Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, 2015

In the Presence of Mountains.


I am the unknown writer in the corner of the room, two hundred or so of us packed in to grasp greedily at Annie’s Lamott’s dry wit, warm self deprecation, and carefully chosen pearls of wisdom, mined not only from deep oceans, but the everyday tragedy of being human.

I am the center of attention, across the table from the editor of Zyzzyva, a literary magazine I would be honored to publish in. A plucky west coast literary magazine, it defies the limits of geography – it’s not on the East Coast – and is a formidable presence in the literary world. The editor, Laura Cogan, offers not only her time as she reviews my story, but the wisdom of having read hundreds of stories that were a draft away from perfect. She offers a question, and I offer an answer, and the story, in front of my eyes, grows stronger.

I am alone, climbing, the sun chasing the fog up the mountain, taking gulps of the air, thin but so clean, amazed that I am out of bed at six AM, forcing myself in one direction – up – because that is where I will find perspective.

I am among friends, wiping tears from my eyes late at night from the laughter that caught me unaware, curled up on a couch, enjoying the curious intimacy of new friends.

I am overwhelmed, intimidated, and almost afraid to write another word, as I listen to the readings of the faculty in the evenings. We gather in the largest of the lodge rooms, heavy beams and wide windows lend it an aura of being in a castle, as if we should light torches. The sky shifts from grey to luscious hues of pink, as each writer stands in their own small spotlight, offering delicious prose. Their images leave me speechless. These are craftsmen that create sea-worthy ships with their bare hands, with the wood of redwoods felled in a magic forest. I tie together a small raft of driftwood, and yet I must follow them towards the same tossing sea.

I am stopped on the stairs by a Janet Fitch, who wrote a novel my daughter and I fell in love with, simultaneously, years ago. A stunning story, and important book. She wants to tell me some ideas she’s had, about a comment I made the day before, a book or two my son might enjoy. She doesn’t know my name, but she knows a book my son should read.

I am touched by the generosity of spirit that abounds.

I am inspired, encouraged, on fire with optimism, as the teachers remind me that words carefully placed together can tell the story in my heart. And that the story will find its way out of me, onto the page, then out to the world. It will be in the presence of epic tales, romance novels, tragedies and nursery rhymes. It doesn’t matter. As long as I’ve told my story.

I am a writer, at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley.  Exhausted, exhilarated, grateful.


About Joanellserraauthor

My debut novel just released from Wido Publishing and on Amazon. Come see me at
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