Digging for Words

One writer's quest to bring the past to life through imagination

Guest Blogger: Susan Barr-Toman, author of “When Love Was Clean Underwear”

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Guest blogger Susan Barr-Toman comes to us as real family. Though I personally haven’t met her yet, most of us know her sister Mary Mann from her time with The Writers Circle and now in her new, all-consuming capacity as the editor of Maplewood Patch.

As Susan’s blog post shows, she too struggled and doubted and finally, indeed at the very last moment, found acceptance and success. But Susan has come to realize that, even without that bound volume with her name on it, writing has given her a lot. I’m sure we can all relate to that.

Be sure to come to Susan’s reading next Friday, May 7, 7:30 PM at Maplewood’s Words.

Finding my Tribe

A few years ago, I was about to turn forty. Naturally, as for most people, it was a time of reflection. What had I done with half my life? What had I accomplished? And the big one, should I still be a writer?

I’d spent the last years working on a novel and for a long time I’d tried to capture the ever-elusive short story on paper. Still, I’d never been published, with the exception of a small article in a local weekly about there being too much dog crap in my neighborhood. Not something I necessarily wanted to hang above my desk.
When Love Was Clean Underwear
With the birthday looming, I decided to do a massive mailing of my novel and a few short stories. A concerned friend said not to psyche myself out, not to make this push my last push and give up writing to take up some career in the service industry that paid. I told her that was not my intention, but deep down I thought about giving up and doing something else. Of course that brought a new question, What else would I want to do?

Sure enough, the rejections came in, and as always each and every one stung.

When my birthday came, I was surrounded by friends and family. Four grad school friends traveled from the West Coast just for my birthday. It got me thinking.

Writing had not given me publication, but it had given me so much else. Ten years ago in a workshop, I met one of my best friends. I received a scholarship to Bennington College’s MFA program where I found a whole group of people who loved writing and books and music and film, etc. After graduation, I was invited to join a local writers group that a fellow alumna hosted. That group became my anchor, the reason why I kept writing. Each month, I needed to show up with work and good work. These people were really talented and I wanted to show that I belonged. Through this group I found my first teaching job.

Being a writer requires a lot of ass-in-chair time, alone with your thoughts and characters. But along the way I’d found friendship, community, inspiration, discipline, and even a job. Writing had given me a lot.

I realized the writing life is a good one. I’d discovered my community, my tribe, something I didn’t find in Corporate America, or in indie film, or my various incarnations in the work world. Maybe engineers feel this way. They like to get together and critique a structure just for fun. Maybe podiatrists sip coffee in outdoor cafes and watch the feet walk by, or arms specialists — well who knows? Maybe other professions love what they do and love to socialize around their vocations, but just don’t feel the urge to blog about it.

There’s something about writers – maybe our desire to figure out life, to make sense of it –that makes for strong, supportive friendships.

Two weeks after my birthday, Alan Davis at New Rivers Press called. Ann Hood had selected my book When Love Was Clean Underwear to be the winner of the Many Voices Project prize.

Finally publication. Who were the first to buy my book, to come to my book launch? Friends, family, and my entire writers group!

 Susan Barr-TomanSusan Barr-Toman was born and raised in Philadelphia where she still lives with her husband and two children and where she teaches writing at Temple University. When Love Was Clean Underwear, her debut novel, was selected by Ann Hood as the winner of the Many Voices Project’s Fiction Prize 2007.

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Author: Judith

Judith Lindbergh's latest novel, Pasture of Heaven, is about a nomad woman warrior on the Central Asian steppes in the 5th century BCE. (And there really were!) Her first novel, The Thrall's Tale, is a literary historical novel about three women in the first Viking Age settlement in 10th century Greenland. The Thrall's Tale was a Booksense Pick and a Borders Original Voices selection. Judith is also the founder and director of The Writers Circle, a creative writing program offering workshops for children and adults.

2 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: Susan Barr-Toman, author of “When Love Was Clean Underwear”

  1. This was an amazing interview Judith, thank you for posting it!
    “Being a writer requires a lot of ass-in-chair time, alone with your thoughts and characters. But along the way I’d found friendship, community, inspiration, discipline, and even a job. Writing had given me a lot.”
    She truly inspired me with her lovely words…

  2. Pingback: Two Great Friends, Three Great Events « The Writers Circle

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