Il Chiostro, June, 2011
Anna Maria Island, Florida, January 4-11, 2014!
Finding and Developing Your Stories
Bring your imagination as well as your stories- those already drafted and those still floating around in your head.
This workshop accommodates all levels of experience and is structured to meet the needs of each of its participants. Daily workshops feature:
*Writing exercises designed to bring out work waiting to be written and to develop your characters, plots and settings
*Sensitive, yet rigorous critique of your work
*Local side trips to nurture writing and the imagination
*Readings by students and faculty
*Lots of fun and camaraderie
Optional tutorial on up to 50 double-spaced pages mailed to Maureen by December 15, 2013 for $75
www.peripateticwritingandart.com for full details.
Maureen's uncanny ear protected my voice while guiding me to open new paths for my fiction. The Peripatetic is a Four Star Experience: Brilliant food, sympathetic company, inspiring surroundings and excellent literary advice.
Louise Farmer Smith, One Hundred Years of Marriage.
Advanced Fiction Workshop
NYWW at the JCC at Amsterdam and 76th St.
8 Wednesdays starting September 25
See NewYorkWritersWorkshop website for details
Online Fiction Tutorial, NYU SCPS
June 24--Sept 1
5 individual sessions in NYU Live Classroom
Feedback provided on up to 150 manuscript pages
Onsite Fiction Tutorial, NYU SCPS
June 24- Sept 1
5 individual sessions on up to 150 pages
Washington Square Campus
Writers Workshops in Italy
Writing workshop in Anna Maria Island, Florida
Maureen Brady is the author of the novels Ginger's Fire , Folly, and Give Me Your Good Ear, the short stories, The Question She Put to Herself, and three books of nonfiction. Recent short stories "Billy's Mark" appeared in the Bellevue Literary Review; "Five 'n Dime" in the anthology, Just Like a Girl: A Manifesta; and "Joy Suit," in Sinister Wisdom (nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Prize). Other work has appeared in Cabbage and Bones: Irish American Women's Fiction, Mom, In the Family and Intersections: An Anthology of Banff Writers, as well as many other anthologies and literary journals. She teaches creative writing at New York University, The New York Writers Workshop at The Jewish Community Center of Manhattan, The Peripatetic Writing Workshops in Guatemala and Anna Maria Island, Florida, and Il Chiostro in Italy. She currently serves as Board President of The Money for Women:Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and was a co-founder of Spinsters Ink and The New York Writers Workshop. She lives in New York City and the Catskills and her latest novel, Getaway, is available for submission by her agent.
Daybreak: Meditations for Women Survivors of Sexual Abuse, which has sold over 45000 copies to date, was released May, 2013 by Hazelden as an ebook.
In addition to teaching a fiction tutorial course at NYU, Maureen offers inspiring individual editing and mentoring services to writers in various stages of development. Working with both fiction and nonfiction, she takes writers to the next step, with sensitive but rigorous critique, and publishing advice when the manuscript is ready.
"Maureen Brady provides an environment that is equal parts nurturing and challenging. Her attention to detail, five-star copy editing, and genuine enthusiasm for the written word have me coming back to her workshops year after year. Without her involvement, I doubt I would be awaiting publication in 2012!"
Janet Goss, Perfect on Paper, New American Library, 2012
Other writers she has worked with who have gone on to successful publication include:
Helen Wan, The Partner Path, St. Martin's Press, September, 2013
C.E. Lawrence, , Winner of the Paris Review Prize, 2013,
Debotri Dhar, Postcards from Oxford: Stories of Woman and Travel, Roman Books, 2013
Jonathan Freiberger, "Pinksy Gets It Right," winner of Glimmertrain Emerging Writers Contest, Winter, 2012
Janet Goss, Perfect on Paper, New American Library, 2012
Susan Breen, The Writing Class, Plume, Spring, 2008.
Aaron Hamburger, Faith For Beginners, Random House, Fall, 2005, winner of The Prix Rome, 2005, for his short story collection, The View From Stalin's Head
Marion Cuba, Shanghai Legacy, Celadon Books, Spring 2006
Michael Gray, winner of 2004 Alligator Juniper Fiction Prize for short story
Louise Farmer Smith, winner of 2006 Glimmertrain Award for Emerging Writers for short story written at Tuscany workshop
Danielle Ofri, Singular Identities:Becoming a Doctor at Bellevue, Beacon Press
Caroline Hwang, In Full Bloom
Laura Kaplan, The Story of Jane
Paula Martinac, Out Of Time
"Maureen knows exactly what to say to tweak a weak narrative. Her comments honed in on the problem I was having with structure and improved not only my fiction but my confidence as well!"
For further information, contact Maureen at her email: firstname.lastname@example.org
My first best friend was Carol Coulter. She lived across and down the road from our chicken farm, the “new start” place in the Catskills my folks purchased at the end of the war, when my father finished his service in the Merchant Marines. Carol lived in an ugly, block-shaped house covered in reddish-brown shingles, some of which had blown off to leave tar paper scars. The only positive impression it made on me came of its being three stories high and filled up in a way that brought to mind The Old Woman and The Shoe, one of my favorite childhood tales. Carol was the eldest of nine children, who appeared on an average of one a year. They had not all yet been born when we started our friendship in kindergarten, but eventually they were all packed into that accommodating building that looked more like a warehouse of children than a home.
Carol was smart, blonde, a little chunky, but seemingly self-assured. Perhaps the self-assurance was a trait common to the eldest girl, as it also fit my sister, who had beat me out of the womb by a year and a half. I was, by contrast, hesitant, shy, hyper-vigilant, putting my powers of observation to work to track and record all that happened around me.
My sister Peggy often held my hand to lead me out into the world, which seemed only right, since she was my older sister, but my mother seemed to think she was all I would ever need and that she could and should be my best friend, too. Yet, even at five or six, I knew better. Knew how special it was to establish a friend who was for you and who absolutely did not belong to your family. Did not have to be your friend but was, just because she chose to be, and by being your friend could take you into an alternate universe.
Carol’s family ate at a huge table that took up nearly the entire dining room. It was so wide food had to be passed around, not across the table. The children were allowed to have Kool-Aid with their meals, after they’d each downed one small juice glass of milk set out before the meal. Although I knew the reason for the Kool-Aid was poverty, I secretly thrilled at getting a glimpse of the advantages of poverty. My mother was a nurse and, despite lean times, force fed us milk as the healthy choice and harped on Kool-Aid rotting our teeth.
Carol’s father drove a delivery truck, a big, boxy thing which rolled into the driveway every evening at exactly 5 o’clock. He expected supper within a half hour of his arrival, but for that short window of time before it was served, he’d sit in an easy chair with his feet up on the ottoman, and all the Coulter children would ascend upon him, hiking themselves up onto his jutting belly or bouncing on his legs while he cuffed, squeezed and teased them. Except on the nights when Mrs. Coulter told him one of the children had misbehaved and he would take out the strap and drag the offender out to the garage, I watched wistfully from the doorway, wishing he were my father so that I could crawl into his lap, too.
Mrs. Coulter would be sashaying back and forth between the kitchen and the dining room, acting as if she’d had nothing to do with the squeals we could all hear coming from behind the closed door, calling Carol and me to her side to help her get the food on the table. She, too, had a protuberant belly, because if she wasn’t pregnant, she was just getting over having had the last child and could never get the weight off before the next one.
Carol’s brother Billy, the oldest boy, in an unspoken way, became my first boyfriend. He was too young for me, two years younger, the same age as my brother Tommy, but took my heart by having a vulnerability that showed--a large dark birthmark plastered smack across one otherwise soft, pinkish cheek. Gary, the next boy down the ladder of Coulter children, had one as well, but Billy bore his with such dignity, it seemed as if Gary could be almost glad to have one too. Carol bossed us all around, and I didn’t mind as much as I would have, had I not been so well-trained in being boss-aroundable by my sister. I had found a niche where the dynamics were similar to my family’s--an older female to boss me around and a younger male who was fun to be with--but I didn’t see or feel this at the time. I only felt the expansion of how my friendship with Carol provided an open window into another family, which served to double my world view.
I spent overnights in Carol’s room, (as the oldest she had a room of her own on the third floor), giggling, playing Parcheesi, arriving and departing with my folded up rubber sheet tucked as inconspicuously as I could make it under my arm. My mother insisted I take this with me, for at home I was a bed wetter. And although I never wet the bed away from home, I slept in dread of doing that.
Was there something particular about Carol that drew me to her, or was it simply that she was there and chose me? We walked to school and back every day for years, compared the number of ‘highly satisfactory’s’ on our report cards. Her family showed me that my family’s way was not the only way, for instance, that bad grammar could go uncorrected and be worn almost like a badge. The down to earth, unselfconscious working class atmosphere that permeated the Coulter home had an enormous appeal to me, living as I was on the turf of a class war, in which my mother, coming from a more refined background, was always dueling to out-influence my father, who came from rural, working class people.
When I was eleven, my mother moved us to Florida, in part because she was convinced we would not have much of a chance to escape Carol’s fate--early pregnancy and forced young marriage--if we stayed there, in part because my father had declared our farm bankrupt and was going back to the merchant marines, where he’d been before and during the war. Though I railed about the loss of my first real home on the farm and was filled with notions of abandonment by my father going back to sea, and resisted being dislodged with every ounce of my fiber, I owe her a debt for that foresight.
I don’t know what became of Carol but suspect she married early, had a ton of children and bossed them all around, and that, despite her sterling report cards, she still says ‘ain’t’ without flinching. .
My father lived in dread of debt; he didn’t like to purchase things “on time.” In the den behind the living room, he had a large desk, where he paid the bills and worked out his taxes once a year. We weren’t allowed in that room so naturally we entered it whenever we could, only to emerge confused by the anxious vibes he seemed to leave behind even when he was far away, out in the barn or down at the American Legion Bar. Papers were stacked neatly; there were no grand messes. The late afternoon light came in slant through the Venetian blinds over the back window and you could see dust motes bouncing in the shaft of light just like I imagined the brain cells bounced about erratically in his head whenever he was in there, his pencil tap tap tapping on the hard wooden desk and a foggy steam coming out of his ears, it seemed to me, as he fumed about how to make the figures work.
It was the fifties and farms were being bought up and made into big businesses and, so what, let them do that, but why did we have to be affected by that when we had a perfectly good family farm? Several thousand chickens in two barns, hatching equipment that sat idle all year until spring, when we got to turn the eggs every couple of hours and watch the gooey chicks burst out of them, an egg grader in the cellar and enough children to man it, standing at our stations to pack the eggs into large, medium or small crates. Mother washed the eggs while they were still in their baskets in a deep sink, with lye and hot water that steamed up so strongly it made her face disappear for a minute. Dad stood at the head of the grader, candled the eggs and then placed them on the merry go round which dropped them off according to size.
But then suddenly, or not so suddenly, despite Dad’s dread of debt, we were in it. He’d struggle with papers in the den, shuffling them, cursing in loud whispers, stamping a paperweight down hard on them, as if they were going to get up and move around of their own accord, before roaring off to the bar to drink himself into oblivion and be brought home by a kindly neighbor or fetched home by our mother, to scare us all to death with a menacing lurch and cloudy eyes that said, “Don’t you dare look at me like that.” But how could we look at him with anything less than panic? The feeling that a monster had been let out of its cage, and how and when could we get to the other side of this and breathe again? Which happened only when we heard his large frame collapse on the bed. His snores traveled across the open center hall, and the next day, all of us experienced his morning heaves as if they were our own.
Did Carol know about any of this? Surely, I never breathed a word of it, yet I surmised so much about her family’s secrets merely by crossing the threshold of their house. And certainly all the adult neighbors knew that my dad was not one of those who could make it back home from the bar on his own.
I don’t remember Carol coming to sleep over at my house. My sister and I shared a room. So there would have been room for an overnight guest for me when Peggy spent the night with one of her friends, but my overall impression was this: We had a smaller family than the Coulters, but they had more room. Always space to add another chair at that huge rectangle of a dining table, always an extra bed for me, whereas we had just enough for ourselves.
When we got ready to move away, I only wanted to stay behind. It felt like death, the demand to leave my only known world behind. I thought of asking the Coulters if I could move in with them. They all seemed to like me well enough. I would be no problem. After all, I was skilled at making myself nearly invisible, and I would bask in that attitude of theirs that there was always enough to go around, even if it were only Kool-Aid instead of milk. Although my mother’s values had penetrated me deeply enough by then that I worried about my teeth and bones.
In the end they never invited me to stay behind. And I lost heart and didn’t ask the day before the auction, when I went down to tell them we were leaving. Mrs. Coulter yelled out her usual “C’mon in,” when I rapped at the side door. I entered with my head down, deadly quiet, but she kept up her cheery greeting, telling me to go on up to Carol’s room, acting as if nothing could ever disrupt our life-as-usual homework routine, and I allowed myself to fall under her spell. I only deviated from it once, when I was parting from Carol’s room and I’ll never see this room again kept spinning through my mind. My eyes dashed about, taking in the cracked plaster on the back wall, Carol’s slant closet, built into where the roof came down, in which we sprawled out on old clothes that had fallen to the floor when playing hide and seek.
“I guess we’re going after tomorrow,“ I said.
“To Fla-di-da,“ she said.
I swallowed hard and nodded.
She made a funny motion with her arms, as if she planned to fly down alongside us rather than say good-bye.
“Mommy says we can come back to visit next summer.“
“Oh, goody,“ she said to that.
“But I don’t know where we’ll stay.“
“You can stay right here,“ she said definitively, and patted the twin bed I often slept in.
And then I whirled around and waved, see you, and headed down the stairs and out the door, before anyone could see my tears.
The next day our side yard was filled up with neighbors and strangers and the incessant bark of the auctioneer, while inside the house grew emptier and emptier as our belongings disappeared out the door. Peggy and I crouched down and peered out our low bedroom window, ducking whenever someone looked up at us with what we imagined must be pity. We had to hold back from shouting: “No, you can’t take that, it’s mine,” when the gavel struck and the man declared SOLD. We had been told it all had to go, and we’d be rewarded by getting new things at the other end. Our mother tried to be Pollyanna about how she was looking forward to this, but we knew she had favored hiring a moving van. This auction was our father’s idea, to strip down to what would fit into or on top of our 1954 Nash Rambler Station Wagon, along with all of us. When it was time for Mother’s baby grand piano to be auctioned off, Mother disappeared, and the next time I saw her, she looked blanched and pale and unsteady, as if she might faint.
There was no such significant loss among my belongings; for me it was the land. The great garden where our vegetables grew large and colorful, much more so than in the hard backyard plot of the Coutlers, fed as ours was from the generous pile of chicken manure which got regularly shoveled out the back windows of the big five story barn until it mounded up into a pile a couple of stories high. The path at the side of the field up to the first barn, the low door that my father had to stoop to pass through but which was just right for me. The second barn farther up the driveway, where we kept the brooder hens under large circular lights, that provided the heat that kept them from bunching up to stay warm and smothering each other in a corner. Then the tamped down grass path up to the high back field, where stood the summer coops for the hens who roamed free all day but came in at night to lay their eggs.
The crab apple orchard lined the back of the field. Carol and Billy and Tommy and I often played there, dividing off into friends and enemies, honing a point on a green stick, then hurling all the dropped crabapples across the field at each other. They stung like bullets when they hit you. You fell to the ground, grasping your stung arm and rolling about like a soldier you’d seen on the front page of the newspaper during the Korean war. But then, as the enemy prepared to charge upon the person who was your partner, you’d rise up, miraculously recharged with energy, grab the nearest apples you could find and begin a fresh assault on the others, spitting mad and trying to make your hurl accurate enough to sting back the shooter who had gotten you.
There were memories too in this field, of picking butter cups, of Carol holding one under my chin to see if it turned my chin yellow for yes as she said, “He loves you, he loves you not,” not knowing it was her brother Billy I had in mind to ask the question about. There were times of being chased by the rooster, screaming and running wildly with my arms flapping, as if I were of the chicken species, running backwards out of fear the rooster would take a peck at my butt. And there were masses of wild flowers here in the tall grass from May until the snow came down and blanketed it and let us know we were done for winter and wouldn’t be back until the next year.
I loved the snow, too, the perfection of it when we woke in the morning and no one had yet been out to shovel or play in it. Freezing rain on top of it only made it all the more like icing on a just frosted cake, it glistened and enveloped the world. My brother couldn’t wait to get his snowsuit on, to go out and spring though the crust, breaking up the perfect surface it made to our wide front yard; he had no reverence. But I preferred to sit in the window longer, just looking at it, enjoying its flawless character, seeing how nature was always giving things a chance to start over.
I must have been hoping mother nature would give the same to me--a chance to cover up the jagged edges, to smooth out the rumpled feelings I carried within me, as I clung to some measure of my own reality as it differed from my mother’s reality, as she spouted off that we were going to be oh so happy in Florida, although no one in the family had ever set a foot in that state before and it was all a gamble, and my father’s reality, as he denied he’d gotten drunk the night before and said or done this or that shameful thing. “I don’t remember a thing,” he’d say heartily, and it seemed as though there was no holding him down to tell him he was still the daddy and was supposed to be responsible for all of us.
I helped Daddy pack the little two-tone green Nash Rambler station wagon the morning of our departure. He was sober then and careful to make every fold neat as he slipped in the smaller bags and objects around the larger ones and tied special ship’s knots to secure the suitcases that were in the roof rack, grunting now and again as he pulled hard, patting and shaking to make sure everything was tight. I admired him no end then, as he protected our scant remaining belongings. The car sagged lower and lower and he checked that, too, how much clearance we might have going over a bump.
“All set,” he finally said to me. “Now we just have to wait for your mother.” I knew what he meant by that. She was always slow to leave a place. He lit a Raleigh and looked up at the barns. I followed his eyes and a huge lump started to build in my throat. How could we possibly leave this place? I wanted to suggest we start unpacking, but, of course, someone had bought the farm. Whoever they were, they didn’t seem real, I had never seen them, and yet they had been given the keys and might be moving in any day now.
Finally, Mother came with the baby Patti in tow, Peggy and Tommy running out ahead of her, Tommy arguing that he needed a window seat or he’d puke. I countered that I’d been first to the car so got first choice but, in the end, I settled for the middle seat when Daddy told me he might need me to move around the things we’d packed so he could see out of the rear view mirror. As we pulled away, I was up on my knees, glancing down the road to the Coulter’s house, then getting a final look at our house and barns and yard as I patted down the thing Daddy said was blocking his view, and my tears streamed down without being seen by the rest of them and loosed that big lump in my throat, though I had no idea how I would go on living, without this place and Carol to define me.
Published in Bellevue Literary Review, Spring 2008...........................................................
"Joy Suit," Sinister Wisdom Humor Issue, March, 2012, nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Prize............................................................
"Five 'n Dime," Just Like a Girl: A Manifesta, 2009
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Coming soon as an ebook!