Local author Janet Dean came prepared. For the few who ventured out on this Tuesday evening for the monthly writers seminar at the Barnes & Noble book store in Jefferson Pointe, Dean distributes a typewritten five-page handout. Across the top, she typed "Conflict: Roadblocks to your character’s happy ending."
Dean, whose Christian historical romance novels are part of the Harlequin series, is at a point in her career where many of the eight who showed up hope to be some day. She has come at the invitation of Karen Morris, another local author who oversees the gathering of writers who are hungry to learn more about their craft.
Tonight, the group has commandeered the store’s coffee shop area. Before the session begins, they cluster six café tables together to form a study circle. Everyone has a pen. Everyone takes notes.
Dean’s outlined handout is based on her seventh and most recent novel, "The Bounty Hunter’s Redemption," set in the Old West. She begins by telling them, "Story is conflict, and conflict is story. Without one, you don’t have the other."
They all write this down.
Morris says there are other writers groups in town that meet occasionally, and this is just one of them. She took ownership of the Barnes & Noble faithful when local author Shirley Jump, who conducted the seminar for several years, moved to Florida. Once a student whose first meeting with Jump was to enthusiastically announce she had written her own book, Morris is now the instructor.
"I think my biggest thing is I want to be able to give back," says Morris, who writes fantasy adventure novels. "Shirley gave me encouragement and her energy and her advice. She didn’t have to. She could’ve said, ‘Yeah, great. You wrote a book. Good luck with that.’ But she didn’t. This is a good fit."
But on this Tuesday night, Morris gives way to Dean as she further explains how to weave conflict in and out of a story. And don’t forget romance.
"You have them fall in love early, then the story is over," says Dean. "And FYI, romance isn’t the plot; romance complicates the plot. There might be an exception."
Later, Dean summarizes her writing style when she says, "I write Christian historical romances, and I have three threads: I have the faith element, I have the romance element, and I have the plot element."
Again, many in the group write in their notebooks.
Of the eight who gather round, 71-year-old artist and writer Jerry Lawson is the lone male. He considers himself a personal historian; someone who writes biographies and memoirs for individuals who wish to have their stories told and not necessarily published. He’s been a semi-regular at these gatherings.
"I ultimately want to branch out," Lawson says. "I’m here because I’ve always written essays and non-fiction, as well as biographies. At some point I would like making the transition back to fiction, so I’m here to pick up what is beneficial because the two are obviously related, but require different sets of skills; or at least different applications."
There are others who hope to expand their writing skills.
Sandi Barron, a retired English teacher, says she moved to Fort Wayne four years ago and wants to write more. Same with Sandi Guffey, a retired journalism teacher at Homestead High School.
It’s Guffey who has a question for Dean when she begins to discuss the "backstory."
"I’ve been living this story for, like, I don’t know – two weeks," Guffey says. "I can’t think of anything else. So I go here, and then I turn around and go here."
"You write a scene," Dean explains. "You have a goal. You succeed, you fail, or things get worse. … Don’t think that’s unique to you, because I get like that. Those first three chapters come together pretty great, and then it’s like, ‘Now what?’ "
That’s a good question. Now what? Certainly most of the eight authors who have gathered around these tables are asking themselves the same thing. Now what, and where to go from here?
It’s Morris’ mission to help them get there.
"I’m here to encourage and to help guide you as best I can," she says. "If you want to write the next No. 1 best-seller, good luck. Please remember the little people who helped get you there."
She is also quick to say being a success doesn’t always mean writing the Great American Novel.
"It all depends on how you define success," Morris says. "If you finish a novel, that’s a success. If you get published and you’re in the store, that’s a whole different level of success. We would all love that. But success for (her group) is getting to the end, or getting past a difficult scene. … If it’s something you’re doing and you’re not confident about it, and you break through the wall – success!"
Lori Remenicky, another regular, has broken through that wall. As L.A. Remenicky, she started out self-publishing "action and adventure from a woman’s point of view," but now she says she has a small independent publisher. And even though she has three novels to her credit, she still ventures out to join others on a Tuesday night of each month.
"Part of it is just hanging out with other writers that kind of understand that our brain works a little different," says Remenicky, who began writing earnestly in 2012.
Morris knows the feeling. "We’re introverted," she says. "We stay inside and we write in our little cubbies unless there’s an event that gets us out interacting with other authors. … They may not be a writer, and they might not understand the passion you’re feeling. You come here, and you’re sitting among your peers, and you get it."