Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Friday, September 13, 2013

Relaunching a Literary Life

Looks like Long Beach to me!

California writer Carolyn See, in 2002, autographed her memoir, Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers with these sweet words, "For Terri Elders, with enough affection for a life time." I'd first met Carolyn in late '70s when I attended  a series of conferences she staged at Loyola-Marymount, symposiums of California writers. I'd fallen in love with her first novel (The Rest is Done With Mirrors) and believed that we were kindred spirits, both having grown up in Los Angeles in the early '50s.

So I was eager to meet See in person, and had a good excuse to attend the first conference. At that time I wrote literary, travel and social welfare articles for a Long Beach arts publication, Uncle Jam, so enjoyed interviewing Herbert Gold (Salt), Alice Adams (Superior Women), Alex Haley (Roots), A. Scott Berg (Max Perkins: Editor of Genius), and other luminaries as well as lesser lights. I remember later writing that at her events the wine flowed like wine. So I chuckled later when I read in Making a Literary Life, "I love big literary fundraisers and drinking bad wine from a plastic glass."

Carolyn See (l) with daughter, novelist Lisa See (Shanghai Girls)
Carolyn in her memoir includes savvy tips for making your own literary life...just in the off chance that you weren't "born and raised in an upper-middle-class (or higher) family in New York or New England." She advises that it's essential to hang out with people who support your work, and to network, network, network.

In the late '70s and early '80s I lived in Southern California where literary events and writers groups proliferated. Besides the Loyola-Marymount events, I even attended the D. H. Lawrence festival in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1980, where I rubbed shoulders with Allen Ginsberg, Stephen Spender and Margaret Drabble. I didn't miss a chance to interview a writer, and I'd always introduced myself as a journalist. I even got some freelance gigs for luncheon interviews with authors on tour, through a connection I'd made at one of Carolyn's symposiums with Julia Kessler (Getting Even With Getting Old). This included such bestselling writers of the times as Herb Cohen (How to Negotiate Anything), Susan Isaacs (Compromising Positions) and Martha Friedman (Overcoming the Fear of Success).

I wrote about them all for Uncle Jam...and in retrospect, my favorite piece probably was about the afternoon I spent at the home of Laura Archera Huxley, widow of Aldous Huxley (Brave New World), herself a writer (You Are Not The Target). She told me of what happened on the day that her husband died. It was November 22, 1963...a big news day, the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She confided that she tried to keep the news from reaching his ears. People in the house were glued to the television, but she insisted they turn the volume down to a whisper, while she encouraged her husband to reach towards the light.I remember having goosebumps as she described the scene.

I treasure the copy of her spouse's The Doors of Perception that Laura autographed for me. Laura loved my article and wrote me a thank you note. Yes, it's six degrees of Kevin Bacon, I know...but somehow I felt connected to Aldous, and I had Laura's note framed.

My life took a different path by the mid-'80s. I became so engrossed in my career as a psychiatric social worker that I had little time left for hobnobbing with a literary crowd. Then I went overseas with the Peace Corps and lived abroad for ten years, in four developing countries. When I returned in 1998 I had to reestablish my career as a licensed clinical social worker and worked for the Arkansas Department of Health in Little Rock and at Peace Corps headquarters in Washington, D.C. I'd additionally remarried in 2000, so had housewife chores and duties to eat up my time.

In 2006 I took stock and asked myself what I was missing. I knew, of course. I missed writing. I'd been editing other people's works off and on for decades, but I'd more or less stopped producing my own, aside from the occasional travel piece when I lived in Guatemala in the early '90s. I figured it was time to get back on track.

Since I started writing memoir again, I've had true stories published in 85 anthologies, with more on the way. I've also edited half a dozen books, including my own in the new Not Your Mother's Book series, Not Your Mother's Book...On Travel. Though for years I'd been identifying myself as a psychiatric social worker, in recent years when people ask what I do professionally, I now find myself saying I'm a freelance writer and editor.

To commemorate my new official status, yesterday I had some business cards made that simply proclaim Terri Elders, Writer * Editor, followed by my email address and blog website link. No need for too much information.

What am I going to do with them? For starters I'm  heading for California to attend the Southern California Writers Conference in Newport Beach, and the launch of the My Gutsy Story anthology series in Costa Mesa on September 26. I'd entered the My Gutsy Story online contest for August and I now have my very first virtual trophy. Here's more about Sonia Marsh's My Gutsy Story anthology book launch, a free event at Regency South Coast Village.

As Carolyn See always insisted, I'll use these opportunities to hobnob with other exchange leads and tips and writerly inside information. And, as she summed up so well, most likely to drink some bad wine in plastic glasses.

I can hardly wait...California, here I come!


Back in 1960 Ray Charles released a wonderful album, The Genius Hits the Road. This was his breakthrough into the pop-album Top 10. His rendition of "California, Here I Come," leaves Al Jolson and any other connoisseur of sunshine and flowers in the shade! Charles buffs may remember this album for "Georgia on My Mind." But California's on my mind, and I think it was on Ray's when he recorded this tune. He sounds so in-your-face anticipatory!

Here it is:


  1. ALEX HALEY!!! Omgosh, I had no idea you hung out with and interviewed so many big names. Like I always say, you are a surprise a minute. You have a terrific time on your trip, promote the heck out of NYMB and have a glass of wine in a plastic cup for me. <3

  2. I am also a book reader. When ever I get some time I give that time to books. I hope some day I also write a book how I read book.

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