EASTON -- Call it a lonely arts club or call it a support group for gregarious wordsmiths.
Either way, the Eastern Shore Writers' Association has survived drops in membership, internal political struggles and the death of one of its founders to become the largest organization for both established and would-be writers on the Delmarva Peninsula.
Founded in 1985 by mystery writer Joan Heavey and Bruce Jones, a Chesapeake College student, the group attracts scribes from around the Eastern Shore and Delaware and at one time boasted a membership roll of 130.
Unlike writers' groups that focus on tough and sometimes ego-bruising reviews of members' works, the writers association is an informal organization that tries to offer such tips as how to find agents and publishers while also giving writers a chance to talk with others familiar with the ups and downs of their reclusive pastime.
"There's a very human need to have some company, somebody who talks your language, faces your problems and goes through the same anxieties," said one member.
For annual dues of $15, a writers' association member can attend meetings once a month September through June and talk with established writers and experts in the publishing field. The group scored a coup this spring when columnist Art Buchwald agreed to be the luncheon speaker at Saturday's monthly luncheon in St. Michaels.
Because the writers' association is non-profit and is considering using what funds it does have to set up a student scholarship, Mr. Buchwald decided not to charge a fee for his appearance, said the association's vice president, Dot Kenney. Mrs. Kenney, whose novels are published under the pseudonym Liz Hamlin, )) said the association is successful because it welcomes even those who are interested in writing but may never have written a single line. "It is not an elitist group," she said.
From the outset, the popularity of the organization surprised even Ms. Heavey, a Queen Anne's County resident and college instructor, who wanted to start a group "just so writers could get together."
At the first writers' association meeting in Easton, 20 potential members showed up. "I was astonished," Ms. Heavey said. "I thought we would get six or seven."
She said the writers' association struggled through a brief period during which newer members wanted to change the focus of the group and move its meetings from the Easton area closer to Salisbury, the population center of the Eastern Shore.
"People who were not writers took over the organization," she said. "It was my baby."
Ms. Heavey left the group to pursue other interests after the writers' association published the first of two anthologies of members' writings. Co-founder Jones was killed when a motorist struck him as he was cycling along Route 213.
Nevertheless, the association continued to grow and word of its meetings spread throughout the peninsula.
Novelist John Putre, who quit his teaching job to write full-time at his home in Laurel, Del., said he joined the writers' association 2 1/2 years ago because he needed a break from the solitude of "typing nonsense into my word processor five days a week."
"I find writing to be a lonely business," he said.
Susan Smith, an award-winning scriptwriter whose Target Communications firm produces instructional videos, said she joined the association because the group can help nurture even established writers. "Nobody can give a writer a pat on the back like another writer or an editor, because they've been there," she said.
For writers willing to have their works discussed critically, there's The Writers Bloc, a new group formed this year in Salisbury by Nan DeVincentis-Hayes, a former writers association president.
The group, kept intentionally small, has scheduled its first writers' conference for June 6 in the Delmarva Convention Center near Salisbury.
Mrs. DeVincentis-Hayes, who writes fiction and non-fiction, said The Writers Bloc is not competing with the writers' association because there are enough writers for both groups.
She attributes the number of writers on the Eastern Shore to the characteristics of the region.
"What other place would artists live but between the ocean and the bay?" she said. "The Eastern Shore is a mix of Yankees and transplanted Midwesterners and Southerners. Once you get the sand between your toes, you find some little gems you want to write about."
Although the goal of most writers' association members is to have their works published, not all the group's writers dream of climbing the best-seller lists.
Moulton "Monk" Farnham, 83, a former magazine editor who once sailed single-handedly across the Atlantic Ocean, said he likes the company of writers.
Mr. Farnham wrote a successful book on sailing 25 years ago, but these days composes haiku, usually while peddling his exercise bike at his trailer home in Caroline County.
Sometimes Mr. Farnham designs a haiku for a specific individual -- he once gave a local judge this verse: "One need not be God/to pass judgment on others./Only less guilty."
But often it is Mr. Farnham's duty to pass on to younger writers' association members what he has learned from the publishing business. He said he likes to warn budding writers about the pitfalls of dealing with editors. "Every book editor should have a pimp in the family," said Mr. Farnham, paraphrasing the late newspaperman and author Gene Fowler, "so he can have someone to look up to."