing that one of one’s “Stars” is not the person one thought they would be, as I realized when Suzan told me she was sitting beside a world-renowned literary figure at a literary festival in Ireland, only to find him excruciatingly rude.  Book Festivals are also a great time to catch up with old friends, while still at the hotel, I tried to call Joyce Maynard and John Berendt, whom I had seen on the program and with whom I’d hoped to touch base. But as sometimes happens at events this huge, they had spoken the day before, and were already gone – though John later wrote me a lovely note.
        That night Zane and I boarded a bus with other Book Fair writers, including Julia Glass, National Book Award winner for her first novel, THE THREE JUNES, whom I’d met in New Orleans, for an author party on South Beach.  When we arrived at the Raleigh Hotel, and were directed out of doors to a bar area where people were sitting at little tables and drinking, and then on to a sand-filled beach with bonfires, mattresses (for sitting), outdoor bars and snacks, I felt – as I felt before when visiting the stark and startling Delano Hotel during my previous visit, that I was in a dream.  Everything was so, so art deco, and the scent of the ocean, which I was told was just beyond, the greenery, was everywhere.  Zane fell in love, too.  “If it’s good enough for Johnny Depp, it’s good enough for me,” he said as we walked out through a dining room lined with photos of celebs who had stayed there.
        The next afternoon, I listened to a panel featuring the intellectual and estimable Francine Prose until it was time for my event. I had had assumed that my co-speaker – River Jordan – was a man.  But low and behold, she turned out to be a very funny woman novelist from Tennessee, and we hit off immediately.  We each spoke, than had a great back-and-forth dialogue that had our audience in stitches, among them my dear friend Katherine, of Shakespeare and Company Books, who has a condo where she lives during the winter months in nearby Fort Lauderdale.
        After River and I signed books, and promised to stay in touch, Zane and I took off to meet Katherine at her condo, an hour’s drive north.  When she welcomed us and showed us the guest room, I was struck by acute desire:  the bed was spread with a table-cloth size covering featuring an oversized face of Frida Kahlo, one of my favorite artists, surrounded by jungle imagery. “That’s for you,” Katherine said, as though reading my mind. A lover of garage sales, and every other kind of funky venue, Katherine constantly seeks out unusual objets and books no one else might have (rare editions of Tolstoy’s last journals are among her more treasured possessions, as well as a sources of spiritual guidance). 
        That night, Katherine served us a delicious fish meal – her homemade mayonnaise is to die for – and we sat out on her deck, two blocks from the Atlantic Ocean, feeling again that I was in one of those special moments that I would want to remember forever.  Needless to say, as the owner of a bookstore filled with esoteric titles, Katherine’s brain is also well-filled, making her, in addition to her generosity and her adventurous spirit, an enthralling conversationalist.  The next morning before we left to drive north, Katherine read Zane’s tarot cards while I did e-mail, then opened a closet where she was storing recent literary finds, telling me to take my pick.  An old biography of Georgia O’Keefe drew me, as did several other titles. I wanted to visit with Katherine and stay by the sea a little longer. But Zane’s mother was expecting us for Thanksgiving in North Carolina, and I left ecstatic, the folded Frida Kahlo in my overnight case, and biography of Georgia O’Keefe in hand.


        In North Carolina, Zane’s mom, a widow whose floors one could literally eat off, and who loves to serve her guests, pampered us. She’s also undemanding and I always feel comfortable there, able to read or write as I choose. She’s deaf and part of a large deaf community, and while Zane knows sign language, I don’t (indeed, the sexy way his lips move when he forms words so that she can read them was one of the things that made me fall in love with him). So it’s always a good time for me to so my favorite thing, which is to loll about, read, write and think while mother and son communicate.  And I still had all those wonderful books from France, plus some Zona Rosans and dear friend Connie had loaned me from her own cache.
        The day after Thanksgiving, we drove to Black Mountain to see my old friends, Alice and Lee.  Alice sponsored two Zona Rosa workshops in the beautiful house they had built themselves on the side of a mountain at the edge of a national forest. Alice is such a wit as well as fabulous writer that even her e-mails are delicious; her short stories have also been included in prestigious anthologies, one edited by Paul Auster (I wrote about her in Chapter One in SECRETS.)  Lee recently retired as a professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and also just published a study of the work of Henry James (see Stars in the Zona Rosa, the Guys, on our web page).  Now they’ve made their house into apartments in order to have friends they like live near them in what’s a near-communal arrangement.  Already much-traveled -- they have enough amusing stories to keep one laughing for hours, such as the one in which they barely escape their apartment in the midst of the student revolution in Paris in 1968, only to find themselves in another country where Alice, with only one pair of scuffed shoes with her, painted them black for a reception for royalty -- they now spend part of each year in Mexico (thus the “chica” in her e-mail greetings).  We sat out on their deck looking down the mountain into infinite green, where I’ve enjoyed so many meals with them in the past – Lee once gave me five different recipes for pasta, including pasta with collard greens, which turned out to be delicious – and talked about things literary, such as Alice’s recently completed novel, and where we might best have another Zona Rosa workshop, until the sun set.  And though different, the view here, looking out over green hills, was as beautiful as any we’d seen the past week.

        In mid-December, our first-ever Zona Rosa Pink Tie Auction took place at Pamella’s house near Dunwoody, suburb of Atlanta (“near, but not in,” she’s always quick to say, referring to her recently completed novel, THE DEVIL IN DUNWOODY).  Pamella, ever ready to offer her services, is known for her warmth and her hospitality, not to speak of her downright sexiness. The purpose of the auction was to raise money for our first Pink Tie Party, and toward that end, we had all scoured our closets, apartments or houses in order to find great – read, Zona-Rosa worthy – stuff that we ourselves no longer wanted or used, but which was still wonderful and/or perfect for our diva tastes. 
        That night, to spoof the Zona Rosans’ name for me – the Queen of Zona Rosa -- I stuck a child’s pink plastic crown from Eckerd’s atop my hair and wore with my black dress and heels – it was just the kind of drugstore kitsch I love.      
        When we arrived, we found that Pamella, Connie, and others had arranged our precious items, displaying them in all the rooms, as well providing notepads for our bids.  And of course, Pamella’s cozy kitchen – she’s also the queen of the Foods of the Goddesses, as we call whatever we eat at Zona Rosa events – was filled with goodies prepared by the Zona Rosans, as well as our favorite red wine, and any other libation any of us might want. 
        Deborah took the helm at the head of the dining room table as auctioneer, telling us how the auction would be timed and how to make our bids, and we began flying around the displays, finding wonderful things that the others no longer needed, but which we felt would be just the thing to make our lives complete – though I admit to a bit of angst when Pamella changed her shoes on the spot to put on the high black-satin sequined ankle-strap wedgies I had donated – they were so adorable I almost wanted them back!  (Later, Connie would wear them on loan from Pamella, and I would again see how darling they were – but by then they had almost become official Zona Rosa shoes – available to anyone who wore size 7 1/2!)  Zona Rosan Ellen, a dancer with a dancer’s body, looked like a beauty queen as she struck a pose in a short white fur jacket.  Others, including me, were perusing the wonderful books and pieces of art – my daughter Darcy had contributed a painting, “Zona Rosa Cat” – a pink cat, naturally! – plus several prints of her gorgeous paintings of animals.
        At the end of the evening, Deborah, money whiz and auctioneer extraordinaire, announced that we had made $1265, more than enough for our projected party, given Pamella’s ability to stretch an entertaining dollar without loss of elegance or quality.  
        Little did we know at the time that our party location – Deborah and her boyfriend Tom’s classy in-town condo – would be unavailable on our projected date, as we learned after sending out “Mark Your Calendar” notices to our entire invitation list. Soon after, she and Tom’s landlord told Deborah that the condo association limited guests to the condos to 30 at a time – which, of course, meant that the party couldn’t take place there.    
        So if you’re wondering why you haven’t yet received an invitation to the Pink Tie Party, please know that our search for the perfect in-town space, so more people in the Atlanta area and those willing to fly into Atlanta, can come – is still ongoing, also that we greatly appreciated the offers of wonderful houses outside the city that might have been a much of a drive.  If you have a space to offer, please let us know!


        Despite having promised a shorter blog this time, here I’ve done it again! In fact this one may be even longer. And aside from breaking the writing rules I mentioned up front, I’ve also used clichés in order to hasten the process – a no-no in anything we’re writing for posterity.  (As Jon Franklin writes in his book, WRITING FOR STORY, life may be a cliché, but we shouldn’t put them in our writing.)  As I always say to the Zona Rosans when I write something quickly, this gives you a chance to critique me
        I also haven’t gotten past mid-December, 2006, and there’s more -- much more -- fabulous Zona Rosa stuff to say, with many great events during winter and spring, 2007.  And because it may be another three months, or even six, before I get around to write you again, let me give you a quick flash forward, which may help you understand by “dizzy” and “heady” are currently my favorite words. 
        In January, we had fabulous Zona Rosa workshops in Austin (our second!); Phoenix, with the help of our wonderful planner there; and San Antonio, at the unique Viva Book Store and art complex, organized by vivacious bookseller Pat (all these cities now have great Sub Rosa groups, so if you live there, go under News & Events on our web page, and get in touch). 
        I also received the news from Nightwood Books, the beautiful bookstore complete with atrium and live birds I described in my first Letter, that SECRETS OF ZONA ROSA had been among their best-sellers for 2006!
        In February, at the South Carolina Writers Festival – where  again I saw so many wonderful old friends – I spoke to a standing-room only audience, and every copy of SECRETS at both on-site bookstores sold out!
        At the end of the month, the huge Associated Writers Conference, in which I take part in every year, met in Atlanta, with over 500 participants.  With the help of Vally Sharpe of United Writers Press, and soon to be the publisher for Zona Rosa Books, we had our own Zona Rosa table at the book fair – we all agreed (and many said) it was the most appealing one there! – and I read my essay on “Trashy Women,” about how I’ve always aspired to be one, on a panel that everyone said was one of the best of the whole conference.  (I also got the news that the University of Milwaukee Press will publish the essays from our panel.) 
        But best of all was that since the conference was held at the Hilton in Atlanta, a large group of us – Zona Rosans from other cities as well as Savannah and Atlanta – had a marvelous dinner, and a chance to share all our news, at Trader Vic’s downstairs!
        In honor of Zona Rosa and St. Patrick’s Day, Kathleen held a party at her fabulous house with wrap-around porches in the historic area at High Shoals, Georgia, near Athens, home of the Athens music scene, of which Kathleen was once a part.  It was a party for the memory books, with Pamella cooking again (of course!) and more food and drink than one can imagine.  We had readings from SECRETS, live music of the Athens variety, and dancing, but the hit of the evening was songs from ZONA ROSA THE MUSICAL as written by Pamella and Kathleen, and sung and played on Kathleen’s piano by the professional musicians who’d made the demo to send out along with the script!  If the response was any indication, ZONA ROSA THE MUSICAL is a sure thing!
        Next, I appeared on “Cover to Cover,” St. John Flynn’s well-known book show on Georgia Public Broadcasting,  Zona Rosan Margie was among the callers during the live broadcast, as was my old friend, the South’s answer to Julia Childs, and famous cookbook author, Nathalie Dupree.
        Telling the stories of Zona Rosans, and how they’ve overcome obstacles in their writing and lives on Public Radio has long been my dream.  So that night I took six commentaries with me in a folder, and left them for producer Susanna Capulouto.  Within weeks, Susanna e-mailed me to say that she wanted to record two of them right away.  After my next Atlanta Zona Rosa workshop, I made a quick trip to High Shoals and Athens to visit with Kathleen and to read and speak at the Athens Barnes & Noble, where I met more great women.  Because of Kathleen, Ellen, and our new friend, Donny Seagraves (you’ll hear more about her later), Athens now has a strong Zona Rosa presence.  In fact, Kathleen is already famous there for TRIAL OF A DEAD LAWYER’S WIFE, the witty, dark memoir she’s finishing in the Atlanta Alpha Babes Group. “Where can I buy it?” one of the women at Barnes & Noble asked me, after I described Kathleen’s book.  So literary agents, listen up!
        The following Monday I went back to the Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta to record.  Recording the commentaries turned out to be a new experience – Susanna coached me, telling me to “talk” the stories (I always do this while speaking to groups!) – rather than read them.  But she said that I was a quick study and that they were fine (no dates at this point on when they’ll air).  It’s good to know how it’s done, and next time, I’ll be ready!
        Next time round, I also promise to tell you about some marvelous recent experiences with the synchronicity of the universe, which helped all these wonderful things come into being.  But just writing this has been dizzying, so I’ll stop now.      Besides, it’s almost that time of year when we take off, bathing suits and champagne bottles in hand, for our annual Zona Rosa retreat at Tybee Island — a.k.a., Savannah — Beach.  Each year, Zona  Rosans, some of them new, come from all parts of the country, and our beautiful beach house is already crammed – though we could possibly make room for a few more participants; last year, we rented a second house for the overflow (see our web page for a full application form under News & Events).
        The last night of the retreat will be one of my favorite events, our standing-room-only Annual Zona Rosa Party at my house, with entertainment by the Zona Rosans (yes, some of it is X-rated!)   Last year our party was written up in the Savannah Morning News by friend-of-Zona Rosa, Rexanna Lester; it’s on the web page if you’d like to take peek.


        I also promised to tell you how I got any writing done during this time. To do this, and also continue to  meet new challenges, I reverted to my tried and true method:  morning is my prime writing time, so whatever I’m currently writing is beside me in my briefcase or on my bed at all times. That way, even in a motel, I have no excuses – indeed, I’ve often done some of my best writing in anonymous rooms like these.  Among my recent productions is an essay, “The Ring,” a treatise on marriage, mine in particular, and my belief that women, no matter what their marital status, need to maintain their personal power, their independence – and that these qualities should further develop as we age (older women are such a force, yes?!).  I wrote it on assignment for an anthology DESIRE: WOMEN WRITE ABOUT WANTING – doesn’t that title just make you want to read it!? -- edited by Lisa Solod, to be released by Seal Press this November. The collection also includes pieces by dear friends Joyce Maynard, and Erica Jong -- as well as our own Very Exceptional Zona Rosan, Connie B. Using this method, I also wrote the essay on “Trashy Women,” making corrections on it in my trademark purple ink up until moments before the panel.
        What’s atop my bedspread at this moment?  Besides my notes for this Letter, my treatment for ZONA ROSA THE SIT COM.  In addition, three-hundred-twenty-five pages of a memoir-in-progress about the mental illness in my family and how it affected me as a mother, rebel and writer, rests in my briefcase, along with the question of whether that book or MORE SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA should come next.
        And then there are my “writing ideas” notebooks, all chock full of first drafts of poems, essays, and stories, as I never, ever want to lose an idea – they are my version of riches, and the very thought gives me the chills! 
        “Use the F word – Focus” has long been one of our credos.  Recently, I created a new one, “Use the C word – Compartmentalize.”  While we don’t always want to do everything at once, sometimes it’s the only way to meet one’s goals. 
        As most of us know, the real secret of success is effort, Extending Chi (or stretching ourselves beyond what we thought possible, as reads one of our credos) – though usually it’s so much fun that we don’t think of it that way.
        Also that old adage, “First things first” is such an important one for us writers, and by thinking about my writing first thing in the morning, I can still capture and keep in touch with my ideas, and even produce good writing, no matter what else may be going on.


which are exploding in number before our very eyes!  So many Zona Rosans are now published authors – over 45 and counting – I have a hard time keeping track!   And nothing – no, nothing! – is more exciting than having a Zona Rosan come to his or her Zona Rosa group, new book in hand, as that month’s Visiting Author.  These events are cause for celebration indeed, and these days, we barely seem able to keep up with them.
        In April, Carol O’Dell first event for her just-published book, MOTHERING MOTHER, was Author-Guest in the Savannah Zona Rosa group, where we had heard it, chapter by chapter over the months while she was caregiving her terminally ill mother.  The book was already receiving acclaim, even before publication, and we were all thrilled.  She next read and signed at the Atlanta Alpha Babes group, where she had also once been a member, and we toasted her with champagne.  In addition, she gave us invaluable advice on promoting our books – Carol is nothing if not a great marketer!
        Around the same time, we got the news that Zona Rosa Emeritus Susan B. Johnson, had found publishers – via contacts she made through Zona Rosa – for not one, but two of her books, SAVANNAH’S CROOKED LITTLE HOUSES and SPIRIT WILLING, a novel that was the first book Susan wrote during her years in Zona Rosa.  At the same time, a filmmaker said he’s like to make a short film of one of her plays, which had recently been performed in Savannah.  Susan is the perfect role model for persevering while continuing to write and perfect one’s craft – as she wrote me in a note when all these good things began to break, “I waited.  And I waited.  And I waited.”  Susan, we are all so proud of you!
        And in July, Karen Dove Barr (yes, that’s her real name!) will be our author-guest with her first book, RUNNING THROUGH MENOPAUSE, a book many women are loving, will be our special Author-Guest  Karen, an attorney, knows how to find balance in her life, and running is one of the tools she loves most.
        Jody Schiesser, described in Chapter Seven of SECRETS as one of our favorite guys ever, and a long-time member of our Savannah Monday Evening Zona Rosa group (that’s the one with men in it!), is currently being written up in all the local media for THE STREET CLEANER, the film he produced along with two friends, and which recently won not just one, but three, awards in film festival!  Jody, a true renaissance man as well as work-at-home father to two boys, recently showed his exquisitely-lit photos of beautiful women at a Savannah venue; in Zona Rosa, he’s writing two novels featuring his unique take on life, as well as poems written in the same voice.
        Last week I was thrilled to receive a copy of Tom German’s first novel, THE CAUCASIAN DOVE, which we heard in the same Monday evening group.  Tom, a charming, retired doctor of orthopedics/sports medicine, and former Fullbright scholar, has taken to writing with a passion, with two other near-finished novels in hand; he comes by it naturally as his father was a cowboy balladeer and writer in South Dakota, where he grew up.  THE CAUCASIAN DOVE has a beautiful blue and red cover designed by his son Matthew German.  Cheers, Tom!
        Speaking of our successes – and we love them all, whether or not they’re in the realm of publication -- Judi Painter, who I first met when I spoke to the book club she had started near my house in Savannah two years ago – it turned out she lives a block from me, and I’d passed her house many times on my walks – and who is now an important part of our Savannah Zona Rosa group – has started a wonderful new business supporting authors, BookNAuthor.  Go to the link for her wonderful web page via our www.myzonarosa.com 
        Deborah Bailey, whose story is told in SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA, and who went through a major life transition just several years ago, has at last come upon the profession that is just right for her – as life coach to other women who want to reinvent themselves.  The field she left behind was as CEO and money manager of a business, and now she’s started her own coaching service as well as a Money Boot Camp, with the book to follow. Her first step was to place a colorful ad in Skirt!, our favorite femme publication, edited by woman-after-our-own-hearts Nikki Hardin, whose story is told in Chapter Three of SECRETS.  Watch out, Suze Orman – and to future clients: Deborah knows whereof she speaks!  Deborah’s web link, too, can be found on our web page.
        And then to get back to the Star in the Zona Rosa who might be the most exciting of all to me:  last week, my darling sister Anne, who faithfully hosts our Atlatna Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group, and who has been writing and publishing in literary publications for years – Anne is a well-known and widely published nurse-poet -- received the news that her first collection of poems (though by far not the first one she’s written!), A HISTORY OF NURSING, will be published by Kennesaw State University Press!  Anne, I love you.  And I’m so, so proud of you -- for your vision, your talent  -- yes, it runs in our family! -- and your dedication to doing it right.
        I’m sure that tomorrow, I’ll be hearing of yet another Zona Rosan who’s made her mark!
        Believe it or not, I’m finally coming to the end of what’s turned out to a novella-length Letter. I hope to see you soon at a Zona Rosa workshop or retreat (again, see our web page).
        And in the meantime, a big Zona Rosa kiss.  And bless your writing hand!

Rosemary Daniell

Rosemary Daniell, Author, Speaker, Writing & Living Coach


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