Presidents Letter March

Dear Gulf Coast Writer:
There’s a new energy in the air. To the dozens who attended our February meeting, thank you for your participation, your interest, your ideas, and for stepping up to participate in the activities of our organization.
So far this year, ten or more new members have become part of us. We welcome Janet DeLeo, Kathy Klag, Mary Beth Leopold, Eddie Lydick, Sheryl Stillman, Geraldine McArdle, Laura Schueneman, Andrea West and Richard Allen. Whom have I missed? Let me know!

To you who have recently renewed your membership or rejoined our association, a thousand thanks. Your annual dues keep our wheels in motion.
And for volunteering as judges of our writing contest, now under way, another thousand thanks. If you haven’t yet stepped up to do so but are willing, let us know. Also, now’s the time to polish your own literary or poetic works and enter them. The deadline for entries is the end of May.

This weekend, Saturday March 2, is the SWFL Reading Festival. Gulf Coast Writers will have a tent near the front of the festival, just off First Street near the Lee County Library entrance. In two shifts, twelve of our members will be in the GCWA tent, selling their books and encouraging visitors to join our organization. Come by and say hello to your colleagues on your way to or from the many author presentations. You’ll encounter some current literary lions inside the big tents: Jeffrey Deaver, Lisa Unger, Sarah Penner, Heather Graham and Charles Todd among others whose names you know and whose work you admire. See you there!

Our March 16 program is a departure from the literary world and an important one for authors who want to be noticed. The innovator and host of NBC2’s “Stories2Share” segments, Sean Martinelli, will be with us live and in person. Sean will help us understand how to get the attention of the media in a saturated “notice me” world. His stories appear on the 6:00 news three evenings a week on the local NBC-2 station. Come and meet Sean and learn. We meet at Word of Life Church, 6111 South Pointe Blvd., Fort Myers, at 10 AM. And like last month, we urge you to stay and chat or migrate to nearby Buckett’s Grill for a group lunch.

Here’s an assignment: to prepare for Sean Martinelli’s appearance, compose your “elevator pitch.” You know what that is, of course. It’s a tight, compelling 25-second selling script in which you persuade your listener – aka your “target” – to publish your book or poem or essay. You have not five minutes, not two minutes, not one minute: just 25 seconds. Try it. Your reward will come when your target says, “Tell me more.”

See you March 16, if not before. Please say hi to me – and give me your 25-second pitch. That is how we will connect. We also elect officers this month. Nominate yourself or someone else. All offices are open.

My Dear Fellow Writers:

Membership in the Gulf Coast Writers Association requires annual dues of $50. Those dues allow us to pay rent for a place to meet and to cover honorariums for presenters. They allow us to participate in the Lee County Library Reading Festival, maintain our website, and sponsor a noteworthy writing contest with a discounted entry fee for Members. We must also carry liability insurance. We are a nonprofit. No member or officer receives compensation for our work. All dues go toward essentials.
Annual dues, which are due in January, cover the period Jan. 1 to Dec. 31. Dues paid in the last three months of the year are applied to the next calendar year. Dues paid January 1 through September 30 apply to the calendar year in which they are paid.
For example:
Writer A pays dues in October 2023 and is in good standing throughout 2024.
Writer B pays dues in August of 2023 and is covered through the remainder of 2023.

Unfortunately, a large part of our membership is behind on their dues. Part of this problem is confusion about when dues are due. Part is the association’s reluctance to invoice.
But we need to function, and we need dues to do that. The $50 is a small amount and the rewards of membership are high. Please go to and use Paypal to pay your dues or send a check made out to Gulf Coast Writers Association, Inc., P.O. Box 60771, Fort Myers, FL 33906. Or bring a check to the February meeting. If you are not sure you have paid, email to ask. David will let you know.

We all need to support our organization. Those who do not pay dues lose the privileges that come with membership: free attendance at meetings, participation in the Reading Festival, access to important website information, and many other opportunities.

Yours toward a more robust organization of writers helping writers,
Mary Charles, Acting President,
and the Executive Board


Revised January 8, 2024




Dear Gulf Coast Writers,

I am disinclined to make New Year resolutions because I always disappoint myself. But I’ve made one on behalf of our organization this year: to help us become more relevant and energetic and inviting.

To fulfill this resolution, I’ll need help from you. For us to succeed, we need to connect. 

As a first step toward connecting, we have a new program component. After our featured presenter, we’re going to break out into interest groups: one for those who want to start a critique group, another for those who want beta readers for their manuscripts, others for connecting with their preferred writing genre, one for helping GCWA thrive, or…. You get the idea. Come prepared to connect with like minds. 

At the circus, the “spinning plates” act makes my palms sweat. The performer balances a platter on a long pole, sets it in motion and hoists it into the air. Then another and another is kept aloft and spinning by the lone acrobat.

That’s been our dirty little secret at Gulf Coast Writers. Only two or three acrobats are keeping all the plates in the air. And plates are threatening to fall. Fatigued volunteer acrobats can bring the house down. 

So this year, more than ever, we need Gulf Coast Writers to be an interactive organization, to keep our plates in the air and make better use of our collective resources. This year, we’re looking for committees, not just individuals, so that no one person must do the entire job every month. Please say you’ll participate in one of these functions:

Zoom/projector/computer managers for our monthly meetings. Without people to man our audio-visual equipment, we won’t be able to see and hear our speakers, and our meetings will become dull affairs. Don’t be intimidated by the technology. It’s a quick learning process. Let’s divide up the job among several members.

Hospitality. This is a multi-layer job, and we’ll look for a committee of three or more. Greeters to let everyone know they’re welcome. Name tags for all. Sign-in management. Handouts. Snacks: water and nibbles. (Maybe even coffee!) Photographing members and speakers. And more.

Programs. Two members have already volunteered to develop activities for our monthly meetings. They would like more members to offer new ideas, new approaches, new subjects, new help.

Special Projects. This is an important category, enabling us to reach out beyond our membership to engage others. Our annual writing contest is an example. We need judges. And here’s another: the Reading Festival in early March needs feet on the ground.

Website. As previously reported, our website is undergoing redesign. When that is completed, we’ll need help keeping it organized, functional and current. Please step up if you have skills in that area. This is vital!

Communications. One of our members already volunteered to increase our exposure on social media including LinkedIn and X [formerly Twitter]. Who can help with Facebook and Meetup?

Storm Stories promoters. Many of you contributed to the success of our anthology of Hurricane Ian stories, published last September. Opportunities to sell the book continue to emerge. We need an inventive sales team to help advance the book’s exposure. 

Out-of-the-box thinkers. How to increase our media exposure, attract new members, create a more dynamic organization? Writers are idea people. Please help us with ideas for – and the execution of – new initiatives.

These are just a few ways in which we can work together to build Gulf Coast Writers into a dynamic and approachable resources for writers. I hope you’ll join me in this endeavor. Call or email me or sign up at the meeting on January 20.

One more bit of business: members need to pay their annual dues. If you’re not sure whether you have submitted your $50 fee, please see David Aiken at the January 20 meeting. Dues enable us to function. Please do your part.

I wish each of you a happy and productive 2024, and I hope to see you at our first meeting of the year, Saturday January 20. The featured speaker will be focusing on navigating the modern publishing landscape, discussing the pros and cons of traditional, self and assisted publishing. And those special interest breakouts will make this a meeting you won’t want to miss. Remember the one-time change of location:Peace Community Church, 17671 Pine Island Road, FMB

Mary Charles

The ‘Storm Stories – Hurricane Ian’ continues to get attention in the local press. See a recent release from the Pine Island Eagle, below:

Gulf Coast Writers Association set to publish ‘Storm Stories — Hurricane Ian’

A collaborative effort to tell “Stories of Survival, Heroism and Humanity” has come together in “Storm Stories–Hurricane Ian.”

With the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ian making landfall in Southwest Florida approaching, the Gulf Coast Writers Association, in partnership with the Alliance for the Arts, will release a commemorative book complied from 83 submissions, including poetry and long narratives.

The book’s cover art was done by renowned artist Leoma Lovegrove, who lost both her home and gallery in Matlacha to Ian. The foreword was written by award-winning novelist Robert Macomber, who was among the evacuees from Pine Island.

“In this collection of stories, you will read of that storm’s profound effects on the people and places of this coast, told by those who endured it,” Macomber said. “I am proud to be part of this literary endeavor, for the heart of it is a powerful, vivid story about the better angels of human nature, which emerge when least expected and most needed.”

Lovegrove said working on the project was cathartic.

“After the Ian wave hit, our home on Matlacha was a total loss,” she said. “Part of the house washed out to sea, so all of our personal belongings now reside in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Taking on this art project was very personal.

“When Hurricanes Ian hit, I eased my stress by painting up a storm, and Ian about knocked the wind and paint brush right out of me. I did this project because my paintings tell my story the best. I offered the art before they encouraged me to write my story. I struggled through the writing. It was hard to express myself with words. It’s much easier to paint,” Lovegrove said.

GCWA secretary and project leader Jeanne Meeks describes the project as a labor of love.

It began at post-Ian meeting after the executive committee decided there were enough stories to gather and compile an entire book.

With four acting editors and the Alliance for the Arts partnership, the book received the 83 narratives.

“Our whole purpose was to give people a voice — to get off their chests, the effects of having been through the storm, whether it was the flooding or the aftermath — whatever they went through,” Meeks said.

The book runs the gamut, from submissions from those who took cover from the storm in their attic to those who experienced insurance issues post storm.

Although most stories in the book are from novice writers, some are published authors. The editorial process was performed by members of the GCWA in an effort to clean up any mistakes, without losing the original voice and tone conveyed by the writers, Meeks said.

As one of the four editors, Meeks admits there are several stories that she found particularly poignant, including a story about a man who stepped outside his Bonita Beach condo and was swept away by the storm surge and knocked into nearby mangroves, where he had to hang on for several hours.

“There are several like that — it just breaks your heart — where they didn’t have enough money to replace things — they’re just relying on neighbors and friends,” Meeks said.

Meeks went on to note Macomber’s forward is quite interesting, as he talks about being evacuated from Pine Island, becoming a refugee himself.

Another storyteller acted quickly by going out immediately to shovel mud out of the homes of others and help to replace their rooftops, she said.

“A couple of months later, he was still helping a family get a car and get a place — who were displaced by the storm. He solicited the help from his community up in Ohio, to sponsor this family and make sure they had what they needed — because they’re hard-working people, who just had bad luck. The disaster hit everybody from very poor to rich people and it’s no less devastating,” Meeks said.

Although she didn’t take an exact count of how many writers in the book are from the GCWA, Meeks approximated that quite a few are current members.

“Some people dropped off stories to the Alliance and some only did it over the telephone — somehow recording their voices for the stories. So, that’s a different experience — taking somebody’s voice and transcribing it into a story,” Meeks said.

The 400 to 500 hours spent passing out flyers and stopping people to ask for stories on Hurricane Ian paid off, generating good participation in the group’s first book project.

Read the entire article from the Pine Island Eagle.

Reserve your Storm Stories book from Amazon.

President’s letter for April 2023

In our broadest initiative in many years, Gulf Coast Writers Association is partnering with the Alliance for the Arts to remember Hurricane Ian in words and art.

The words are the job of us Gulf Coast Writers, of course. We will produce a book of prose and poetry submitted by our members and the public, telling the story of Hurricane Ian from a personal perspective. This anthology will debut during the month-long art and interactive exhibit installation in September at the Alliance for the Arts.

The deadline for inclusion in the printed Storm Stories book is May 1. To help us put our stories down in writing, our April 15 meeting will be a workshop to develop or refine our Storm Stories.

Come with your work in progress or simply a blank notebook and pen. Two of our members, Jeanne Meeks and Mary Charles, will facilitate creating or fleshing out your story. Both Jeanne and Mary conduct memoir workshops in their home communities. They will bring their experience and skills with exercises to help us tell our stories.

We expect a big turnout on April 15 among our members for this workshop. But we also extend an invitation to all Hurricane Ian survivors with a story to tell. Tell your neighbors. Encourage them to attend and write their stories. This initiative is not just for highly skilled writers. Ask the EMS worker down the street to participate, or the lineman you met during restoration, or your friend in the police. Stories can be submitted to the GCWA website, whether or not you attend the April workshop.

This workshop may also help you refine your other writing project: submission to the annual Gulf Coast Writers Contest. That deadline has been extended to May 31. You can enter in fiction, nonfiction or poetry. Just enter. This is another opportunity to be published. All 1st, 2nd and 3rd place entries, with submitters’ permission, will be featured on our website, in addition to other prizes.

We’ll see you on Saturday April 15, 2023, from 10:00am to noon.

Location: Map
Word of Life Church
6111 South Pointe Blvd.
Fort Myers, FL 33919

Come in person or via Zoom. And if you have not renewed your membership, you can pay your dues at the meeting, or through PayPal, or by check mailed to:

Gulf Coast Writers Association
P.O. Box 60771
Fort Myers, FL 33919








Irene Smith, President

President’s Letter for March 2023

The new deadline for this year’s Writing Contest has been extended to May 31, 2023.  This extension offers flexibility and perfect timing for any work you would like to submit for the contest.

Overwriting rather than underwriting a script is challenging.  We LOVE our work; however, like parenting, disciplining ourselves is difficult, but necessary.  In the GCWA March 2023 meeting, take what you learn from Arielle Haughee to Crisp Up That Prose!

We strongly recommend you bring some of your writing that needs revision for a hands-on portion of the class.  Bad habits can produce cumbersome prose.  The program may also include a mini workshop that offers insight on how to edit like a surgeon, discarding what is unusable; this is typically a challenge for most writers.  You’ll leave with easy strategies to use in your writing and an editing checklist to help you spot fluff.

Arielle Haughee (Hoy) is a six-time RPLA-winning author and the owner of Orange Blossom Publishing.  She is currently taking submissions for romance, women’s fiction, young adult, and nonfiction to female audiences.  More information can be obtained at  Arielle is proficient as an editor, speaker, and writing coach.  Books about love, humor, and wellness for women and children are requested.

Arielle received the President’s Award from FWA in 2020 and the Children’s Book of the Year Award in 2021for Pling’s Party.  Pling is an exclamation point who can only be in a book twice, but hilarity ensues when he continues to jump into the story and make things too exciting.

Our March meeting will be held on Saturday, March 18, 2023, at 10:00am -Noon.

  Location: Map
Word of Life Church
6111 South Pointe Blvd.
Fort Myers, FL 33919

Remember, you can attend physically or via Zoom.  If you have not renewed your dues, we would appreciate your doing so.  Your membership can be renewed at the meeting through PayPal, or you can mail a check to:

Gulf Coast Writer Association
P.O. Box 60771
Fort Myers, FL 33906








Irene Smith, President

President’s Letter for February 2023

If you found our Gulf Coast Writers Association (GCWA) January meeting explosive, be assured that February’s assembly will be a continuation of the saga between David and Goliath.

Mike continues his fight with both Truist Bank and Suncoast Credit Union, both of whom deny any responsibility for the bank theft.  Since our last meeting, Mike has made eight additional calls to the banks and to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) investigator assigned to the case.  LCSO confirmed that the originating bank was Suncoast Credit Union; they issued a new subpoena for additional documents, including info about the account the money was transferred to at Suncoast.  LCSO expects to hear from Suncoast Credit Union in three to four weeks from the time the second subpoena was issued.

On Tuesday, January 1, 2023, Mike and I spent an hour speaking to someone at Suncoast Credit Union in Cape Coral.  Again, we were told, according to their records, there is no proof of the fraudulent transactions.

Mike sent a registered letter, on January 31, 2023, to the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Truist Bank, William H. Rogers Jr.

Any additional info will be available at the February meeting, including the dirty tricks they pulled recently.  Someone is determined to make this go away, but it isn’t on our end!

In the meantime, most of you have platforms on which you can share your frustration with the banks and their determination to absolve themselves of this theft.  Choose your words wisely.  Do not lie or exaggerate.  You can pass along the word about the large number of complaints submitted to Truist Bank (865 as of last month) as not yet resolved.

At our meeting on February 18, 2023, we will share any updates with you.

Our Guest Speaker, Molly Jebber of Springboro, said she wanted to be a writer since age 12.  She never told anyone about it. “I had no background in writing,” Jebber said. “Then several years ago, my husband, Ed, asked me to quit my demanding job and move to Florida.”

Ed was supportive and encouraged her.  “I had no background in writing,” Jebber said.  I knew nothing whatsoever about fiction, which is what I hoped to write.”

In Florida, Jebber met an editor and asked him what he thought of her aspirations.  He was brutally honest, saying that, frankly, it would be too hard.  “He told me I had to have very thick skin and be used to rejection and a lot of criticism, and who wants that?”

Jebber knew she needed to educate herself on the craft, so she researched online and signed up for writer’s conferences.  “At my first conference, I signed up for a 10-minute agent meeting, not realizing the purpose,” she said.

That first meeting, with agent Mary Sue Seymour, changed Jebber’s life and trajectory forever.  “After she stopped laughing, Mary Sue explained the process,” Jebber said.

“I hadn’t written the first word of my first book, so I didn’t have anything for her to critique.  I was so embarrassed.”

But Seymour, the owner and founder of the Seymour Agency, based in New York, saw something special in Jebber and called her back.  Seymour then blocked another 20 minutes on her schedule.

“I had these little prayer cards and she asked if I would mind giving her one,” Jebber said. “Then she looked at me and said, ‘I need you.’”

Seymour explained that Amish romance was starting to sell because of an increased interest in the Amish way of life among the general public.

“I have always loved the Amish, Jebber said, but stories about them don’t always show who they really are.”

Jebber returned to a few of her favorite Amish communities in Ohio to do some research.  She wanted her book to be historical but wasn’t sure if the Amish would speak to her.  They not only answered her questions but gave her additional insight.

After that, the first three chapters of her first book, “Change of Heart,” seemed to flow quickly.  Jebber needed an agent, but the authors she knew and even her family and friends told her getting a big agent in New York was nearly impossible.  Jebber sent her first manuscript to her friend Mary Sue, who critiqued it and sent it back.

While out shopping, Jebber got the call she never thought she would.  Kensington Publishing Corp., in New York City, wanted to not only publish “Change of Heart,” but they also wanted a three book series and offered her a contract.

Her first book was published in June of 2015, followed up by a book nearly every year since.  Sadly, Jebber’s friend and mentor, Mary Sue Seymour, passed away in 2016, shortly after her second book, “Grace’s Forgiveness,” was published.  She is currently under contract with Kensington through 2023 when she will publish her eleventh book.

Writing stories is a search of the soul and a capture of life and experience to share with the world.

We expect you to be much encouraged by your own writing endeavors when you hear what Molly has to say.

See you on Saturday, February 18, 2023, at:

Location: Map
Word of Life Church
6111 South Pointe Blvd.
Fort Myers, FL 33919








Irene Smith, President

February 2023

Speaker: Molly Jebber
Topic: Let’s Talk Agents, Publishing, and Marketing
February 18, 2023, 10 a.m. to Noon

In person and Zoom meeting (Chick link to register)

Location: Map
Word of Life Church
6111 South Pointe Blvd.
Fort Myers, FL 33919

Molly will provide what to have in place before you acquire an agent and/or publish.  She’ll share what editors and agents expect and are looking for when they consider acquiring your work in today’s market.  She’ll also give us marketing tips she’s found successful.

Molly Jebber is a best-selling and award-winning author.  Her Amish Historical Romance books have made Publisher’s Weekly Best Ten List, USA Today, and have been in featured interviews on newspaper sites, and popular magazines across the U.S.  She’s a national speaker for Women’s Christian Connection.  She has served as a keynote speaker for writing conferences, and as a guest lecturer at libraries and events across the U.S. on writing, publishing, and marketing.  Molly just signed a contract with Sony Pictures/Pureflix to make a movie of LIZA’S SECOND CHANCE.  She loves God, her family, and friends.  She says yes to cupcakes, and no to coconut!

Visit for her full book list, new releases, speaking events, and her Sony/Pureflix Liza’s Second Chance movie updates!

Handout_01   Handout_02

President’s Letter for January

This year began with the continuation of ‘negotiating’ with Truist Bank.  Michael Cole is working diligently with one of the fraud analysts at Truist and with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office to get our funds restored.  Hopefully, we will have more information to share with you at our January meeting.

One of our members, who was a professional financial attorney, suggested the amount might be below the bank’s deductible and that could potentially be the reason why they do not want to pay it.  Gee–this sounds like the homeowners insurance companies!

The latest info will be available at our January 21st meeting.  We hope to have as many of you in attendance as possible because we really need your support and encouragement for other members.  We have been polarized for too long.  Now is the time to step forward and say, “I am not going to take this anymore!”

One of our authors is bringing people with her who probably haven’t been able to attend for fear of driving, etc. Carpooling is an efficient and effective way to save gas and to spend time with like-minded people; it is one way we can be of assistance to our fellow writers.  This author recently left one writer’s group because of the “cliques” that were ruining the organization.  This type of behavior has destroyed two other local groups that used to exist in our area.

GCWA is blessed not to have that issue.  The reason is simply because we follow our constitution.  When we have differences, we collaborate and iron them out at our monthly Executive Committee meetings.  Many elder members had to retire; however, we have been blessed by the new residents who have relocated to our area.

If you want an exciting and thorough understanding of what life was like in Southwest Florida years ago, our January guest speaker, Clarissa Thomasson’s four novels offer delightful reading.  In addition, add five children’s books, two award-winning stage plays, and a new novel for 2022.  Her complete bio is listed on the first page of the website.  Check it out when you get a chance.

The 2023 Writing Contest details can be found on the GCWA website as well.  There is still time to submit your entries–the deadline has been extended to February 28, 2023.

Our January meeting is scheduled to be held on Saturday, January 21, 2023 at 10:00 am – noon.  Remember, the meeting will be offered, both, in person and via Zoom.  We offer quite a few diverse ways to renew your membership.  A payment can be made while physically attending the January meeting, you can pay online through PayPal, or you can mail a check to:

Gulf Coast Writer Association
P.O. Box 60771
Fort Myers, FL 33906








Irene Smith, President

SPECIAL REPORT: January 4, 2023

Gulf Coast Writers Association Victimized by Theft

In September and October of 2022, during the lead up and aftermath of Hurricane Ian, we had $4,000 stolen from our bank account, via account-to-account transfers, from our account at Truist Bank.  This left us with only approximately $1,000 to operate.  All of this took place around the time of hurricane Ian.  We filed a fraud claim with Truist.  They did an investigation and denied our claim, despite overwhelming evidence that we were the victims of fraud.

Their reason for denial given was, “We have determined that the transactions were authorized and therefore not eligible to be returned.”  When Mike Cole asked who authorized these transactions (only Mike is authorized to do so), they continually refused to reveal who the thieves were, even though they know who the perpetrators are.

These account transfers were initiated by another bank, which Michael Cole found out to be Suncoast Credit Union.

Mike opened a case (#22-480794) with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office; they claimed banks do this all the time.  Mike was told they would wait and see how Truist respond to him and will then submit a subpoena for the relevant bank records, if necessary.  They have since subpoenaed the documents and the investigation is ongoing.

I have read the complete transaction report on this activity, rest assured; this was no amateur job.

It is clear the bank has no intention of returning our stolen funds; although, we continue our efforts to have them restored.

I ask YOU: why do banks protect the criminals and not their depositors?  How safe is anyone’s money if the banks are permitted to persist in this behavior?

The answer is obvious: There are 16 full pages of lawyers in this area but not one handles fraud cases.  I stopped calling after 15.  The reason is obvious…there is no money to be made for the lawyers.

For three months and a countless number of hours, Michael has met with and documented every conversation he has had with Truist officers and their Centralized Fraud Claims Team members, and all have the same answer, “I cannot give you that information.”

Mike contacted local TV media, but again, absolutely no acknowledgment of his request.

We are also in the process of moving our business to another bank, which we hope will be more attentive to the security of our deposits.

Ever since the COVID crisis, our membership attendance and renewals have dropped by nearly 90%.  We understand some people didn’t wish to go out or gather indoors with a crowd of people, but for most, times have changed.  Without financial stability, we cannot survive as an organization.

I would like to make this very clear…this is not a request for charity.  We are asking that you renew your membership, so we can continue our goal of encouraging emerging writers, and to create an inclusive environment for writers and would-be writers.

Our January meeting will be held on Saturday, January 21, at 10:00am-Noon.  Remember, you can attend physically or via Zoom.  You can renew your membership through PayPal or mail a check to:

Gulf Coast Writer Association
P.O. Box  60771
Fort Myers, FL 33906

Details of that meeting will be discussed in the January 2023 President’s Letter.

Irene Smith, President

President’s Letter for December 2022

With winds cresting 150 MPH, SW Florida has survived the Perfect Storm.  We may still be walking about with glazed eyes and exhausted bodies, but we are making the best of a bad situation.

This month, I asked our officers if they wished to convey something encouraging, uplifting, or humorous about their battle with Ian.  Here are a few of their feelings:

“Dear GCWA members, I want to encourage everyone to stay positive and safe.  Also, as we are about to begin a new year, let’s focus on our families and see if we can begin anew to also get back to writing.  Some may find that this is a good time to reflect and write about family, feelings, and life experiences.Susan Grunin, Board Member

“I joined GCWA three years ago to get help for a writing project I had taken on because I was a “closet” writer with NO experience or credentials to my name and I knew I needed guidance.  Well, the project fizzled out, but I’m still here three years later because my experience with GCWA has ignited a desire that lay dormant in me for most of my 72 years!  Gulf Coast Writers Association has welcomed me with open arms and has been a continuous source of inspiration and motivation, from their amazing monthly programs, with top notch speakers, down to the camaraderie and encouragement I’ve found in critique groups and interaction with the board of officers.  Whether you’re an acclaimed published author, with impressive credentials, or a nobody like me, GCWA is a GREAT place to be if writing is in your blood!  This group has a passion that’s contagious.  You will not be disappointed–come see for yourself.” Christie Zarria, Special Projects

“In my professional capacity as a psychotherapist, I have often encouraged trauma victims to write about their experiences as a way of dealing with stress and PTSD.  I did this myself, albeit many years after my return from the Viet Nam war.  Many people in SW Florida have experienced trauma and loss, either directly or indirectly, from hurricane Ian.  Writing about it could help them cope.” David Aiken, Membership

“As a writer, I sincerely believe we create stories in order to make sense of life’s events.  The kinds of stories we tell can change the past and the future.  In Fort Myers, the story of 2022 is one of resilience, of renewal, of perseverance, and of neighbors helping neighbors.  In this Christmas season, it’s a story that brings joy.” Claudia Geagan, Special Projects

“A sudden burst of homelessness was not in my master plan for life.  But Ian said phooey to my plan.  I sit in my borrowed bed in a dark borrowed house on October 1st.  My car sat in the garage during hurricane while waters rose to the rafters.  I was invited to go with neighbors to buy a replacement car from Enterprise Car Sales.  I have never bought a car looking like a vagabond, but I now own a car I don’t like, and I am happy.  I am still living communally with two other neighbor families in a temporary situation, which we must vacate by mid-December.  I’m hoping one of our houses will be livable by then so we can all camp out there until our own homes are habitable.  This is a new situation for me — not knowing where I will live next month was not on my radar.  There is such a feeling of finality in being suddenly cast adrift from a life we have all cherished.  I want to believe that we’ll build back and become the caring community we took for granted until September 28th.  I have stopped whining.  My bumper sticker on the car I don’t like says, ‘Not to spoil the ending, but everything will be okay!’” Mary Charles, VP and Programs

“The devastation of Hurricane Ian has affected us in many ways.  Months later, our hearts still break into a billion tiny pieces as we drive through the once beautiful cities of our area.  December is typically a month of holiday spirit and cheer.  Yes, we are hurting deeply—some even angry; however, just like with everything else, we have the option to make a choice.  We can either allow the havoc and destruction of hurricane Ian to depress and demotivate us or we can pull up our bootstraps, ask our higher power to give us strength and peace in the midst of the storm, and decide to uplift our mindset.  We must not allow our surroundings and emotions to dictate our moods and actions or to shut us down.  Let’s use the month of December to reset and purposely decide to grasp onto what little holiday spirit we can muster up.  Sometimes, we just have to ‘fake it until we make it!’” Dr. Kesha Dreher, Webmaster

Now, back to business:

Our GCWA 2023 Writing Contest is in full swing.  Because of the storm, we have extended the contest deadline to February 28, 2023.  This information will also be on our website.

On behalf of all of us, we wish all of you a blessed and happy Holiday season…be it Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Soyal.  Draw close to your loved ones and provide aid to those who desperately need it.  “There, but for the Grace of God, go I.”

We look forward to seeing many of you in January.  Full details of future GCWA expeditions will be provided at that time.  Get ready because we have some power-packed programs lined up that will clear the cobwebs from your eyes.

May God bless and keep all of you safe and sound.  Have a blessed holiday.

Irene Smith, President
Gulf Coast Writers Association


President’s Letter for November 2022

Four hundred years ago, on November 11, 1620, the Pilgrims suffered through a 66-day journey filled with severe storms and loss of many lives before they landed in America.  Their main issue was finding bare necessities, such as shelter, safety, and food.  Many were severely ill, but at that point, there was no turning back.  They were eternally grateful for their lives and determined that they would live.  There was no government in place to help, like it is today, so they had to do whatever it took, by any means necessary, to survive, and survived they did!

The storm has brought on unforeseen circumstances for most, if not all of us.  As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, we will certainly be thankful, but it will not likely be celebrated the traditional way for many of us.  However, just like the Pilgrims, together, we will stand strong and make do..  Most of our lives have been turned upside-down and it is difficult, some days, to find things to be thankful about.  One thing we can be thankful for is our beautiful, sunny weather because it could definitely be a lot worse.  Imagine trying to recover from this tragic storm while, at the same time, being forced to deal with and suffer through horrific cold weather with snow like other states?

We regretfully apologize that we have to cancel the November Membership Meeting.  Most of our officers and an untold number of our members and neighbors are simply not physically, mentally, or emotionally ready to meet.  Even our speakers have postponed.

We believe 2023 will be a better year; therefore, we are planning to hold our first meeting of the year on January 21, 2023, at 10:00 a.m. – Noon at Word of Life Church in Fort Myers and also on Zoom.  If you are attending via zoom, please sign up for the program.  Honestly,  we believe you will enjoy the program more if you are physically present.  The opportunity to meet and enjoy the company of other members is extremely uplifting and encouraging during these discouraging times.

Location: Map
Word of Life Church

6111 South Pointe Blvd.
Fort Myers, FL 33919

Note: Google maps or your GPS may direct you to the back of the building.  The entrance to the parking lot is on South Point Blvd. between Quigley Eye Specialists and Buckets Restaurant.

Details for the 2023 Gulf Coast Writers Contest will follow in the December Newsletter.  We are excited to inform you that we are considering joining the Reading Festival again this year; that info will be added to the December newsletter as well.

Have a Miracle story to tell us relating to Ian?  We are hoping to get a collection of stories to share on the GCWA website and possibly on another type of platform, such as presenting the stories at the monthly meetings.  We are in the process of collaborating about the details..  If interested, please send your story to:

May God bless and keep all of you safe and sound.  Have a blessed Thanksgiving Day.

Irene Smith, President
Gulf Coast Writers Association

President’s Letter for October

To all of our members and visitors:

First and foremost, it is our profound hope that all of you are safe in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.  Due to the storm, we were obliged to cancel our meeting for Saturday, October 15, 2022. We truly apologize for not contacting you sooner, but without power or internet, there was no way to inform everyone of the cancellation.  Some are still experiencing limited to no internet service.

Many are exhausted, but are continuing to work on cleaning up debris and replacing damaged items. All of our officers are safe; but they have unfortunately,suffered some form of damage.  Many suffered heartbreaking losses that were painfully incomprehensible.  However, on a positive note, we still have our meeting venue.  The Word of Life Church sustained minimal damage, so when we are ready to resume our monthly meetings, we can continue to have them in a safe and comfortable venue.

In spite of the horror we have experienced, Governor Ron DeSantis has done an awesome job collaborating with and bringing in outside assistance and resources to get our area back up and running as quickly as possible.  Initially, all odds seemed against us.  False rumors spread that it would take months before we had sufficient water and power. If this was meant to defeat us, it definitely did not happen!

One of the greatest and most inspiring sights, for me, was the morning the storm finally died.  In my neighborhood, everyone was outside with their chain saws and hatchets helping each other clear the fallen trees and stacking them for easy pickup. Neighbors, whom I usually only exchanged a few words, were eager to hold full conversation to ensure all were okay. We now share a common bond all due to Hurricane Ian.

We were all negatively affected by Ian; however, instead of concentrating on the horror stories, my request is that we focus on the Hallelujah stories. I believe many of us have themour GCWA family does. If you would like to share your Good News with us, please do so by sending your Miracle story to:  We will read and publish as many of them as possible.

Currently, we do not plan to hold the October and November 2022 monthly meetings because many people are still very unsettled, and attendance would certainly be affected.  If by any chance the situation changes, we will certainly let you know.  Please continue to check the website for updates at and stay tuned for November’s newsletter posted next month.  The newsletter will offer updates about upcoming GCWA meetings and events.

May God bless and protect all of you until we meet again.

Irene Smith, President

Gulf Coast Writers Association

GCWA March Monthly Meeting Recap

Keynote Speaker: Sean Martinelli of NBC2 TV’s “Stories2Share”

Sean Martinelli, journalist and host of NBC2 TVs “Stories2Share,” was the speaker at Gulf Coast Writers Association’s meeting on Saturday, March 16, 2024. Attendance hovered near 50 and 17 members gathered for lunch at Bucketts in Fort Myers, with Martinelli joining in.

Childhood Dream Becomes Reality

Martinelli heard his calling long before he recognized what it would mean in his lifetime. As background, Martinelli admitted to being an unusual child. He dressed as Regis Philbin for Halloween at age nine and convinced his parents to drive him from Poughkeepsie, NY to visit the “Today Show” at age 12. He was enamored and obsessed with daytime TV and inspired by Oprah Winfrey and her positivity and impact.

Martinelli started his journalism career in Utica, NY. On the advice of a college professor, he wrote the ‘dark’ segments, interviewing people at their worst times as a general assignment reporter. He yearned to write about people at their best and took every opportunity to write positive features – and write them well.

Martinelli answered a job posting in 2018, joining NBC2 to launch “Stories2Share.” The series which airs Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 6:00 p.m. EST., focuses on unique and positive personal interest stories across Southwest Florida. The show is the most recognized franchise in Southwest Florida, winning multiple regional and statewide awards, Emmys, and a National Edward R. Murrow Award in 2022 and 2023!

Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

During Martinelli’s presentation, he showcased three of his favorite episodes, describing the behind-the-scenes development of each. He also promoted StoryCorps to archive interviews with loved ones, as he did with his own grandfather. StoryCorps is NPR’s independent nonprofit, sharing select recordings with the public through podcast, animated shorts, digital platforms, and best-selling books.

Pitch Perfect

Among the nuggets Martinelli shared were the criteria he looks for that make for good pieces in any format, including those made of memorable moments and information that surprises the viewer (reader). Among the most interesting and appropriate for “Storie2Share” are those having a strong visual component, and of ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Martinelli asked writers to look for the story behind the story and find the ones that make people laugh or cry, stories that connect people. He encouraged writers, “Now more than ever it’s important to expose the best in people.”

In closing, Martinelli quoted from a well-known speech about television journalism by Murrow, “This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and even it can inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise, it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box. Martinelli noted, “I do my best to not be ‘wires and lights in a box.’”

Martinelli answered questions and listened to a number of elevator speeches members had prepared, encouraging those present to email their elevator speeches to him. He advised authors to be sure they know where to pitch, exactly what they are pitching, and ensure its relevance to the targeted outlet.

Business items

1. New Executive Team Appointments

The following message was emailed to all GCWA members on Saturday, March 16th by Mary Charles.

Our new Program officer is Claudia Volkman, with Charley Valera as her teammate.

Our new Secretary is Christie Zarria. She replaces Jeanne Meeks, who has stepped up to be David Aiken’s teammate in Membership

Ed Donlin is our new Web Manager. Ed replaces Brian Devitt and Kesha Dreher, who have put so many hours into managing the migration into the new website. We are grateful for their tireless efforts to bring us to a new level in the online world. We’re all looking forward eagerly to the result of their work as the website is unveiled. Brian and Kesha have spearheaded that demanding initiative.

Heading up Communications is new member Sheryl Stillman. Sheryl will be supported by Cheryl Lynn Dratler and James Bennett. It takes three people to replace outgoing Communications officer Jeff Bogart, who brought a new level of professionalism and creativity to the job of communicating with the public. Jeff is leaving us to work on the board of his homeowners’ association. We will miss his energy and dedication.

Mike Cole, Claudia Geagan and I continue as Treasurer, Special Projects officer and president. That’s because no one else volunteered [and because Mike and Claudia are very good at their jobs]. Irene Smith, who was president for six years, handed the gavel to me at the last meeting of 2023. She leaves very big shoes to fill and now becomes a member of the Corporate Board of GCWA. We’re thrilled that Irene will continue to observe and advise our organization.

To all our outgoing officers, we offer enormous appreciation for the job you have done on behalf of Gulf Writers. Our survival after Covid-19 and Hurricane Ian was largely due to your efforts.

And to our incoming officers, we are delighted and grateful for your willingness to use your talents on our behalf. We have great confidence in you.

2. Skilled Photographer(s) Needed

Mary put out a plea for members willing to serve as a photographer during GCWA meetings and events. Please reach out to Mary if interested.

3. Tamiami Tale Tellers

With overlapping interest and mutual members, Mary encouraged GCWA members to support a special event by the Tamiami Tale Tellers on Thursday March 21 at 7:00 p.m. at the Alliance for the Arts. More news and information about the Tale Tellers will be forthcoming.

4. Ghostwriting Services Needed

A request came into GCWA for a writer to help an older adult write their story. Reach out to Mary if interested.

5. GCWA April Meeting – Saturday, April 20, 2024

Mary announced that the next general meeting, April 20 will be a session for members to work in groups to write during the session, based on famous song lyrics as writing prompts. More details will be sent ahead of the meeting.



Alliance for the Arts

10091 McGregor Blvd, Fort Myers, FL

Thursday, March 21st

7pm to 9pm

The Tamiami Tale Tellers, Fort Myers local storytelling guild, will take the stage

to tell humorous personal stories, folk tales and tall tales

Featuring Dr. Joel Ying, Emcee, Mary Lou Williams, Pamela Minton, Lisa Leonhardt

and Marilyn Graham

Experience the power of the spoken word.

Captivating, spellbind and entertaining

After the performance, join the Talk Back, a Q & A session with the audience.

Meet the storytellers. Discover the stories behind the stories.

$15 members, $18 non-members
Purchase tickets at or call 239-939-2787.

The Way Cancer Has Shaped Me

Brian Sluga

Looking back on my experience with testicular cancer at a young age, I realize that cancer didn’t define me — it helped shape me.
Illustration of a man with blond hair and rectangular glasses wearing a black t-shirt, smiling.

My personal experience brought to life the all-pervading turbulence of testicular cancer. A harrowing impact on a youth. Turns out, that there was only one question for me: how to go about living? During this time, my mind had the capacity to understand the force of cancer and the limits of humans to affect outcomes, but I was not prepared for what it would do to my mental state of health.

At times, the culmination of pure exhaustion left me crumpled in bed. How could I continue with the daily routine? I was 20 years old, so I decided to concentrate on sleep, running, eating and studying. And that was OK, sometimes. It taught me that life’s simple pleasures can be a routine; going into auto-pilot wasn’t a bad thing.

After running ten extra miles each week and a few sleepless nights along the way, I decided I needed a goal, which was to run a marathon. Feeling better and cancer-free was what I wanted. My strategy was to start by learning the fundamentals of my body and nurturing it. I did worry that every little ache and pain meant the cancer was back. Those days when I was in and out of my cancer testing, I was always pushing my limits and trying to get back to where I once was as an athlete.

Several months of stretching my running distances and being given “clear” signals from my doctors gave me confidence in understanding what my body was telling me. I got around to confronting my running habits. I remembered Coach Mac from my high school days always saying, “Sluga, Keep your arms down! Forge ahead!”

My social circle remained a constant source of inspiration and encouragement. I kept my business of knowing where I was going to myself. I tossed away all the grudges and all the negativity that overwhelmed my life. I came to realize not everyone needed to know about my cancer survivorship. I was like a tree. I nourished myself every day and grew.

Not everyone saw how much I grew, but I did and learned that friends and family helped me become positive.

After all these years, that familiar feeling I once had during my freshman year of college has come back. That feeling of power and health. Health, not only in my body but in my mind. My faith as a Christian helped me know I was never alone. Through the years I have seen the sun going down at the end of the day. Like the sun I may be down but will rise tomorrow. God’s grace helped me understand that I was not defeated.

I learned life goes on, and not as I had planned on making my own decisions and that taking risks were part of the plan. I did fail at times. I changed my college major five times over ten years and partied more than I care to admit. It was all about trying to find meaning in life. I ended up discovering my gut instinct (God) doesn’t lie.

It led me to believe in myself and my abilities. I could set lofty goals and achieve them. Trust yourself!

In contemplating the way I have become, I realized cancer did not define me, but it shaped me. I have a grand lifetime of being with great supportive friends, family, colleagues and the love of my life. That’s not such a terrible position to be in. Oh, and anyway, I’m learning more every day and still growing like a palm tree.

Readers, reflect on how you coped during recovery from illness:

Have you set goals?
Did you go into auto-pilot?
Are you still there or taking calculated risks?
What failures have taught you the most?