Success is no mystery to group of area writers

March 04, 2002|By Kimbra Cutlip | Kimbra Cutlip,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

NOW THAT we've finally had some chilly weather, people are starting to come indoors to cuddle up on the couch with a cup of latte and a cozy book.

For mystery fans, plenty of tales of murder and mayhem are set right in our back yard. And some of them have made it to the bookshelves with the help of Annapolis Mystery Writers, a group of nine local writers who meet once a month to hone their craft.

Their stories feature a variety of characters and settings, but many of them take place around town. Marcia Talley of Annapolis wrote a three-novel series featuring an Annapolis heroine whose husband is a math professor at the Naval Academy.

Mary Ellen Hughes of Gambrills has crafted a story around the downtrodden wife of a St. John's College professor and a novel about a Baltimore teacher.

A Maryland headhunter stars in a three-novel series by Ron and Janet Benrey of Columbia. And the club's founder, Trish Marshall of Annapolis, has written a book about a crime victim advocate who helps solve a serial murder case in a fictitious county in Southern Maryland.

Of course, not all of the writers in the group set their crimes in local venues, but they all agree that the writing group has helped them improve their work, and some have said it's indispensable to their writing. At the informal monthly meetings, members share their latest work and help each other with plot twists and character development.

When they began meeting in the summer of 1996, none of them was published. Now, four of the original eight members have published successful books and another member has an agent and is actively marketing a novel.

"We help each other with every aspect of writing, getting published and staying published," said Talley, one of the group's original members. "This includes critiquing our writing, helping with cover letters, finding contacts in the publishing world, suggesting books to read, etc."

Since she began with the group, Talley has completed a three-novel series for Dell Publishing, edited a successful collaborative novel, and has other projects in the works.

Usually, two or three members of the group submit their latest work to the group before a meeting so that everyone can read the material and be prepared to comment.

"Criticism covers a wide range: plot, characters, dialogue, description, what works and what doesn't, and may include suggestions on word choices, structure - just about anything," Talley said. "I call it `tough love' because we are very honest with one another. If something stinks, it stinks and we say so ... nicely."

"There's a great deal of honesty in the group, and that's what you need," said Ray Flynt of Odenton. "I have been writing mysteries since 1987, but most of that writing was very haphazard - I would go for periods of years without writing - until I joined the mystery writers group." Today, Flint has an agent marketing his first novel. He's completed a second, and is halfway through the third.

Marshall, who started the group more than five years ago, hasn't taken her work to a publisher yet, but she says the group has given her confidence in her work.

"At this point I'm writing for myself," she said, "but I feel what I have is publishable because of the group."

Hughes agreed. "This group helped me push my writing up that final notch to the professional, publishable level," she said.

"I think as in anything the support of other people is probably the most important," Talley said. "People think of [writing] as a solitary thing, and it's just you and the computer. But between you and your published work, there are so many people who help you get it there," she said.

Although they began as unpublished novelists a few years ago, today, it's a accomplished group, and they seem to be pulling each other along.

"I am sure the unpublished members of the group are just on the verge," Hughes said, "and the world of mystery will be in for a treat when they join it."

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