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

Mary Charles

Dear GCWA Member,
This is my first letter to our Gulf Coast Writers Association as our new president. Irene Smith,
having served as president so energetically, has earned her emerita status. We are in Irene’s
debt for her tireless efforts on our behalf, especially in the difficult Covid years when we could
not meet in person. That we continue to exist is a testament to Irene’s tenacity.

I promise to stay connected, to foster a sense of community among writers, and to be open to
your wishes. Please do likewise: keep in touch, help us connect, and make your wishes known.

I want to hear from you. Here’s my contact info:; 718-848-4031.

A few items of business:

Item 1: We do not meet in December. Our next meeting will be Saturday January 20 at 10 AM
at Word of Life Church, 6111 South Pointe Blvd., Fort Myers. That meeting will be a webinar
with Friesen Press, a 100% employee-owned publishing house. The moderator will help us
understand the pluses and minuses of traditional versus self publishing as we try to get our
words into print. During that meeting we’ll also begin forming committees for vital functions of
our writers’ organization. Please plan to come. If you can’t make it in person, I urge you to
attend remotely via Zoom. More info will come in the “formal” January President’s Letter.

Item 2: Please pay your dues. January 1 is the official “dues date.” The $50 annual fee covers
rent of our meeting facility, development and maintenance of our website [soon to debut in its
new form], speaker honorarium, and other essentials of our organization. Pay your dues, either
by PayPal on our website, by check to Gulf Coast Writers (PO Box 60771, Fort Myers, FL 33906),
or at the January 2024 meeting.

Item 3: Please speak up, step up and sign up to help us keep our association lively and growing.
Let us know what you expect from our organization. And help us fulfill those expectations by
spearheading projects and raising your hand when help is solicited. Every GCWA position is
voluntary. There are no salaries or other compensation. A few are now doing all the jobs.
Burnout is a threat. Speak up. Step up. Initiate. We’ll be a better organization for it.

Meanwhile, I wish for you all the joys of this holiday season and a bright, productive beginning
to 2024.
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.