by Julia Simpson-Urrutia
The most acclaimed American writers’ magazine used to arrive at my Saudi post office a month late and badly mangled. Every time I got its torn pages in my hands, I rejoiced. It was so many things: mail-order writing school, link to the world of Western writers (their thoughts, pains, considerations), and a source of inspiration.
I could not enter the contests because by the time the magazine had arrived, and with calculations for the time that would be needed to make it through the freeze-frame world of the Saudi post office, my entries would never make the deadlines. It was enough that Lawrence Block and other pros shared writing woes, cracked j0kes and helped me improve my skills. They taught me about SASE’s, international reply coupons (which no longer exist, against all logic) and how not to take myself too seriously.
Six years after returning to the USA, I moved to Fresno, California and met a writer and judge for competitions held by that same magazine. Wish I could say I bumped into her, but no–I submitted on spec! Her neighbor was my friend, and I handed over a story. Would Connie take me into her writing group?
“This woman is a professional writer,” Connie told my friend. I was in! Hooray!
Connie is the kind of writing partner every writer needs, and believe me, I had long tried to find one like her, not even quite realizing what I was looking for. She is the kind of reader I try to teach my students to be for each other during draft workshops. (A blog for another day.)
Connie is exacting in her own style. When she has a finished product, it is crisp, clear, pulls me forward, and leaves me wanting to know more. There is humor, irony, unexpected twists in plots and a clear ability to put her finger on the details of human nature that perplex us all.
As individuals, we are quite different. For instance, I appreciate that others appreciate basketball; only she could get me to want to know more about the sport. In my book, that is what good writing is about.