Jackie looks slightly cheered by Nichelle, so I chime in, explaining that my book of short stories, Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, took eight years to write and left nearly 20 stories on the cutting-room floor. Soon everyone is telling tales of their rocky beginnings. After Alyss left the Hollywood rat race, she began working on a novel, A Place Called Paradise. Now, watching Jackie to make sure she's absorbing the lesson, she describes the learning curve involved in shifting from screenplays to a novel.
Farai says, "You have the talent, Jackie. You just needed to work on bringing the secondary characters to life."
"And," I add, "work on turning narrative passages into scenes."
"More scenes," Jackie says, and nods. "I thought I did that, but okay."
Finally, when it appears as though she's really accepting just how much work is involved in producing a single manuscript, we begin the critique session by delivering the good news: This revision was a smashing success. She's added several knockout scenes and developed what was mere narrative summary into vivid renderings, complete with great dialogue, action, and underlying currents of emotion.
This time, she hit it out of the park.
Since forming out group, we've all had too many successes to count, and we've celebrated each one. Nichelle became a staff writer for the new ABC drama Women's Murder Club. Alyss finished a book of essays and is midway through her novel. Lita's book, Red River, came out to rave reviews. Farai secured an agent for her novel, Touch. Deborah went on tour to promote Space Between the Stars and began a novel centered on the topic of illegal immigration.
Renée sent her book to her agent, who is submitting it to publishers. Jackie is on the final revision of her novel and is shopping for agents. And I finished the draft of my forthcoming novel, The Thousands, by my deadline—which happened to be the birth of my first son.
We all agree that none of this could have happened without the group.
When so many writers must relegate writing to the margins of their days and nights, we know that it is left to writers to celebrate themselves. And that is why some of us travel 400 miles to talk about our work, why each host makes gourmet food for the rest of us, and why a meeting isn't complete without chocolate and two good bottles of wine. We've had retreats in Palm Springs and Maui, and hope to eventually meet up in Italy, Brazil, and South Africa. We have a great time together. We dare to dream together. And despite the name of our group, we are far from finished.
ZZ Packer was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2005 and this year was included in Granta's Best of Young American Novelists.