Saturday, June 4, 2011

This is My Tribe

by Sofie Kelly (aka Darlene Ryan)
Author of the Magical Cats Mysteries

Writers work alone. We create worlds. We kill. We make love spark and desire simmer. We live, much of the time, in a make-believe world with people who don’t exist outside of our heads and our laptops, and the real people in our lives shake their heads and wonder if we’re deluded. Or delusional.

But for the last week I’ve been taking an online writing workshop, and I’ve been surrounded by a community that doesn’t think it’s odd to talk out loud about imaginary people. Or to them. No one asks, “Why don’t you write something like Twilight?” 

Several years ago I sat with another group of writers and heard poet and novelist Sue Goyette say, “We are your tribe. We understand.”

I have found my tribe again in an electronic gathering of like-minded people. In our online class we get giddy over a plot twist or a well-crafted paragraph. We throw ideas at one another, posts crossing in the ether until a suggestion becomes a few words from one person, a few from someone else. “Turn the princess into a vampire witch on a quest to find Elvis in the lost city of Atlantis.”

“Send me your address, I found that book we were talking about yesterday,” someone emails. No one ever complains, “Mom, we have no toilet paper again.”

Writers write and when we aren’t writing, some part of us is always watching, always plotting, no matter what’s happening to us or around us. No matter how sad, how silly, how bizarre, a little voice in our heads is thinking, How can I use this? We are crows. We see shiny pieces of other people’s lives and we reach for them. In our real lives we hear, “Don’t put this in a book.” In class a dozen people type, “You have to write about this.”

This is my tribe. People who sit too long at stop signs searching for the right words to describe a sliver of crescent moon that seems to be teetering on a roof edge. People who fall on a patch of sidewalk ice and ask the paramedic for a pencil and a piece of paper to scribble down the sensations.

In the real world this past week, dust bunnies have met, courted and spawned babies. In the real world there are enough crumbs under the kitchen table to make a sandwich. And in a few more days we’ll be ready to go back to the real world, to hunt down the dust bunnies and sweep up the crumbs. We’re part of the tribe now and we’ll take that sense of community, of encouragement back to the real world. Because the real world is where all the stories begin. Stories about love, hate, despair and what really happened to a dozen double rolls of toilet paper.

Sofie Kelly is the pseudonym of young adult writer and mixed-media artist, Darlene Ryan. Her first Magical Cats Mystery, Curiosity Thrilled the Cat, landed on the N.Y. Times bestseller list. Sofie/Darlene lives on the east coast with her husband and daughter. In her spare time she practices Wu style tai chi and likes to prowl around thrift stores. And she admits to having a small crush on Matt Lauer. Visit her website at


Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Great post, Darlene. I love being part of our tribe. A couple of days ago someone said to me, "Writing is a very solitary occupation, isn't it?" Uh, no, not really. :) I get more "community" as a writer than in any other part of my life, between the Internet and my good luck in living in New York City.

jenny milchman said...

What a wonderful post, Darlene. I have to ask whether you or any other PDD readers (and writers) live anywhere near NJ. On September 23rd we will be doing a panel in our very popular Writing Matters series called "The Writing Life, the Lonely Life: Building a Sense of Community". I'd love to have these thoughts on the Tribe come out there! And I couldn't agree more--without a Tribe, I would quite literally not have sold my first novel...

Julia Buckley said...

Interesting! I still feel the loneliness fairly often, but I do have the saving grace of a writer's group that shares my frustrations and provides chocolate consolation when manuscripts won't wrangle into shape.

Diane said...

I, too, am part of a 'tribe'. So, though I don't - even couldn't - write an interesting sentence, I understand completely. My father was career Air Force. I am a military brat. A quite old one - I'm in my 60s now - but the community is still out there and filled with like minded people. I am still friends with people I knew in 8th grade, in Madrid, Spain. Yet I don't really know many in my parents' families. Military families move every 1 to 5 years, depending on the branch of military your folks are in. New city, state, even country. Yet it wasn't at all unusal to reconnect with an old friend at a new base/post, or a friend of a friend. Or even today to find one walking down a street in a city far from where we first met. Our hometowns are the bases/posts where we lived, and they're closing (or have closed) a lot of them. But, when asked where I'm from, where do I say? The world. We talk about the tramvias (street cars), bars, and El Rastro (one of the oldest and most awesome flea markets in the world) in Madrid. Some of us speak several languages, fluently in some cases, because we lived there - Spain, France, Germany, Japan.

One day in a high school home ec class in a small western town, mostly civilian, a classmate who had recently come from England as I had from Spain, were comparing British, Spanish and American guys. The student teacher heard and was floored. She said 'and I thought comparing boys from two cities was something!' We hadn't thought twice about it. It's how we lived. One friend recently asked another if she ever got the urge to move. The friend replied 'yep. I just rearrange the furniture every 3 years.'

Everyone needs a tribe. Others that have lived the life you've lived, or - like the writing tribe - are now living the same life you do. Use it well, because it will support, inspire and understand you when others can't.

Ink said...

Fantastic post. Agreed! I think online communities have changed the sense of tribal belonging--even reading Tweets from other writers makes me feel more connected, somehow.

Kaye George said...

Perfect description, Darlene! Superb! You can use this for signing presentations.

Diane, you just did write a whole bunch of very interesting sentences. :)

Jenny, I agree completely. Wish I lived close to NJ!

Darlene Ryan said...

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for the welcome today.

Liz, I agree with you. When I think about my writing friends--both online and 3-dimensional--it's hard to call writing solitary.

Jenny, I'm not close to New Jersey so the best I could do is look west and wave.

Diane, I love the idea of your saying you "come from the world."

Celeste said...

"We are crows. We see shiny pieces of other people’s lives and we reach for them."

I love this line, it really hits the mark.

Darlene Ryan said...

Thanks, Celeste. Today I was being crow-like in a cemetery, looking for names that caught my fancy. I discovered a headstone for a man--still alive, it seems--and his three wives so far. They were listed in chronological order and they all appear to be buried in the same plot. How could I not use that? (I came home and told my husband if he has a wife after me I don't want her buried on top of me, though.)

Liz Mugavero said...

This is awesome! Makes me feel right at home :) I'm grateful to have be part of this tribe.

Sandra Parshall said...

The friendships you make are the very best part of being a writer.

Until I became a part of the writing community, I would never have thought I could feel so protective of other writers -- even those I don't know. When I read a nasty review, I want to weep for the writer, who has put so much time and effort and heart into the work, only to have it harshly dismissed. Even when I don't enjoy a book, I appreciate the author's effort in writing it. I'm not sure any non-writer can ever fully understand.

Jenny, Liz lives in New York City, closer to NJ than any of the rest of us.

Kids Birkenstocks said...

I likes your tribe and way of explanation. Your idea of online workshop is really nice. Every one have to do something more creative like this.

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