Romance Writers Report (RWR), September 2019 Issue
Members of the Mid-Michigan RWA chapter share how they’ve survived— and thrived—over thirty-five years.
This year marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America chapter (MMRWA). The traditional symbol for this anniversary is coral, a hard, stony substance typically forming large reefs in warm seas. Exactly what MMRWA represents. Not that the members, its substance, are hard and stony—more like purveyors of tenacity and grit growing in a supportive, compassionate environment.
Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America, the twelfth local chapter of the national organization, was founded in 1984. MMRWA is an offshoot from the Greater Detroit Chapter (GDRWA), established in 1982. Ruth Ryan Langan and Marianne Willman, founders of GDRWA, helped launch MMRWA, serving as panel members at our first official meeting.
My thanks to my good friend, the late Barbara K. Johnson, for her initial discovery of RWA.
Back then, another area organization for writers required applicants be published and submit said published work for consideration of its worthiness prior to membership approval. RWA required none of that, taking all comers into membership, both published and not. Desire to write was the only mandate. However, driving to Detroit for meetings from around the state was prohibitive for many. A second, more centrally located chapter was needed. RWA had names of potential members who were far from Detroit but still wanted to join. In response to the initial announcement about a new MMRWA chapter, those potential members virtually came out of the woodwork.
Maintaining Relevance for Thirty-Five Years
As a founding mother of MMRWA, first Chapter Advisor and President more than once, I’m often asked how MMRWA manages to stay alive, thriving, and relevant to an ever-changing and diverse membership in an ever-changing and diverse world of publishing.
Programs held monthly, presenting carefully chosen topics and speakers, sometimes member critique sessions are one reason. Meetings run the circuit to different cities around Michigan, so all members from all areas can attend. Other MMRWA-sponsored activities play into this survivorship question as well. Our Retreat From Harsh Reality, a weekend getaway in its thirty-fourth year, is a prime example. It’s the original brainchild of another founding member, Leila Davis, who once said, “We should have a pajama party because there is never enough time to talk at a meeting.” The first retreat took place one summer in rented college dorm rooms, complete with bring-your-own bedding and towels and find-your-own food, and was attended by a group of published and aspiring authors with a love of the written word and the desire to share their work. Those meager roots evolved into a full-blown celebration of writing, complete with actual hotel rooms and meals provided, with noted speakers including one of RWA’s founders, Rita Clay Estrada. In addition, gift baskets contributed by members are sold, as are other goodies through a silent auction, with partial proceeds going to a local women’s shelter.
Contests are another way to reach out, support, and mentor fellow writers, as well as attract new members. Over the years, MMRWA has sponsored two unique contests: The Happily Ever After, which judged the last pages of a manuscript, and the current Best Banter, which judges approximately 1,500 words of conversation (aka banter) between two or more characters.
MMRWA also has an Angel Award, given annually to a member who has gone above and beyond in contributions and service to MMRWA in particular, and the writing population in general.
In addition to the writing connection MMRWA offers, long-term friendships, some spanning the entire thirty-five years, have evolved. We share and commiserate in the ups and downs, joys and tragedies of life.
But back to the main question …
How exactly has MMRWA survived and thrived for so many years? Those answers lie with the members themselves.
My own story is bittersweet. Life events dictated I give up writing for publication for a while. I also gave up my MMRWA membership to “go corporate,” taking a day job as CEO of a non-profit, which evolved into a fair amount of writing and marketing, but for others, not for me. When life shifted to allow the precious time to again devote to writing—my writing—I was thrilled MMRWA and RWA were still there for me. Naturally, I came to my senses and rejoined. Going on fifteen years ago now.
Current MMRWA President Anne Stone (aka Annie O’Rourke) describes the MMRWA longevity this way. “I think one of the reasons MMRWA continues to thrive when some chapters are struggling, besides the fact that we are a very friendly and supportive group of writers, is that we rotate our meeting locations. Utilizing four cities around mid-Michigan has allowed us to attract members from a larger geographical area. But what keeps members coming back year after year is the other members. We have become an extended family for each other. We are very fortunate to currently have sixty members, one of the largest roster years since I joined in 2009.”
Lucy Kubash, a former MMRWA president, agrees. “In 1984, I joined RWA and attended my first ever writers conference, which was held in Detroit, with my friend Alison Hart (Jennifer Green). We were both pretty new to publishing and excited about the conference and meeting other writers. Maris Soule and Leila Davis introduced us to Margo Hoornstra, who hoped to start another RWA chapter, one that would encompass the middle and western part of Michigan. As soon as I received information about the new chapter, I joined and have been a member ever since. Over the years, the chapter has had its share of growing pains, but we have survived and thrived and continue to grow. I will always appreciate the support and camaraderie I found with my fellow writers here and am very proud to be a member of Mid-Michigan RWA, #12.”
Diana Stout, a member, provides a similar take. “In late summer of 1985, I was writing my first romance book and saw an ad announcing a new chapter of RWA that was in the early formation stage. A year later, I finally attended a meeting and joined MMRWA for the first of four times. Yes, you read that correctly. Four times. MMRWA is a group of devoted writers, unlike any other writing group I’ve encountered. I always stayed connected to the group and, more importantly, to several of the members. During those in-between years, I would visit the group, sometimes presenting upon an invitation. We help each other brainstorm and plot, are beta readers, coach, cheer, or comfort when we’re sharing good news or bad. We’re a strong group of writers who survive and keep moving forward word by word, page by page, plot by plot, and book by book.”
That last sentence says it all. Validation. Support. Knowledge for craft and advice for a career. When it comes to what MMRWA and RWA provide members, the list goes on and on.
While it’s great to celebrate the MMRWA milestone of surviving and thriving for thirty-five years, even more, rewarding is the growth and promise of enthusiastic and involved members. Past, present, and future.
By Margo Hoornstra