A LETTER FROM ROSEMARY : My Blog : My Third Letter
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to the Zona Rosans and Our Friends Everywhere

My Third Letter

Rosemary and Maggie - Maggie's 90th Birthday in Ireland1. WHERE I AM NOW IN MY WRITING & LIFE

(or my own response to the exorcise we do at our special workshops and retreats, a.k.a. “Pajama Parties for Grown-up Girls with Smarts”)
     Whew!  I just re-read my first and second Letters to you since SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA: HOW WRITING (AND SISTERHOOD) CAN CHANGE WOMEN’S LIVES came to life in the bookstores and on our web page in 2006, and I see why life has seemed to go by in a delicious, if dizzying, blur! 
     Indeed, two years later, I’m still on roller skates, to use a term coined by my friend and novelist Jackie Miles, almost two and a half years after the book’s birthday, traveling around the country and elsewhere, spreading the word about SECRETS and Zona Rosa. I also see that because of all this race-skating, I missed the date for yet another six month account.
          During this time, I’ve also gotten back to work on my own writing. As the cliché goes, it’s essential that I walk the walk even as I talk the talk. As for many of you, writing is my first love – the one that has held my heart since I was a small child, stoked by my mother and father’s reverence for literature.  In fact, I may be the perfect example, as those of you who have read my books know, of the great psychologist Carl Jung’s statement, “Nothing affects the lives of the children more than the unlived lives of the parents.”
     In my early 20s, a housewife with three small children, I sat in a continuing education classroom at Emory University.  A high school dropout, I had never heard of Emily Dickinson or T.S. Lewis, but as I listened to brilliant professor, short story writer, and friend-to-this-day, H.E. Francis, read from modern poetry, my life was forever changed. My heart, not to speak of my pen, was set afire by his words – and was soon further enflamed by a poetry workshop with Van K. Brock – then a grad student, later a fine poet in his own right – and by my special, if sometimes disturbing – read, sexist -- relationship with James Dickey, later a National-Book-Award winning poet as well as the author of Deliverance. (See my essay, “The Deer Who Love to Be Hunted: A Reflection on James Dickey’s Women,” in my book, CONFESSIONS OF A (FEMALE) CHAUVINIST, for more about our relationship).
     Because of my commitment to language and truth, which began with poetry and led me to prose – and finally, to founding Zona Rosa in honor of my mother, Melissa, who committed suicide without fully realizing her own potential as a writer and a woman (again, because of the sexism – her own – that told her she didn’t have the right to be), I am at my happiest when I’m in the trenches – “extending chi,” as we call it in Zona Rosa – pushing my limits as I explore new – and sometimes scary -- territory in my writing. And along the way, encouraging the Zona Rosans to do the same.
     Indeed, as the great French writer Andre Gide advised: “What another would have done as well, do not do it.  What another would have said as well or written as well, do not say or write it.  Be faithful to that which exists nowhere but in yourself.”
     And this is what I recommend to every woman (and man) in Zona Rosa, whether she is journaling, writing poetry, exploring nonfiction, or shaping a novel. It is our uniqueness of vision and of experience, plus our devotion to craft, that sets our work apart. And while it may take courage to go there, it’s worth the journey!

2. WALKING THROUGH CLOUDS

As everyone in Zona Rosa knows, I believe that journal keeping is our best means of excavation, of researching our deepest selves – with the recording of our dreams as possibly the best writing practice ever. Indeed, this is the way I begin each morning, before anything else. Our dreams are a channel straight to our unconscious minds, where all the good stuff lives and where you will learn, if you pay attention, exactly what you must write next. Our dreams also often give us hints of what is to come, of what we are meant to do and who we’re meant to be.
     In her book, STEERING BY STARLIGHT, life coach Martha Beck writes of dreaming of the animals of Africa years before she actually goes there; indeed, at the time of her dreams, she didn’t even know the animals were African. Yet years later, her relationship with these animals, especially with an elephant named Elvis, became a special part of her life. 
     As the motivational author and speaker James Arthur Ray writes in HARMONIC WEALTH, “Your willpower will never be stronger than your unconscious mind.” Thus our task (and our pleasure) is to dip into that marvelous resource as often and as deeply as possible. 
     Add to that the inspiration given us by others, and our lives can become highly charged indeed. In CHANGE YOUR LIFE OR DIE: THE THREE KEYS TO CHANGE IN WORK AND LIFE, Alan Deutschman says that the way to become the kind of person we want to become and to do the kinds of things we want to do, is not by will power, but by being around others who model that  – something we do all the time in Zona Rosa!
     But as we all know, most of us lead double, or even triple lives, with jobs and caregiving others upping the ante, just as our real selves are crying out for attention. One of my primary goals in Zona Rosa is to help women tap into their deepest feelings and to believe in their own talents enough to choose to go back to nurturing themselves, or, as we say in Zona Rosa, “Use the F word – Focus.”  (And, when necessary, to use that other handy Zona Rosa credo, “Conjure the C word – Compartmentalize”).
     And I am no exception: since 2006 when SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA came out, my life has changed radically in many exciting ways, many of which I described to you in my first and second Letters.
     At the same time, I’ve felt a burning need to work longer hours on my own writing in order to remain who I truly am -- a writer and thinker first (fortunately, this is a goal my sisters in Zona Rosa lovingly support).  But because I love coaching and traveling so much, the person I must battle most in order to do so is myself. 
     I’m one of those people who – contrary to those who hate air travel -- loves the airport; just walking into one excites me!  When I arrived back in Savannah, where I live, after our divine Zona Rosa retreat in Ireland, I wished as I strode toward baggage that I was leaving right then on another trip!
     Yet in truth, leading a double life as I do – on the one hand writing, and the other following my passion for all things Zona Rosan -- and we haven’t even mentioned responsibilities to family yet! -- is a challenge.
     As writing and living coach Joan Anderson – I think of her as the New England moi – writes in her book THE SECOND JOURNEY, a time came when, despite how much she loved traveling and meeting with other women, she heard the universe telling her, in the guise of her husband, good friends and even doctors, to stop.
     I too faced such a challenge when, not long after our Zona Rosa retreat in France in 2007, I found myself in a doctor’s office being tested for all kinds of conditions, including a brain tumor – which the Goddess had already told me I didn’t have – and finally being treated for Meniere’s Disease, an inner ear condition that can cause vertigo. Indeed, my own Meniere’s was so extreme that at times I could do nothing but lie flat on the bed, waiting – sometimes for hours – for the room to stop spinning.  Then I would get up, pack and leave for the airport once again.
     I have long prided myself on being one of those women to whom others said, “I don’t know how you do it.” After SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA came out I often found myself responding to e-mail as much as eight hours a day when I was at home. But now it was time to reassess.
     And what did my body tell me when I asked – as I always do at such defection – what it was telling me?  A voice loud and clear replied, “You don’t want to do all this stuff -- you want to lie in bed and read books!” I knew that “read books” were also my code words for writing, as to me, the two are interchangeable – one stimulates my thinking, the other is the action that follows.
     It was during the next months that I learned, as Marianne Williamson charmingly put it, to “walk through clouds,” my days once again becoming easy and manageable, and at the same time prioritizing in order to take care of everything (and everyone) that needed taking care of. More about that, and the means I used to achieve that goal in my next Zona Rosa book, and perhaps on this web page.
     Happily, during the past year and half, I’ve written and rewritten – with feedback from marvelous friends in the TV and film business – my treatment for ZONA ROSA THE TELEVISION SERIES.  I’ve also gone back to work on MY ANARCHIST’S HEART (tentative title), the memoir about my struggles with the addiction and mental illness in my family I set aside to write SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA.  Along with Alpha Babe Zona Rosan Connie Baechler, I contributed a life-changing essay to DESIRE: WOMEN WRITE ABOUT WANTING.  With Connie’s help, I reorganized my completed poetry collection, THE MURDEROUS SKY (a companion book to MY ANARCHIST’S HEART), and I have written many new poems as well a couple of essays telling the stories of marvelous Zona Rosans for Georgia Public Broadcasting, with more in the works. As always, my writing notebooks are chock full of enough ideas to keep me busy for a lifetime (one of the perks, in my view, of being a writer – one need never be bored!) And with the help of author friends who agreed to write reference letters for me, I also applied for the first time for a Guggenheim fellowship. In addition, facilitated by what I learned about myself while writing, I’ve made many positive personal changes, including encouraging family members to take more responsibility for themselves.
     That said, this letter – as you already see – will be another long catch-up post (broken up into parts for easier reading).  But after that, I promise shorter messages – every three to six months, or even more frequently, to keep you au courant of what’s happening in Zona Rosa and our further successes. (We’ll leave the first two Letters up to be perused whenever you’d like.)

3. OUR CHAMPAGNE KEEPS BUBBLING!

In my second Letter in 2007, I left you after describing the upcoming good times – good writing, Foods of the Goddesses and champagne corks popping -- we were about to enjoy at our annual Zona Rosa Retreat on Tybee Island, near Savannah, as well as our the annual Zona Rosa party at my house in Savannah on the last night of the retreat.  That year, Atlanta Alpha Babe Pamella Smith generously helped with the planning.    And as I predicted, new people came from all over the place to join us – the oh, so talented and multi-published Martha Baker from St. Louis, Jane Monachelli from Phoenix – Jane authored the inventive and highly useful 50 WAYS TO LOVE YOUR MOTHER, her delightful cousin Nancy McCorkle (who quickly became a member of our Savannah Zona Rosa group) and others from both the Atlanta Alpha Babes and Savannah Zona Rosa groups.  The party on the last night, in which the Zona Rosans join in to entertain our highly diverse guests, was even more laughter-filled, if possible than in past years; indeed, the event is becoming famous in Savannah circles. And while some of the riffs the Zona Rosans presented were too wild, even x-rated, to cite here, take my word for it when I say they were hilarious!
     When we got the news in June that Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosan Donny Seagraves had had her Young Adult novel, soon to be titled GONE IN THESE WOODS, accepted by Random House, we were all in a tizzy – and THEN, on top of that, in July, at the illustrious Harriet Austin Writer’s Conference at the University of Georgia in Athens, TWO of the five winning authors – Audrey Lowe and Lynne Wilcox, were from our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group.  As a result, New South Press in Birmingham asked to see Audrey’s second book, CABBAGE TOWN, where it’s still under consideration.  Obviously, we were doing something right! 
     Soon my head was spinning again with my travels. During the past year and a half, in addition to our regular Zona Rosa workshops in Atlanta and Savannah, I’ve led workshops in Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and, as I do every August, at the Writers Colony in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.  I also met with superb Zona Rosan Ryder Finnegan and her friends to start up the Fayetteville, Arkansas, Sub Rosa group, visiting the women in Ryder’s lovely Fayetteville home. Ryder also made two huge official Zona Rosa cakes from the recipe in the back of SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA, which we all scarfed down. (Try it – it’s irresistible!)
      The original Sub Rosa group, before SECRETS even came out, was a Sort-of Zona Group group in New Orleans, where I’d led several workshops and have wonderful writing friends.  I’m happy to say there are now active Sub Rosa groups in Eureka Springs and Fayetteville, Arkansas, San Antonio, Austin, St. Louis and Chicago; semi-active groups in San Francisco, Los Angeles; and an online group out of New Orleans – as well as some I probably don’t even know about. 
     Hey – if you’re out there and you’ve started a group, please let us know at info@myzonarosa.com, so we can add you to our web page!  And also check our web page for contact info on the groups above.

4. LEARNING FROM WISE WOMEN

Next, I traveled to writers’ conferences in Nashville, Amelia Island and St. Petersburg, Florida, where I spoke to large groups and saw old author friends and made new ones. Among the friends were Moira Crone of New Orleans (more about Moira below) and New Yorker Louise Bernikow, whom I hadn’t seen in many years, and who has written two tender, funny memoirs, BARK IF YOU LOVE ME and DREAMING IN LIBRO, about her relationship with the stray dog who picked her up in Central Park and changed her life. Among the new friends was best-selling novelist Clair Cook; her book, MUST LOVE DOGS, was made into a movie with Diane Lane and John Cusak; and Betsy Carter, author of an engaging novel, SWIM TO ME, about a girl who becomes a mermaid, and who was once my editor at New York Woman, to which I contributed pieces and who is now contributing editor to O magazine – as well as an outstanding memoirist and novelist.
     In November, Friend-of-Zona Rosa Leslie Gordon, Director of the Rialto Center for the Arts at Gerogia State University, was the power behind our appearance at the famous, historic Rialto Theater in Atlanta, the home of Savannahian Johnny Mercer’s papers. The event was announced by my name on the huge marquee out front -- a high, since this was a theater where I saw movies as a child -- and included songs from ZONA ROSA THE MUSICAL as performed by Kathleen McGuire. and Pamella Smith (who wrote the book for the musical) and readings by other Zona Rosans. I also spoke on how great you all are!
     Then I flew to New Orleans to lead a fourth Zona Rosa workshop in the city at novelist Adrienne Parks’ beautiful house in the Garden District. (In a tribute to New Orleans, Adrienne and her filmmaker husband Bill Bowman moved to the city from New Jersey only months after Katrina – a move that has made them very happy indeed!) Despite a broken ankle – this, in a three-story house! – Adrienne and her hubby gamely set everything up and planned the delicious lunch we enjoyed midway through the workshop.
     It was wonderful to see old friends and sister Zona Rosans Martha Ward, Kay Murphy, Martha McFerren, Margo Pleasant and Marda Burton at the workshop – and to hear what was going on in their lives. Two years before, at our beach retreat, and only months before Katrina, we read from Margo’s historic novel about a flood that covers the area, and how it changes a young woman’s life. After the storm, we all marveled at the presentiment of her story.  Indeed, several of the participants had been extremely affected by Katrina, losing everything from houses to, like Kay, thousands of books, plus treasured family furnishings. Some of them, like Martha Ward, who found a new love and married again after years of single life, appeared to have been freed, becoming more themselves after these losses. Next, we discussed our writing and living goals, and did a writing exorcise or two to help us define these goals, and how we might deal with any obstacles that might come up in our path, often coming up with solutions then and there; then we listened as the participants read from work in progress. As usual, as the workshop concluded, I felt energized by their talent, their exuberance – and again, by their courage.
     During the afternoon, I received a clear message from the Goddess that newcomer Marcia Wall, a stand-up comic and go-getter, needed a regular column in which to express herself. A month later she wrote me that the column was in the works!
     Indeed, the spirit that pervades New Orleans today is that of courage and new life.  I stayed over the following weekend for the the Words & Music Festival in New Orleans, A Literary Feast in New Orleans (see my previous words of praise for the conference, which may be just about one of the best – and again, the poshest – in the country), which, as always, was a marvelous, enriching experience.
     There I met New Orleans native Gordon Walmsley, who now lives in Denmark. Gordon and I became fast friends via poetry – indeed, we would end up reading poems together to an enthusiastic crowd in the noisy Last Kingdom Bar at the International Literary Festival in Listowel, Ireland in May, 2008, where I traveled after our divine Zona Rosa retreat in Killarney.

5. AND MORE STARS IN THE ZONA ROSA!

     That fall, Alegria Hibbets – not yet a published author, but she will be! – traveled from Austin to be with our Savannah Zona Rosa group.  Alegria, an Argentinean, demonstrated how to “Garbo,” or dramatize oneself in a way taken from Latin dances – jutting breasts and jaw forward in a sexy pose. As she read from her memoir, with its delicate yet earthy magical realism, we were all left breathless and wanting more.
     Our Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group in Atlanta has long been a popular book tour stop for authors, and during 2007, we were fortunate in having a number of superb authors with us as our special guests (since Atlanta is a major book tour destination, it’s sometimes easier to nab them for that location.) The Margaret Mitchell House, a venue I also recommend to my author friends with new books, often also cooperates with us in having them at that venue the night before our meeting, so that they can get double exposure while in town. 
     My old friend Crescent Dragonwagon, the vibrant, well-known cookbook author, came with her newest, THE CORNBREAD GOSPELS (Chilaquiles Zona Rosa, in honor of our group, is one of the recipes in her previous book, PASSIONATE VEGETARIAN). I wanted to ask her how she keeps her great figure -- or silhouette, as it’s called in France – when she’s sampled so many great cornbread recipes!
     Another good friend from New Orleans, Jason Berry, a.k.a., the reigning expert in the U.S. on all things New Orleans-ian as well as pedophilia in the Catholic Church – you may have seen him on CNN or read his books on the subject, came with his satirical political novel, THE LAST OF THE RED HOT POPPAS. That evening, Connie and Kathleen McGuire sang a song they’d composed at our Zona Rosa retreat in France, and Jason – usually a pretty serious guy – broke up in chuckles.
     Moira Crone, also of New Orleans, and a five-time winner in Best Short Stories in America, inspired us all with the depth and quality of her work, as she read from her fine new short story collection WHAT GETS INTO US.  After meeting the Zona Rosans and realizing how exceptional they are, she offered to also visit to our Savannah Zona Rosa group, a trip she plans to make during the coming year.
     In December, 2007, as our final treat for the year, Jennifer Niven, Emmy-winner and novelist, visited our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group to read from her delightful novel in progress, VELVA JEAN LEARNS TO DRIVE. Jennifer brought with her copies of both of her award-winning published books, THE ICE MASTER and ADA BLACKJACK, which we snatched up.  For readers who love to read well-researched nonfiction adventure and history, these accounts are a must! Jennifer told us that she takes time out twice during her writing day to do the yoga that keeps her centered.  Also, proving that brains and beauty often come in the same package -- as we do over and over in Zona Rosa -- Jennifer was named one of the most beautiful women in Atlanta by Jezebel magazine. And she is also tres generous, giving me invaluable feedback on my treatment for ZONA ROSA THE TELEVISION SERIES. “It’s definitely a series I’d watch!” she said, making me even more certain that the series may be a winner among women like us.
     Jennifer, whom I had been dying to meet for ages, came to the group with her friend, Krista Wilson, whom I met at the Words & Music Festival in New Orleans, where she was a runner-up in the conference’s prestigious novel competition. She now lives in Marietta, a suburb of Atlanta, as does Krista, and we hope to being seeing a lot more of them.
     Award-winning poet and prose writer Emily Lupita Plum, who I also met at Words & Music, where she had won a big award, also quickly became part of our group. Thank you, Words & Music for sending us these wonderful women and writers!
     In the meantime, my darling sister and our Atlanta hostess, Anne Webster, was busy readying her manuscript for her collection of cutting-edge poems, A HISTORY OF NURING, for Kennesaw State University Press, with whom she had signed a contract. Pamella Smith published her charming allegory, THE POND, with Lulu.com, where it’s still available – take a look; it’s lovely. The effervescent Bess Chappas published KIKI AND THE RED SHOES, a beautiful children’s story based on her immigration from Greece as a child; Bess, of our Savannah Zona Rosa group, is also a story teller and columnist for Coastal Senior in Savannah, and Bess was their cover girl when her book came out.
     Also in December, 2007, Kathleen McGuire., Anne Lovett. and Pamella Smith, of our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group, went to a “pitch” conference – to better learn how to pitch their manuscripts -- in New York, and two top-notch agents asked to see both Kathleen’s and Anne L.’s book manuscripts.  Kathleen’s book, which we’ve all been following avidly, is TRIALS OF A DEAD LAWYER’S WIFE; Anne L.’s book is a great, edge-of-your chair mainstream read, LIBERTY OF DEATH – though this is only one of Anne’s many novels in progress. I’m sure some editor will soon discover her cache, and Anne will become one of those authors who publish a book a year!
     Kathleen also had her very first publication when Athens magazine published her account of Christmas with her quirky family in historic High Shoals, Georgia – near Athens, where she once played bass and sang with a band as part of the famous Athens music scene.  Also -- Alpha Babe Zona Rosan (and wonderful, sensitive writer herself) Lynn Whitten suggested she submit an excerpt from her book; Kathleen, much to all our delights, received an honorable mention in the Hunger Mountain creative nonfiction competition for her story, “Wrecked,” about her father Tad (also the subject of her new memoir in progress). Unknown to us, our dear friend Sue William Silverman judged the blind competition, which made Kathleen’s success all the sweeter.
     Lynn W., who suggested Kathleen send her manuscript, had stayed in touch with Sue since her inspiring visit to our group as guest author, and during the summer, went to a workshop Sue led at Vermont College, where they’d renewed their friendship.  Lynn, an attorney, is now considering pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at the same school. (My dream:  for Lynn to enter her own manuscript in the competition!) 
     Others of the Alpha Babes achieved in other realms.  After making a major life change, facilitated by writing – the dynamic Deborah Bailey describes this in her own words in Chapter Eight of SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA – she is now finding great – and immediate -- success in doing what she was born to do:  teaching others how to change their lives through her coaching business.  It’s obviously what Deborah was meant to do!  Her Money Boot Camp and Dream Boards workshops have been sold-out events from the beginning!
     Following in her path, though in her own gentle, sensitive way, Debee Dimenichi, is both following her dream of helping others through her own coaching practice, as well as writing about her beloved bees.  Debee is a beekeeper who writes beautifully of the spiritual aspect of her avocation, calling on St. Rita, patron saint of bees, as her model, even unto traveling to Italy – Debee also has a gorgeous Italian husband, as I’ve mentioned before -- to further research her spiritual roots and her passion.  I’m looking forward to the book that will emerge from this beautiful metaphor.
     And in December, 2007, we had one of our more glorious days ever at the Savannah Zona Rosa group, when Lisa Solod Warren, Katherine Oxnard, and Connie Baechler all came to read along with me from DESIRE:  WOMEN WRITE ABOUT WANTING, the new and fabulous anthology Lisa edited for Seal Press in California, and in which the four of us have essays.    It’s a book all women will love, as it addresses desire of all kinds – see our web page --- and it was exciting to read to the standing-room-only crowd, and to have our visitors meet the Savannah Zona Rosans, whom they loved.
     It wasn’t my and Connie’s first reading from the book: in November, she and I read from and signed the hot-off-the press anthology to another large and receptive crowd at the women-owned Alvida Gallery in Savannah.

6. AND MORE OF THE INCREDIBLE SYNCHRONICITY OF THE UNIVERSE!

After a brief respite during the holidays, I spoke to a large crowd in February at the first Savannah Book Festival, and at the parties in some of Savannah’s most beautiful homes – and that’s saying a lot, since Savannah is known for its exquisite historic houses – I had the pleasure of seeing old friends and writers such as Terry Kay, Cassandra King, Paul Hemphill, Michael Malone and Julia Reed, and also of making new writer friends. 
     Then, I flew to San Francisco to speak at the San Francisco Writers conference. I had long dreamed of expanding Zona Rosa to the West Coast, and this dream came true via our own Atlanta Alpha Babe Zona Rosan Kathleen McGuire. One morning as I perused the internet, coming on the conference, I thought of how I’d love to participate – but whom could I contact? Later that very morning, I called Kathleen.  As I sat on my front porch in Savannah and chatted with her, she commented that she’d just sent her query for her book TRIALS OF A DEAD LAWYER’S WIFE to Elizabeth Pomada, a literary agent based in San Francisco, and Elizabeth had responded by writing back to ask for my contact info – it turned out that she was already trying to contact me to invite me to speak at the conference, which she and her husband Mike Larson, founded. (I had met Elizabeth long, long before, when I read from my book FATAL FLOWERS: ON SIN, SEX AND SUICIDE IN THE DEEP SOUTH at an American Booksellers Convention, but I never dreamed that she would remember me.)
     Needless to say I was thrilled: I spent delicious time in San Francisco, at the Mark Hopkins hotel, where I was greeted by peripatetic Atlanta Alpha Babe Zona Rosan Connie Baechler.  Like me, Connie adores travel above all else; pretty in green, she was there to greet me at the hotel as I stepped out of my taxi. At the last luncheon on the conference, Connie charmed L.A. agent Paul Levine; Paul, enthusiastic about her work, now has Connie’s delectable novel, HALLEY’S CONFIDENCE, out at several top houses in New York. Lisbeth Thom, of our Savannah Zona Rosa group, was also with us, and during “Speed Dating for Writers,” an event in the each writer has the opportunity to meet many agents and editors at once, Lisbeth had several enthusiastic bites on her tender TESSA, her second novel- in-progress.
     For the rest of the week, I visited Foxy Librarian – her truly accurate blog tag -- Charlotte Sanders, whom I first met at our Zona Rosa beach retreat two years before. She had recently made the plunge to become a mom; in a photo taken while she and her partner, Elizabeth, vacationed in Hawaii,  the newly pregnant Charlotte was radiant! Thus, when I arrived a few months later at she and Elizabeth’s Russian Hill condo, she was in the full flush of pregnancy, and looked beautiful. During the week, I spoke on Zona Rosa at the Main Library, an event Charlotte, V.I.P. at the library, made possible. (Later, in June, we would receive photos of handsome little Edmund.)
     The trip was also the catalyst for our first Zona Rosa workshop in Los Angeles, where I traveled next. Our workshop was planned by the dynamic financial advisor, or “Money Whisperer” – Pegi Burdick (look up her web page!) who had contacted me out of the blue – more synchronicity! – after reading SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA
     That day, I had the privilege of meeting and working with an incredibly dynamic group of women.  Among them were Diane Reichenberger, head of publicity for fashion powerhouses, the Olsen Twins; Lucy Hu, a medical doctor; poet and playwright Shyne, who would later plan our first San Francisco Zona Rosa workshop; as well as Pat Gosch – from Savannah! – and her darling daughter Shannon.    
     When Pat invited me to visit her production studio, I got to see first-hand how she and her husband Rob make films, including many featuring Jamie Lee Curtis, who’s a big fan of the way they do things. Pat and her assistant Barbara Peeters, once a director for Cagney and Lacy, Falconcrest, and other major TV shows, gave me great feedback on enhancing my treatment for Zona Rosa the Television Series. Then we had a great dinner nearby while Pat regaled me with the story of her girlhood friendship with Savannah resident Stratton Leopold, producer of movies from The Mosquito Coast to Mission Impossible III, and once a VP at Paramount who now owns a famous Savannah ice cream shop complete with movie memorabilia.
     Later that wonderful week, I lunched with old friend, novelist and screenwriter Karen Essex. Karen’s delicious new (and fourth ) historic novel, STEALING ATHENA, was about to come out.A great beauty – she was a fashion model in Paris during her early 20s – Karen and I met through our darling mutual friend, and my early protégée, Bruce Feiler, for a while almost a permanent resident on the New York Times best-seller list.
     I also had dinner with old, old friend from Atlanta, Grace Zabriskie.  Grace, who plays Morman patriarch Roman’s wife in Big Love, has had huge success in Hollywood since she left Atlanta years ago, playing unique roles in everything from The Big Easy to all the David Lynch films. While I was in L.A., the writers’ strike was still in progress, and Grace, a fabulous woman who always knows how to take good care of herself, said she was probably the only actor in Hollywood who wasn’t worried about having a job; indeed, she was savoring the time off by working on her poetry and her exquisite wood sculptures. When we went upstairs to her room, I was stunned by the array of books being read and stacked to read next, and how her bedroom reminded me of mine.

 7. NEW ORLEANS AGAIN!

There’s no way I can get too much of the Big Easy, and my next trip in March was to lead a Master Class on SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA for the Tennessee Williams Literary Conference, one of the other great literary festivals in the U.S. – this one organized around the works of the great playwright who hung out in the French Quarter and who old friend Kenneth Holditch – a.k.a., “Mr. French Quarter,” knew before Tennessee’s death. The crowd for my Master Class was huge – among those in the audience were actress Stephanie Zimbalist and playwright, actress and daughter of actor Barry Sullivan, Jenny Sullivan. I had fun talking with the long line of people bought copies of SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA, including Jenny, who later agreed to read the script for both ZONA ROSA THE MUSICAL and ZONA ROSA THE SIT COM.  Later, I learned that SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA was one of the best-selling books at the festival, and that they could have sold more had they been able to get them on time through the distributor.

8. AND ON TO IRELAND, GREEN & GLORIOUS!

In May, Bess, Connie, Heather (whom I’d met at our Chicago Zona Rosa workshop), Kathleen M., Pat N., Maggie and her devoted husband Charles and I flew to flew to Killarney where we put up in a small posh hotel, as arranged by our planner extraordinaire, Suzan Stone, now of Aix-en-Provence, and before she fulfilled her life-long dream of moving to the South of France, was a member of our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group, as well an international travel agent who has all the skills to make everything perfect for us, wherever we gather in the world!  In our van as we were chauffeured from the Cork airport, we marveled at the green, green, green, and when we finally arrived in the charming town of Killarney, our hotel, too, was filled with a glorious green – “I know you love pink, but you really should wear this color,” Kathleen told me. Green papered the sitting room where we were to meet each day, being served tea, wine, freshly made open faced sandwiches and cakes (on one big day, the staff made their version of our official Zona Rosa cake, “My Third Brother’s Third Wife’s Strawberry Cream Cake,” for our darling Maggie’s 90th – yes, 90th! – birthday, decorating it in a truly Irish way.
     The week was a blur of good writing and stunning insights. Bess realized for the first time that yes, she could rent out her other condo, left to her after her mother’s death, and move back to her native Greece for six months! Kathleen, whose very face – beautiful bone structure with a peaches and cream complexion -- reveals her Irish heritage, was as at home as though she had been there forever. Heather shared her hopes and fears about her upcoming Peace Corp gig in Africa, a commitment she made just before she falling love with a special guy who would remain behind in the US to wait for her. All in all it was a divine week, with long walks, good food, Irish whiskey and Guinness, pubs full of the darling Irish, Bailey’s Irish Cream and the chocolates of the same name: “No, love, I don’t think it will hurt you to be addicted to them,” said the very Irish gentlemen from who I bought two boxes to take home with me.
     At the end of a delicious week, and after our goodbyes, I remained in the hotel, pampered in my -- yes, green – suite before taking the bus the next day – an adventure! – for Listowel, Ireland, where I would attend an International Writers’ Festival. Let abruptly off the bus with all my luggage, I asked two elderly men how to get a taxi. They directed me to a kind of Irish 7-Eleven, where a friendly woman selling huge loaves of bread to a rustic workman (unwrapped – he held them in his arms like twin babies) called a taxi for me.
     After what seemed like a long drive into the countryside, my friendly driver deposited me at a B & B in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. There I met my friendly host, then, after a nap in my charming room, I asked to be dropped off in Ballybunion, a small town by the sea described to me by my brother-in-law Larry (a golfer and world traveler, he had been there many times, indeed, he calls Ireland his favorite place).
     There I experienced one of my more magical moments in Ireland: as I stood beside ancient ruins on a cliff above the sea, I looked down at horseback riders galloping joyously through the surf. Then, after a walk around the tiny town, I went into an inn where I sipped Irish whiskey, savored a perfect meal, and reflected once more on how our most perfect moments are often when we are alone, and free to fully experience them.
     And yes, the friendly proprietors would arrange a taxi for me my return, that “Bobby” would come for me  – I was beginning to realize that everyone here knew everyone else, and that the word “friendly,” however often I might use it, would never be overused!
     The next day my host drove me back to Listowel, ten miles away, where I registered for the conference at the darling Listowel Arms Hotel, and where I immediately felt at home among the, yes, friendly people, all excited about literature and about being there. And in magical moment # 2, as I sat at the hotel bar, broiled salmon and a glass of wine, my friend, the poet Gordon Walmsley, walked up, surprising me, despite that we had planned to meet. Gordon, originally from New Orleans, lives in Denmark, and being there with him made it all the more special, both because we’re so simpatico and because of our love of all things related to poetry and truth.
     The rest of the weekend was like a dream, with reading after reading by Irish and British writers who knocked us out with their literary skills, their imaginations and their truth-telling.  In what might surprise you, these authors across the pond are less shockable by far than we Americans, who still bear the imprint of our puritanical ancestors, no matter racy our culture seems at moments.  Over the weekend, Gordon, whose poems are published by an Irish press, Salmon Publishing (his dynamic editor Jessie Lendennie is from Arkansas, and has lived in Ireland since the Viet Nam war, when, she said, she “just couldn’t live in America anymore”), and I talked with many Irish writers and I found myself making charming new literary friends.
     Magical moments are most often there for us when we’re open to them, acknowledging them as the gifts that they are. A last magical moment occurred when Gordon and I shared a crème de la crème evening, reading our poems to an excited and enthusiastic crowd at the Last Kingdom Bar, a moment expressed in a poem I wrote later, sitting on my front porch in Savannah while reflecting on those moments:

THE LAST KINGDOM BAR

Listowel, for Gordon

“If I stepped out of my body, I would burst into blossom.” – James Wright

is the place we find
after walking arm in arm
beside flat-faced houses --
this small town in Ireland
has become   for this moment
the center of my universe.
And the Last Kingdom Bar
its name connoting doom
is anything but   instead is 
filled with dimpled faces  --
people who shove forward  
drinks in hand to hear
our poems.  If it’s true
that we’re defined by what
we do without question
then I was destined    still
a sparkle in my American
mother’s eyes   to stand here
among these strangers   read
these words  in this place
I’ve only seen in dreams.
And if time is multilinear  
a sweet Mobius strip
please   let it pause here
between Ballybunion  
(horses galloping beside
the sea)  & Dublin  (the night
bright with the young).
Between tonight &
the rest of our lives --
between now & our deaths.  

© Rosemary Daniell 2008

9. AND AGAIN, BY THE SEA, THE BEAUTIFUL SEA!

In June, we gathered once again at a beautiful beach house, as we had for seven previous years, for our annual week-long Zona Rosa retreat at Tybee Island, near Savannah. This year our group included my sister Anne, Anne L., Connie and Ricci, all of our Atlanta Alpha Babes group; Carol N., Bozena and Olivia, of our Savannah Zona Rosa groups, and newcomers Anne S., who lives on a boat near Charleston, Saralee, of Rhode Island, Nancy, of St. Louis, Kathleen L., or “K.O.”, of Atlanta, and Theresa Rose, who had come all the way from Argentina to be with us!
     And as usual, the magic was upon us almost from the moment of our arrival – the fun of women bringing in their luggage, finding their spaces, and introducing themselves to one another, followed by our usual get acquainted celebration, with pizzas, wine and good talk about what we will do during the coming week. My assistant Kimberly also soon arrived with goody bags for everyone, including the latest issue of The South magazine in which I was featured (to see the complete article, along with the great photos from my past, see the link on our web page, myzonarosa.com).
     The most exciting part of any Zona Rosa retreat is opening the doors into the hearts and minds of the women there – hearing their stories and learning what motivates them, as well as what their hopes and dreams are, and this was destined to be a very special week indeed. Theresa thrilled us with her account of the risk she took in moving to Argentina with her new lover (now her husband) who had grown up there. While Noel, a sculptor, a massage therapist and healer, Olivia, a talented singer and poet, and Bozena, a professor who had immigrated from Poland, had all been in our Savannah Zona Rosa group for a while, they wrote about parts of their lives they had never shared before (which is why I’m not sharing them here – the Secrets of the Rosa, originally from the Knights Templar, means “What’s said here, stays here, and for more sensitive matters, that’s our credo).   
     Connie, who always writes beautifully wherever she is, wrote about a poem about a whale that knocked us all out (writing about other species, I observed, is becoming a major theme for her). K.O. wrote about being born with a teratoma – a (literal) hidden twin – within her body, and what that had meant in her life, and her vibrant life now amid kids and friends. Anne S. wrote about how it feels to live on a boat – her passion – and Nancy wrote about what was stopping her from seeking a publisher for the finished novel, as more than one reader has insisted she should do -- it’s that good: was it her dead mother reaching up from the grave? Late in the week, she telephoned her brother in Guam, a Catholic priest and a psychotherapist, to ask his permission to write honestly about their childhoods, and she came back into the room, glowing, to say that she’d received his blessing to write honestly about their mutual past.
     Ricci has been part of our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group for several years; I keep a bar of her handmade soap beside my bed, just for its sinfully delicious scent! She’s also creating other herbal products, speaking at herbal conferences, and embarking on her own coaching practice, and selling her paintings in Atlanta galleries – this, after beginning to paint only three years ago (the title of the first painting she sold was Zona Rosa Emerging!)
     Yet at the beach retreat she amazed us with her accounts of other kinds of experiences: while still part of a brutal corporate world, and before becoming a full-time herbalist – a passion she inherited from her female forbearers -- painter and philanthropist, she regularly went to a desert near Phoenix for vision quests lasting several days, where she meditated while going without food and water. It was partly this, she believes, that enabled her to follow her heart and leave the business world. “This will be a book every woman should read,” exclaimed Saralee, whom we had all learned by now was a healer with extraordinary sensitivity and insights.
     On Wednesday, my dear friend Karen Essex, of Los Angeles, made a special detour from her book tour to Savannah and the beach to read to us from for her new and delicious historical novel, STEALING ATHENA. The book is about two strong women of different eras “I always write about strong women,” she said during her elegant reading, making her work even more intriguing to us.
     Then there was the food, and this was truly Food of the Goddesses: Kathleen, or K.O., it turned out, loved, loved, loved to cook and feed a crowd. On Thursday evening – by then we were so bonded, we couldn’t imagine spending a day apart – K.O. prepared a gourmet meal – and brought in a beautiful birthday cake for Saralee, whose birthday it was that night.
      During our workshop that afternoon, I described how my bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream and the box of Bailey’s chocolates, brought from Ireland to share, had mysteriously disappeared – enjoyed, we would wonder, by friendly, if thirsty, ghosts? Then, while the rest of us discussed manuscripts, my sister Anne was suddenly gripped by a compulsion to write a poem about the time she had seen a woman fall to the ice in Rockefeller Center, bursting her skull – an event she hadn’t thought about in years. That night, someone knocked on my door after I was asleep to say that Anne had been hurt while walking from the beach, and I went into the living room to see my sister, a towel to her bleeding forehead, and two EMT guys. She had fallen, Ricci said, and she and Bozena would go to the Savannah ER with her.
     And if that wasn’t enough, the next morning, when I went into the kitchen for coffee, K.O. told me she had been approached by a pleading and persistent female presence as she cleaned up the kitchen late at night. (She later came to the conclusion that the visitor was the spirit of a woman whose mysterious death on Tybee the year before had not yet been resolved – something that intrigued her even more when I told her that our beautiful rental house had once belonged to Dr. Metts, the county coroner.) This news led some of the Zona Rosans to ponder whether or not our wonderful house was haunted – a not uncommon notion among Savannahians, drenched as we are by the past.
     On Friday, as we got ready for our annual Zona Rosa party at my house in Savannah, Nancy regaled us with her version of “Fever,” as sung by Peggy Lee; her rendition was instantly anointed an Official Zona Rosa Song. That evening, she donned a slinky black dress, my sluttiest black heels – we wear the same size – a black feather boa Connie had contributed, and dark cat-eye sunglasses to belt the song out for the crowd in my living room.
     K.O., who doesn’t even know the meaning of the word “shy,” led the group in performing parts of Zona Rosa the Musical, Olivia sang her own Zona Rosa song in her rich and beautiful voice – a CD of her singing is among my treasures, Bess, a professional storyteller, wielded sexy fans as she told a story about how fans have been used as seductive props through the ages, and Connie, who was born to do standup, and pal Ricci, her ideal straight woman, had the crowd in stitches as they performed, with the help of Savannah Zona Rosan Jossie’s boyfriend, Stephen, a skit in which the two women go to a writers’ conference to meet men who read “bOOks” – think “boots” --  as Nancy put it later. 
     Then, to top off a perfect evening and a perfect week, Connie, Ricci, K.O. and I went to a local karaoke bar, where K.O. sang “Walking After Midnight” to great applause from the crowd.  Indeed, our whole retreat, it seemed, had been graced by women who love to perform and who know how to sing!

10. MUSICAL – READ, MORE MAGICAL -- MOMENTS IN MIDDLE GEORGIA

Or Zona Rosa and the Athens music scene comes to historic High Shoals, as planned by Zona Rosan Extraordinaire Kathleen M., who still lives in the comfy High Shoals house in which she grew up.
     On a Saturday in July, Zona Rosans from all over gathered for a very special Zona Rosa workshop at the Portico, a historic church building that is now an artistic and spiritual retreat and study center, and which turned out to be the perfect setting for what we do in Zona Rosa. Everyone who entered the building gasped at its beauty and resonance, wandering the spaces from a large library to other rooms. Contemporary art hung on the walls, testament to the commitment of the present owners to all things creative.
    Our subject for the day was, once again, “Walking through Clouds,” or how to get our best work done in  a joyous, stress-free way. Among the many great women there were Susanna Capaleuto, of Peach State Public Radio, author Lauretta Hannon, who you’ll meet later; and Leslie Gordon, Director of the Rialto Center for the Arts at Georgia State. At our break for lunch, Pamella, past mistress of the Food of the Goddesses – the title was invented just for her -- and our cook at our retreats in France and Italy, as well as whatever Zona Rosa events we can nab her for – laid out a fabulous array of foods that included three salads, fruits and our official pink Zona Rosa cake.
     After a day of exorcises and good talk we concluded the workshop with a reading by the participants. But that was only the beginning: next came one of the best parties I’ve been to in years – or at least since Kathleen M.’s St Patrick’s Day party in spring, 2007. Because Kathleen was once a bass player in the Athens music scene, and because of her recent piece on that scene in the Athens magazine, she was able to bring in a bunch of musician friends who, along with Kathleen, played for the rest of us all evening as we danced, danced, danced until we all went home happy and out of breath. Connie, Ginger, Pamella, her husband, Mike, and I crashed at Kathleen’s spacious house, where I slept, for the first time in years, until noon!

11. AND BACK TO, SENSUAL, SCINTILLATING SAN FRANCISCO

     As I mentioned earlier, I loved reconnecting with literary powerhouses and agents, Elizabeth Pomada and Michael Larsen at the San Francisco Writers Conference (they’re the founders) in February. And I was thrilled when they invited me to present at their Writing for Change conference – a title and an idea that excited me – the following August.
     When I arrived at the Kabuki Hotel in Japantown, with its ponds and gardens, the afternoon before the conference was to begin, I lay on my bed reading a Buddhist text, began writing a short story about a woman lying in a hotel room feeling dislocated and reading a Buddhist text, then went downstairs to the charming bar and restaurant.  As I knew from past travel experiences, after that first sense of dislocation in a strange place, I usually feel within hours that I’ve been there forever, and by the next morning as I joined the crowds there for the conference, I was excited at the prospect of making new friends once more.
     I believe that no meetings are accidental -- that all honest human interactions are enriching -- so when I had the opportunity to help a homeless woman who had fallen ill while wandering through the hotel by going to the hotel desk and having them call EMT, then sitting with her in the lobby until they came, I felt as blessed as though someone had done a similar deed for me.
   During the rest of the weekend, I gave a talk on Zona Rosa, the methods we use, and what makes Zona Rosa so successful. I met with and was inspired by other experts in the their fields, saw friends from the San Francisco Writers Conference, and made new ones. I also met more great literary agents, whose names and info I noted to share with the Zona Rosans who have books ready to go.  And of course, since we were in Japantown, I ate some tres divine Asian food!
     On Sunday afternoon, with the help of Shyne, whom I had met in San Francisco in February, and her friend Jane, who turned out to be very special indeed, I led a Zona Rosa workshop in the famed Mechanics Institute Library. There, I met more fabulous women whose stories, as usual, knocked me out. Mathilde, a trim, lively 93 in tight jeans, read us the story of how, as a young girl in Nazi Germany, she had been forced to work for a Nazi scientist, then was arrested and placed in an Allied prison camp before being allowed to emigrate to the US. She shared the secrets of her inspiring – and third! -- book, HAPPINESS A MATTER OF THE MIND: VANTAGE POINT OF A OCTOGENARIAN (Mathilde also introduced me to the laughing meditation in which one simply repeats “Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha…!” or “Tee hee, hee, hee . . .” over and over, which reminded me of he smiling meditation – “Sit on a couch and smile for twenty minutes” – that Elizabeth Gilbert cites in EAT, PRAY, LOVE). Then moments before the group was to conclude, she stunned us all by saying she had to leave to clean offices for her housecleaning business. 
     After meeting Mathilde, there were no more excuses for the rest of us. Women in different parts of the country are different, yes. Yet we’re all the same – beset by the usual frustrations of lack of time, responsibilities to others and guilt at putting ourselves first, or as psychologist Susan Forward writes, we’re afflicted with FOG, or Fear, Obligation and Guilt. But those are also the feelings we successfully counter at every Zona Rosa workshop, freeing the participants to battle hidden agendas and be fully themselves. The other women’s stories were equally riveting, and I was also thrilled when they expressed an interest in starting a Sub Rosa group in the city.

12. AND ON TO THE KEY WEST OF THE OZARKS!

Detroit, Rosemary's Boyfriend at Turpentine Creek, Eureka Springs, Arkansas         Beautiful northwestern Arkansas is especially meaningful to me, since it’s now the home of two thriving Sub Rosa groups in Eureka Springs and nearby Fayetteville, started with the help of Zona Rosans Extraordinaire Charlotte Buchanan and Ryder Finnegan. When I started going to the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow – founded by friend and cookbook author Crescent Dragonwagon -- in Eureka Springs, Arksansas, almost a decade ago, I had never visited the Ozarks. Since then, the Zona Rosans have heard me rave about the uniqueness of the experience, the wonderful, caring staff and the incredible Victorian quaintness of a walkable town in which deer often graze nearby or share the road with us as we walk. Indeed, I dubbed it “The Key West of the Ozarks” – it’s that funky and bohemian (everyone who lives there seems to still be living in the ‘60s).  My sister Anne soon followed me there as a regular, and this summer, Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosans Connie and Katherine W. were in residence there as well. Indeed, Anne and Connie were awaiting me, along with Debra, a screenwriting friend from past stays, when I arrived just in time for a benefit dinner for the Colony during which we writers read passages from our work about how much travel means to us (the benefit was for a travel fellowship), and it was great to be ensconced again in Spring Garden, my own special studio/suite (all the studio/suites have flowery names). 
            Then, just two days later, I was leading my annual benefit Zona Rosa workshop for the Colony, this time with lots of familiar faces and new. And again, between our laughter and the great food, we heard stories that we would remember for months to come.
            The following week, Connie and I – both cat lovers – visited Turpentine Creek, a natural habitat for rescued tigers and other animals: to say that these creatures are beautiful beyond words is an understatement: I fell in love with Detroit, who, despite his massive size, played with a ball and jumped in and out of his tub, all the while looking at us flirtatiously. It was a good thing there was no way to get inside his enclosure – I might have been tempted! (I dreamed of him that night, and later turned him into a poem.)
            On my last night there, I got together with Brad, a colorful writer friend from Texas and former pal of Anne Richards, who had just gotten back from the Democratic Convention in Denver. Then, alas, my visit was over; because of my other travels, it was time to head back to Savannah. 

 13. IF YOU’RE LIKE ME, YOU MAY STILL THINK OF FALL AS THE BEGINNING OF THE YEAR

And now fall 2008, was about to begin with just as big a bang -- not with new school clothes and book bags, but with wonderful, Zona Rosa-related events.
     Our special author guest for our September Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group was my old friend Honor Moore, who came with her oh, so, moving – and in some circles, controversial – memoir, THE BISHOP’S DAUGHTER. Honor and I go way back, to the times my former husband, her classmate at Yale Drama School, spent with her in New York in the ‘70s, when we were both aspiring writers, and after 30 years during which I’d kept up with her work – we’re both poets as well as prose writers -- I was excited at the prospect of seeing her again. Indeed, she turned out to be an enthralling guest, moving us with her feeling about discovering, as the oldest of nine children, that her father, Paul Moore, once Episcopal Bishop of New York State, was gay, and the challenges she had faced in writing the book.
     Later in the evening, as we discussed the Zona Rosans’ work, she was supportive – and impressed, as she told me at breakfast the next morning. She also said how much she had enjoyed being Connie’s houseguest, and what good care Connie was taking of her. Then we went on to talk about our lives and our mutual friends from the past, and all too soon it was time for me to drive her to the airport.
     In October, our special author guest was – ta da! – our hostess and my own darling sister, Anne W., whose first collection of poems, A HISTORY OF NURSING, was hot off the press from Kennesaw State University Press. I especially love the cover photo of a very young Anne in red and black cape and cap on her graduation day from nursing school. And all I can say of Anne’s poems – and her presentation of them – is beyond wonderful. That evening she chose to read poems that were less familiar to us (we had heard some of the poems in the book while they were in progress). This was an especially thrilling evening, as we all knew how long and how devotedly Anne had been perfecting the collection, which will add even more cache to her name as one of the best nurse-poets in America; her publications in this field – a thriving sub-genre in American poetry – had already been stacking up at like hot cakes during the previous two years.
    Next came a special treat when Anne and I both spoke – she as keynote poet, I as workshop leader – at the Writing And Wellness Connections Conference in Atlanta.  Among my handouts was “How to Write Your Healing Memoir the Zona Rosa Way,” in which I described how to begin – and how to complete one’s story -- in simple terms.  But more importantly, this was the first time my darling sister and I had both been presenters at a conference, and it was a pleasure indeed.
     Soon, I was on roller skates again, and was off to Saint Louis to lead a Zona Rosa workshop planned by the dynamic and oh, so hospitable Nancy Harding.  As always it was wonderful to meet new women and hear their stories – and it was especially good to see old friend Cheryl Jarvis, author of THE MARRIAGE SABBATICAL, a book I’ve been recommending to the Zona Rosans forever.  After the workshop, Connie and I spent a wonderful weekend there – St. Louis is a historic literary city, hometown to Tennessee Willams, Kate Chopin and other luminaries – being pampered by Nancy and enjoying her interesting home and her many friends.
     Then, bringing this Letter full-circle, I left for New Orleans again, where once again, I led our Fifth Annual Zona Rosa workshop at my friend Adrienne’s extraordinary house in the Garden District. Once more, it was wonderful to see old friends from previous workshops – especially Marda, Kay, Ellen Ann and Martha – and to meet newcomers to Zona Rosa, as well as some who had been in previous workshops.    
     But when Barbara L. walked unexpectedly in the door, I was knocked out: Barbara, mother of the darling Kirsten, whom I met at a Zona Rosa workshop in Santa Fe in 2006, lives in Texas, and she had come all that way to visit her sister – also with her – to come to our Zona Rosa workshop and to meet me at last.  This, after many phone conversations, which had led me to already think of her as a friend and supporter of all things Zona Rosan (indeed, she had shipped six copies of SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA to me before Christmas, 2007, for me to sign for Kirsten’s artistic friends in New York).
     As always in Zona Rosa, many moving stories were shared that day, and I went to bed that night feeling enriched.
     Before I left Adrienne’s house, my poet friend Gordon arrived in New Orleans from Denmark and we had a delightful reunion dinner at Clancy’s in mid-town – the kind of place only the natives know about -- then had drinks at the Columns, the historic hotel where the movie Baby Doll was filmed.
     I next moved to Marda’s house on Royal Street in the French Quarter, where I would be her house guest for the rest of the week in The Red Palace – what we call the darling apartment Marda renovated, with red walls and red everything --  behind her condo in what was once the slave quarters.  Marda and Adrienne are both part of a small peer writing group made up of other dear friends – Julie Smith and Jon Kemp (yes, she’s a girl) -- who are all well-published authors; I had the privilege of meeting with them to both talk about their manuscripts in progress and to get their views on my own memoir in progress – you’ll hear more about the book later – and their support and encouragement, which I, like all writers need, was invaluable!
     On Thursday, Marda and I were caught up once again in the delicious whirl of the Words & Music Festival, Rosemary James, the dynamic founder and director of the Festival, had asked me to speak on Zona Rosa at the historic Cabildo – yes, everything in New Orleans is historic! -- overlooking Jackson Square. She also asked me to comment on work by participants in the Writer’s Alliance, a workshop led by shaker-and-mover Amy Serrano (her feature-length documentary, The Sugar Babies: The Plight of the Children of Agricultural Workers on the Sugar Industry of the Dominican Republic has been shown around the world). At the panel’s conclusion Gordon, I and others read poems to our receptive audience, which was particularly rewarding to me, as poetry was my first literary love – I wrote nothing but poetry for the first twelve years of my writing life – and I still consider it the crème de la crème of literature. Our event was called a best pick by Susan Larson, Book Editor at The Times-Picayune.
     At Words & Music the days are filled not only with inspiring panels and presentations by outstanding writers, but sumptuous lunches at the best restaurants in a city famous for its restaurants, and special parties, parties, parties in the evenings, as well as treks to bars in the nearby Fauburg-Marigny district. I was especially delighted that Rosemary J. had asked me to speak on Sisterhood – possibly my favorite subject in the world! – as part of a luncheon panel on the last day of the Festival.  There, I had the privilege of speaking alongside National Book Award winner Julia Glass and best-selling author Loraine Despres. I began my talk by telling stories from my life with my own sister Anne, then went on to discuss how we support one another in Zona Rosa, creating a win-win situation for every woman involved. Afterwards, I received much positive feedback, and I particularly loved a comment by Zona Rosan Brandi’s mother – the delightful Brandi was with us at our Zona Rosa beach retreat a few years ago -- Joyce, who said I was one of the few authors there who led her to take notes! Her comment alone made the whole weekend worthwhile.
     Back in Atlanta, Connie and I read from our essays in DESIRE: WOMEN WRITE ABOUT WANTING at the famous Charis Books and More in Little Five Points. The oldest and largest feminist bookstore in the South, Charis has long upheld standards of excellence in supporting women and their writing. Their non-profit arm, Charis Circle “exists to foster sustainable feminist communities, to work for social justice and to encourage the expressions of diverse and marginalized women.”  If you’re in Atlanta, and you haven’t visited Charis Books and More, go there – you’ll meet wonderful women as well as browse an array of books you’ll think were picked just for you. And tell Kerri and Elizabeth we sent you!
     The Charis Circle also regularly sponsors events, and in mid-December, I led a Zona Rosa workshop at a charming space in the StudioPlex, condos populated by artists in midtown Atlanta in an area that was once the Old Fourth Ward, but which now is spruced to the hilt.      
     Once again, during an afternoon in which I was – appropriately – surrounded by a large circle of women who had put aside Christmas shopping and other trivia in order to share their stories, which were profound indeed. That night over coffee with Zona Rosans Connie and Ricci, we talked about how wonderful they had been, then I went on to enjoy a holiday dinner with Anne, her husband, Larry -- the Best Brother in Law in the World, my exceptional nephew John, his exceptional wife Julie, and their truly exceptional kids, Faye, Luke and John. That night I counted the warmth surrounding me – radiated by the Zona Rosans as well as by family -- as being among my greatest blessings.

14. STARS, STARS & MORE STARS!

During the past year and a half, we’ve had almost enough Stars to populate the Milky Way – or at least our own silvery strata of glory.
     Also, in this section, you’ll find me throwing around more superlatives – and even the forbidden exclamation points! -- than ever. If any of you used the word fabulous or amazing as often I’ll be using them in this part of my Letter, you’d find my purple ink all over your manuscript. But, as I mentioned in my last Letter, part of the fun of writing this Letter is letting go of some of my usual rules for writing. In addition, it’s hard to resist lavishing on the praise when the women  (and occasional men) of Zona Rosa are so, well, amazing!
     To backtrack a bit, in April, 2008, we heard that Friend-of- Zona Rosa -- as we call our Special Author Guests and others who love and support us – Sue William Silverman’s book LOVESICK was being made into a major Lifetime Television Movie-of-the-Week, complete with advance trailers bombarding TV audiences until the big day. Needless to say, whether we were regular TV viewers or not, we were all glued to the set that weekend.
      Savannah Zona Rosan Jan Durham’s wonderful first novel FASTENED TO THE MARSH (from a line of poetry from “The Marshes of Glynn” by Sydney Lanier) was published by Bonaventure Press.  Jan, a recently retired Methodist minister, soon found herself in a whirl of events honoring her popular book – so much so that she soon found herself longing to get back to her second, as-yet-untitled historical novel: aside from writing, history is Jan’s passion, and we understood why, as we were on tenterhooks each month, waiting for her new chapter.
     Bess announced that she had gone through the minutiae and tedium of getting her beautiful, self-published book KIKKI AND THE RED SHOES accepted for distribution in Barnes and Nobles store – not an easy feat for a book without a major publisher behind it. But then, Bess is never one to shun the details that make things happens in just the right way.
     Cathy McCall wrote to say that the book she began in our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group, WHEN THE PIANO STOPS: A MEMOIR OF HEALING FROM SEXUAL ABUSE will be published by Seal Press in November, 2009. We all remember how knocked out we were by the book, and by her honesty, while she was a part of our group.
     In July 2008, Donny Seagraves’ first young adult novel, GONE FROM THESE WOODS, was accepted by editor Michelle Poploff of Random House, who Donny had met at a writers’ conference (yes, kids – it’s good to go to those writers’ conference!) We had heard parts of her powerful story in progress, and now we’re all charged at knowing it will be released in August, 2009; soon after, she will be our Special Author Guest.
     Indeed, there’s nothing more thrilling than having a Zona Rosan come to our meeting as our Special Author Guest with her first, newly released book! To honor our members in this way is our greatest pleasure.
     And by the way, a further word on Donny: like for most of us, her success – and she already has new books in the works! – has come not overnight, but after years of perseverance, plus taking part in workshops with other writers, as well as patiently networking along the way.         
     Donny is also committed helping other writers whenever possible: for example, she was instrumental in bringing Kathleen McG.’s work to the attention of the Athens magazine, while she was a columnist there. In 2007, the magazine asked Kathleen to write a personal essay on “The House of Christmas Past,” describing her colorful family and their doings. Next, she did a cover story, “Rockin’ Roots,” a retrospective of the Athens, Georgia, music scene, of which Kathleen had been a part as rock and roll bass player. As a result of her groundbreaking piece, Kathleen connected with all musical friends from those years, will participate in a “River of Music” reunion concert later in 2009.  In addition, she now hosts a thriving Sub Rosa group in High Shoals, Georgia; she also spent much of the last part of 2008 – as well as a bunch of money! -- renovating her deceased Aunt Myrt’s House, next door to her own charming High Shoals home, with the intention of creating a very special space for writers and other groups.
     Indeed, in Zona Rosa, we’re committed to creating a win-win situation for everyone, and in facilitating all Zona Rosans in their goals in every way possible. In late summer, 2008, I too was pushed by dear friend Amanda to apply for the first time for a Guggenheim fellowship, as she felt it would give me time to work on my memoir-in-progress, tentatively titled MY ANARCHIST’S HEART. Everyone in all the Zona Rosa groups has been so supportive of the book, and so encouraging when I read portions of it aloud – “This will be your best book yet!” they chorused. But, as Amanda and others knew, my life had also become one of reading manuscripts by the Zona Rosans in order to facilitate their work – something that I often tell them is a spiritual experience for me. But I appreciated so much their thoughtfulness in wanting me to pursue my own work, which made me wish once again that days were 48 hours long, rather than a mere 24! I also appreciated it so much when producers Pat G. and hubby Rob visited Savannah from L.A. to work with me on the script – a new writing experience for me! – for the pilot for what we’re now calling SAVANNAH: SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA, a Television Series. Their ideas and expertise were invaluable, and we plan to continue working together via computer and telephone, as we want to see that baby out there!
     In Zona Rosa, we work at whatever we do with our whole hearts.  But I also knew that all will come to fruition in good time. Or to use our original credo from the song by Johnny Mercer, “Accen-u- ate the positive, e-lim-i-nate the neg-ative, and don’t mess with Mr. In-between!”
     But sometimes, as I mentioned, it takes a long time for a writer’s work to come to fruition and then for her to come to the moment when it becomes imperative that she get it out there and into the public eye – or in some cases, ear. For the rest of us in Zona Rosa, after years of hearing a writer’s work, we’re eager to hold her book in our hands, or to have that CD of her poems to listen to in our cars.
     But when it finally happens, it is so, so delicious! When Carolyn Siefferman, long of our Savannah Zona Rosa group, at last came with the long-awaited, first CD of her poems in September, 2008, reading poems from it to us in her inimitable, witty way, everyone in the room wanted a copy!
     That same month, Elsa Spencer – also of our Savannah Zona Rosa group, and one of the original four women in Zona Rosa when we began over 28 years ago, published GOODBYE, TRIESTE, the book she had begun all those long years ago. The story of Elsa’s life, especially her life as a young girl and a partisan in Second-World-War-torn Italy, is both riveting and beautiful, with its beautiful blue-and-white cover photo of Trieste from the sea, and pictures from Elsa’s life. As soon as she placed the books on my dining room table, the Zona Rosans were snapping them up. Elsa, we all agree, is amazing – writing in English, a second language for her, she has already completed her next book, the true story of a family who walked out of Tibet to escape the Chinese Communists in 1950. 
     But one of our more thrilling moments of 2008 was hearing the news that Amanda Gable – who has been so faithful in sending out notices for our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group – had found the agent of her dreams. And then, within weeks, that her first novel, THE CONFEDERATE GENERAL RIDES NORTH, had been accepted by Scribner! This news was especially inspiring, as we had been hearing chapters of her delightful and moving story of a young girl’s travels – Katherine is obsessed with the Civil War and imagines herself as a Civil War general – with her erratic mother, over a period of years, and we had all been impressed by Amanda’s patience and perseverance (again, that essential word!). As Amanda, already a well-published short story writer, said, “If I can think of anything to make a piece of writing better, I have to do it, no matter how much time and effort it takes.” Summer after summer, she spent time at the Hambidge Center, an arts colony in North Georgia, doing just that. “All the lessons I learned in Zona Rosa really helped me to trust myself enough to take these risks,” she said.
     Also magical was the fact – proving once again how creating a space for them seems to make good things happen – that her good news came just after she had decided to step out in faith and take a year-long sabbatical from her job at Georgia Tech at her own expense. (Today, she is in a graduate program in Creative Writing at Georgia State University.) A CONFEDERATE GENERAL RIDES NORTH will be published, with much celebration all round, in August, 2009.
     In addition, our very Special Author Guest Jennifer Niven wrote to say VELVA JEAN LEARNS TO DRIVE will be released in July, 2009; she went on to add that her memoir, THE AQUA NET DIARIES: BIG HAIR, BIG DREAMS, SMALL TOWN – don’t you love her titles?! – will be published soon after in September. And not only that – Warner Brothers is developing the memoir as a TV series, with the prolific Jennifer writing the script for the pilot! (By the way, Jennifer’s mother is also a published author; we’re hoping for a tandem Special Guest Author presentation with both of them at some point.)
     So when fall, 2009, comes round – we always take a break in August -- we’ll have a plethora of new books to celebrate!
     I was delighted when old friend and New Orleans Zona Rosan Joyce Zonana, relocated after Katrina to New York, wrote to say her delicious memoir, DREAM HOMES: FROM CAIRO TO KATRINA, AN EXILE’S JOURNEY, would soon be published by The Feminist Press. When she asked for a blurb for the back of her book, this is what I wrote: “Beautifully crafted. . . juicy with lived experience, lush with imagery and ideas.  Zonana carries us along with her through the spaces – both sensual and emotional – that make up a woman’s life.” 
     Speaking of blurbs, I was giving them for other books as well. Old friend Cheryl Jarvis, author of the groundbreaking book, THE MARRIAGE SABBATICAL, asked for a blurb for THE NECKLACE, the true story of 13 women who bonded to buy an expensive diamond necklace that they all would share. At first, I felt that their project – as materialistic as it was – wasn’t one I’d want to support. But after reading Cheryl’s wonderful account I realized that the story was about much more than a necklace; indeed, that it was about what these women came to mean to one another, so I enthusiastically gave Cheryl’s book my blessing via a blurb for the back cover.
     I was also thrilled when Erica Jong asked me to blurb her new collection of poems, LOVE COMES FIRST. First came the pleasure of sitting on my couch in Savannah, reading her oft funny, moving and feministic poems, then of putting my feelings about them into words. Erica has long been an inspiration in her kindness and her warmth, and an important literary friend to me, so needless to say, her request gave me great pleasure. Then, when the beautiful published collection came in the mail, I was delighted that I had been able to contribute to Erica’s further success.
     Sandy Gladfelter, our vivacious hostess -- with the help of our planner par excellence, Susan Stone -- of our very first week-long Zona Rosa retreat in Lancaster, Kentucky in 1999, sent a copy of her first mystery, THE GOLD MACHINE. Sandy was working on the book that week, and also later, when she went to France with us. It was published in September, 2008, by FIL (First Impressions Last) under Sandy’s pen name, S. G. Craft, and it’s wonderful to see it between covers at last!
     By the way, Suzan – as I call her – just reminded me that 2009 will be the tenth anniversary of our retreats, both in the U.S. and abroad – all instigated by her. I’ll never forget the moment when, sitting on my yellow couch in Savannah, Susan said, “I think you need to do writing retreats” And voila -- with her amazing help, it was done!
     When Jessica Handler was a part of our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group, we heard sections of her riveting memoir, INVISIBLE SISTERS, the story her life as the “healthy” sister to two others, and the one who has “to step out of the shadows of her sisters’ deaths to find and redefine her self anew.” An essay from the book, which will be published by Public Affairs Books in April, 2009, was nominated for a 2008 Pushcart Prize. Jessica also teaches and writes for major magazines such as More.
     Ellen Borgeron, a beautiful dancer who has been working on and off in Zona Rosa on her breast cancer memoir, had a breakthrough when she was interviewed about her survival, and what it took, by Athens magazine. Towards the end of the piece, Ellen confessed to the interviewer that she’s writing a book about her experiences. “And now I’m committed,” she said; “It’s in print!”
     Zona Rosan Martha Baker – possibly one of the funniest women in the universe – sent a batch of her sermons for her Episcopal Church, where she’s a preacher. And despite my having pushed the oh-so-talented and well-published Martha for years to complete her memoir, I saw immediately that this is where her heart lies – so inspiring, so feministic and so witty were they that I envied her parishioners for getting to hear Martha on a regular basis, and was delighted to hear that our mutual friend Cheryl Jarvis plans to help Martha seek publication for them.
     Barbara Knott, a long-time member of the Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group, and our resident expert on all things mythological, as well as the creator and editor of the unique online magazine, The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon – check it out; you’ll be glad! – wrote to say that her play, Keepers of the Fire: Native Americans at Etowah, will be produced at the Grand Theater in Cartersville, Georgia, site of the Etowah Indian mounds, and annually thereafter. In addition, excerpts from Barbara’s novel, Muscadine, were accepted by Now and Then, a magazine about Appalachia.
     Then, when Lauretta Hannon, who looks like she’s made of pure light, visited our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group in December, 2008, she told us that her book, THE CRACKER QUEEN: MEMOIR OF A JAGGED, JOYFUL LIFE, was accepted for publication by editor Lauren Marino at Gotham Books when Lauren heard her funny, yet poignant pieces on NPR – a wonderful note of synchronicity, as Lauren is one of my favorite regulars at the Words & Music Literary Festival each fall in New Orleans. When I blurbed Lauretta’s book, I wrote that she “skillfully embeds her plucky point of view in a book as light and delicious as one of my Southern grandmother’s layer cakes.” Lauretta’s pub date is April, 2009. and we all look forward to celebrating with her in Savannah in June and in Atlanta in July.
     Needless to say, along the way, our darling, diverse and peripatetic Alpha Babe Connie Baechler was achieving all over the place: in January, 2008, she participated in the Palm Beach Poetry Festival; in Feb, at the San Francisco Writers’ Conference, she met literary agent Paul Levine, who enthusiastically took on her novel, HALLEY’S CONFIDENCE; in April, she was a finalist in the prestigious Rita Dove Award in poetry for her poem “Foaling Season; in June, she was she was invited to submit an article for the A Café in Space: The Anais Nin Literary Journal; the forthcoming issue will publish “The Body Speaks: Somatic Subversion in the Journals of Anais Nin and Rosemary Daniell,” adapted from Connie’s brilliant Women’s Studies dissertation, as well as her poem, “Overlay.” At present, she is at work on a delicious short-story-turned-novella, ORCHIDS DON’T MAKE A GENTLEMEN. In addition, Connie is also a good friend to many both in and out of Zona Rosa, often doing life-changing services for others. And despite all this, she also took the time to instigate and supervise the production of new Zona Rosa T-shirts made for us in soft, soft cloth a succulent rosy pink that we all love. By the way, Connie’s new website is www.thetattooedblonde.com – check it out!
     Alice Johnson, who twice hosted our two very first retreats in Black Mountain, N.C., where she lives on the edge of a national forest watching bears frolic outside her window when she and her husband Lee are not in Mexico, as well being one of the wittiest correspondents I know, was a finalist in the Press 53 Open awards for an excerpt from her novel-in-progress, BELOW SEA LEVEL. Alice is also working on THE WEIGHT OF LACE, a chapbook about her tres eccentric upbringing in New Orleans’ upper strata – proving once more that nothing is lost on a writer.
      You may recall from our Second Letter that our web designer, novelist, photographer and New Man Par Excellence, Jody Schiesser (read about Jody on page 246 of SECRETS) showed his moving first film, The Street Cleaner, in 20 film festivals around the world, winning many awards along the way. Now, under the umbrella of Perpombellar Productions, and again filming in collaboration with former Zona Rosan Eric Nauert and his brother, Nathan Nauert, Jody has two more films in the works: You Are Beautiful – here, I had to smile, as beautiful may be Jody’s favorite word ever; he signs his e-mails, “Life is beautiful” -- about a homeless man in Savannah, and Trumpet My Return, a full-length film about newlyweds who work at a school for troubled teenage girls scripted and directed by Eric Nauert.
     Savannah Zona Rosan Emeritus Susan Johnson appears as Sister Nora in Trumpet My Return.  Susan also had a role in Cool Beans, written by Savannah College of Art & Design student, Jessica Shay. In addition, Susan, who I think of primarily as a writer, was a finalist in the the Stonehouse Press Short Story Competition, and her story, “Distance,” which we heard at our retreat in Italy, won first prize for the short story from the Georgia Writer’s Association.
     Way to go, Jody and Susan!
     Oh, and I just got news of  Zona Rosa beach retreater Anne Stone’s blog at www.steelawayanne.blogspotcom. Anne and her husband live on a boat outside Charleston, and Anne writes beautifully of her choices, and of her life on the water. Check her out for her skilled, insightful way with words – you’ll soon be hooked!
     And an “achievement” of a different sort: Charlotte Buchanan, facilitator of the Eureka Springs, Arkansas, Sub Rosa group, as well as my darling occasional publicist, and the Last Woman Alive We Ever Thought Would Do It – she’d resisted the institution for her entire life -- tied the knot with internationally known portrait artist James Yale – yes, he’s a doll, too! – at twilight on Ground Hog’s Day, 2008,  in Eureka Springs!  Charlotte said that after her last break-up, she told the universe what she wanted in a man.  And voila! -- not long after, there he was, in the form of a friend she had known for years; lightning struck not on the Road to Damascus, but the road to Rogers, Arkansas, as she returned a painting to him from an art show she had planned.  And as you might imagine with such two such exceptional people – Charlotte isn’t known as a Town Wrangler for nothing! -- the couple is already in the thick of  making creative plans of all sorts, many of which I’m sure we’ll be hearing about in 2009.
    As 2008 ended, Jodi Ceraldo, former Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosan, announced the self-publication of her first novel, REDESIGNING THE MOB. Jodi is one tough broad – a true survivor -- who had her own brushes with the mafia, so I’m sure that her moving story, much of which we heard in progress, rings with truth.

     And now on to our Great Endeavor: our first book from Zona Rosa Books: Words by Women Like You: Smart, Savvy, Sexy, Searching and Singular – is in the works. We’re now collecting manuscripts from Zona Rosans and Friends of Zona Rosa who have finished or near finished pieces for an anthology tentatively titled (and themed) WOMEN ON THE VERGE. Vally Sharp, friend of Zona Rosa, and CEO of United Writers Press, has agreed to be our publisher, and my darling artist-daughter Darcy (see her web page at our links on www.myzonarosa.com) is working on a design for our cover. This is exciting, and a just a little bit scary.  But being Zona Rosan, how can the finished product, of which we’ll keep you abreast, be anything but good?!       
     I also know that 2009 will mean many more Stars in the Zona Rosa. As long a Zona Rosa keeps doing its job of helping us keep the faith while hanging in there with the patience that good writing – and publishing, if that’s our goal -- requires, more good books that will be coming to fruition, and more good things will be happening. Indeed, every time I walk into a room full of Zona Rosans, I feel a thrill, knowing I’m in the presence of potential Stars. In fact, if you don’t find your name mentioned in this Letter, be assured – you may very well be in the future!

 15. WHEN GOOD FRIENDS LEAVE US

In fall, 2007, when Connie and I read from DESIRE: WOMEN WRITE ABOUT WANTING at the Alvida Gallery in Savannah, we met Sharon, a charming, newcomer to the city – I loved the trés chic jacket she was wearing, and told her so! Sharon immediately began attending Zona Rosa, telling us that finding the group was the best thing that had happened to her since moving to South. 
     Divorced and estranged from her adult son, Sharon wrote several extremely moving pieces, which she shared with the group. She also told us about the spinal condition that caused her considerable pain – though her bubbly smiling demeanor kept others from being aware of it – and that she would soon be having corrective surgery. A week before her operation, she wrote me saying she didn’t know why, but she felt afraid. I was on the road, but I kept calling the hospital afterwards to get news of her, only to be told she was still in ICU, and that because I wasn’t a family member, I couldn’t receive information on her.
     Back in Savannah, and eight days later, I went to the hospital, determined to find out how she was. When I was shown to a room in neurological ICU, I saw the beautiful Sharon, in a coma and attached to tubes.  She died an hour later – the surgery had been successful, but just as she was coming to, she had experienced an aneurysm that blocked the blood flow to her brain, her son told me in a phone call a couple of days later.  At our next Savannah Zona Rosa meeting, we all felt sad, missing Sharon’s shining face and her enthusiasm.
     Not long after Audrey’s triumph in July, 2008, at the Harriette Austin Writers Conference in Athens when she was named one of the five award-winning writers at the conference (two were from our Atlanta Alpha Babes Zona Rosa group!), leading to a publisher asking to see her manuscript, we heard that she had unexpectedly been hospitalized for intestinal surgery, a situation made dire by the fact that she already suffered from a disease that weakened her tissues.
     Despite our time on the Zona Rosa prayer mat, Audrey left us. It was hard to believe that she was gone – we all felt that her vibrant spirit, her wit, was still with us, especially when we re-read Audrey’s version of our exorcise, “My Wildest Fantasy of What I’d Like to see Happen in My Writing.” I’ve read it at numbers of literary conferences to great applause, as well as on Georgia Public Broadcasting. It’s a happy piece that you, too, will enjoy if you read it; Audrey’s exorcise appears on page 268 of Chapter Eight of SECRETS OF THE ZONA ROSA.
     Audrey’s daughter Nancy and her son Whitney say that they will pursue posthumous publication of her wonderful book; we also plan a special Audrey Lowe evening at the Atlanta Alpha Babe Zona Rosa group of which she was a member, on the anniversary of her death.  We were grateful to have known her in perhaps her happiest incarnation.  She gave us joy, and it was good to know we gave her joy in return.
     And last but not least, in late December, 2008, we received the news that Cleo, yet another vibrant Zona Rosan had suddenly passed away. The night before she died, the vivacious Cleo baked two cakes then went to a party where she had a wonderful time; that night she asked her companion Charles not to wake her in the morning, saying that she wanted to sleep, and in the morning she was gone. At her memorial service, guests were given a darling beribboned tribute that listed her many great contributions to others – writer, mother, grandmother, cake baker, dog lover, beloved teacher for over 40 years at an Atlanta prep school, and more. A seed was enclosed and the participants in the service were asked to plant it in Cleo’s honor.
     Cleo was no stranger to easy deaths – just before our first Zona Rosa retreat to Italy, Cleo’s husband didn’t get out of the car as she and friends were emerging to go into a karaoke bar. He had died in that moment, just before an evening of fun. Yet two weeks later, Cleo bravely flew to Italy with us for our Pajama Party for Grown-Up Girls with Smarts – possibly the best thing she could have done in her grief.
     Often, as we know, necessity is the mother of invention, and the Zona Rosa prayer mat – marketing guru Pamella’s concept, and at this point still metaphorical – is a large oval mat with a giant lip print logo (based on my lip print and designed by Zona Rosan Jenny Heaton) in its center.  It’s useful to conjure it up during times when other Zona Rosans need our prayers and our support.

16. AND AN EPILOGUE

And of course, my own life has been going on during these months. Lots of good things have happened – some long-standing problems have been resolved and I’ve had many happy times with my own family.
     But in November, 2008, yet another challenge, and probably the biggest of my life, appeared. My darling son Laurens, whom many of you have met at our annual Zona Rosa bash at my house each June, was diagnosed with lung cancer. Laurens, who lives in Savannah near me, is now having radiation and chemotherapy, and we’re all praying for his healing and for more joy in his life (for those of you who would like to add him to your prayer list, his full name is Laurens David Ramos).  So please get out the Zona Rosa Prayer mat and many, many thanks for adding your prayers to ours.
     The Zona Rosans have always given me strength, and I determined right away to both to give Laurens every bit of support that I can, and at the same time to continue to give myself the blessing of the laughter and the friendship that goes along with everything Zona Rosan.

Rosemary Daniell

Rosemary Daniell, Author, Speaker, Writing & Living Coach

 


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