Laura Grooms is a fiction writer living in Columbia, SC. She was awarded the RWC Believe Fellowship in January 2021 for Creative Non-Fiction writers writing about serious illness.
1. You received a fellowship for a 2-week residency at RWC as the recipient of the Believe Fellowship for CNF writers who are writing about serious illness. What made you want to apply for the fellowship and what did winning mean to you?
A close friend, and fellow writer, came across the Believe Fellowship while doing some research online. He had recently read the piece I am working on which involves my mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s disease and he insisted I submit the work. While nervous about putting such a personal piece out there, I am aware that there are thousands of people on this path alongside me who are also caring for parent’s with Alzheimer’s or other debilitating diseases, and so I could not help but wonder if others might find themselves reflected in this story.
Then, of course, the fellowship offered this amazing opportunity to step away from everyday life! In the world of 24/7 parent-care, (amongst other things) that felt like an invitation to leave the front lines. Naturally, it required putting all kinds of practical things in place (child care, management at my parent’s house) but the prospect of two quiet – and private – weeks set aside for writing, with no distractions from the tyranny of the everyday was tantalizing. I had been invited to writing conferences before, but had never applied for an award! So needless to say when Rockvale called to say that this particular piece of writing had won, I felt like Charlie from Willie Wonka unwrapping the elusive Golden Ticket. Winning then meant, clearing a path to go!
2. What are you reading now?
Jack by Marilyn Robinson
Raising Human Beings by Ross Greene, PhD
3. When did you start writing? Was there a specific moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
I started writing really bad poetry in sixth grade. In seventh grade I wrote an equally bad novel and a movie script, complete with a contract that all the actors had to sign, obligating them to give up their Saturdays for rehearsal, unless a tragedy occurred. “Tragedy” defined by my twelve-year-old self as the death of a family pet, or parents making you go out of town. Although I wrote when I was a pre-teen, I never thought of myself as becoming a writer. Truly taking writing seriously and becoming a student of the craft began in my thirties when I was lucky enough to study with the late Madeleine L’Engle. That was followed by numerous writing teachers at the 92nd Street Y in New York City, as well as classes with notable teachers at The New School. As time went on, I received the opportunity to participate in workshops with various distinguished faculty at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee.
4. Tell us about your writing. In what genre do you primarily write? What project are you working on now? Do you have a big goal for 2021?
I primarily write fiction. The Movie Star, the Alzheimer’s Patient, and the Easter Ham Between Them is my first attempt at creative nonfiction. The work has been challenging, but also a lot of fun. Just before coming to Rockvale, I was notified that this particular piece had also won first runner-up in the non-fiction book category for the Faulkner-Wisdom Competition. Of course, I was both shocked and thrilled! Currently, I am extending the work and the big goal for 2021 is to secure representation for it.
5. Many writers have to balance their creative life with other life responsibilities. Do you have a day job? What are other responsibilities that share space in your day to day life?
For twenty-plus years I worked in New York City both in theatre and in education, and then eventually in the states and abroad as a fit model. After moving home to South Carolina, I commuted to Charlotte, NC and continued to work in fashion for another four years. Currently, I am not pulling a nine to five but am instead managing “the nursing home” as my family affectionately calls it. What that means is I manage the staff of six different ladies who are the boots on the ground of daily care for my parents, but I work in a supervisory role organizing all the schedules, seasonal menus, in-home services and out-patient doctor’s appointments – dental, ophthalmology, podiatry, dermatology, general practitioners, various required specialists – for both my mother and father. I also work sporadically as a trainer for the LYGHT Program, a grief/support program for teens in foster care.
6. What are the words that describe you as a writer?
Curious, sometimes-avoidant, Persistent
7. Tell us about your writing community. Do you have a writing group with which you share on a regular basis?
Not exactly. I have in the past, but currently it is a relatively solo endeavor. There are a couple of trusted writer-friends I sometimes ask to review work before I submit it.
8. Have you ever been to a writer’s colony before or been a writer in residence? What attracted you to this experience? Can you share your thoughts about residencies in general or RWC in particular?
I have been a participant at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, but a writing residency is so different. Rockvale Writers Colony was not about attending seminars or listening to guest speakers, but was instead about doing the writing itself. RWC in particular was magnificent because of its rural, bucolic environment and the absence of any and all distractions. The solitude and the intentional weeks set apart created an opening in space and time that allowed me the quiet and the focus to remember who I am and to access the rhythms and routines that feed my soul. Those rhythms then, quite naturally, opened a path to write.
9. Did you establish a routine at RWC? Can you share what your days looked like?
Yes! I set the alarm for 6:45 or 7AM. Opened the blinds first thing in the morning to let the sunshine in. Brewed coffee in a mini coffee maker that I brought from home, then started the day in the overstuffed chair in my room, flooded by sunlight, with my notebook and morning reading in hand. Next, I’d dress and walk outside just to feel the day and pet the cats; maybe grab a quick yogurt and then, plunge into the writing. Sometimes that meant staring at a blank screen, sometimes that meant reading or reshuffling the written pages I had brought with me, but somedays it actually meant, miraculously, being the conduit through which words flowed. Without fail, I closed the day with a walk along the frontage road. The cows and I became great friends. The babbling creeks that run along that road (both outside the gate, and then at the opposite end) supplied all the music I needed. One particularly loud, cawing crow who screeched and griped as he flew between three specific clusters of trees, became a regular companion as I walked that road each evening. He served as a herald to me: don’t settle, push forward, make the work of the page, and your life, as good as you possibly can.
10. What advice do you have for other writers?
Apply! There is something magical about stepping away from your everyday world and giving yourself the gift of full immersion.
11. Our tagline at RWC is “We believe in the power of words.” In your own writing, do you feel your words have power and purpose? How does that power manifest itself for you? Why do you write? What is your inspiration?
Words most definitely have power. “Sharper than a two-edge sword.” As such, words can do big things: wound, liberate, crush, empower…the list goes on. I use words to cut a path through the maze of Alzheimer’s in which my mother is trapped; and I use words like fishing wire that I might cast at an opportune moment to bait my father into recalling the stories of his youth that he delights in sharing. Unlike him, my mother no longer remembers her life. She cannot remember the lovely picnics in the park that we used to share when I was a preschooler, or specifics of the trips to New York where we saw plays, or Florida where we visited the crazy relatives who gave her and her movie star cousin their humble beginnings. She cannot remember the stories of her life, and so I tell them to her. I use the power of words to tell her the story of herself; to release her from Alzheimer’s maze of nothingness. The words paint a picture for her, they turn the lights on – even if only briefly – illuminating a glimpse of the gracious and giving life she has led, a glimpse of the marvelous woman she always was, and is, even today.
12. Fun Facts (Laura’s picks are in bold)
Computer/Pen & Notebook
Coffee (in the morning)/ Tea (in the afternoon)
Glass half empty/Glass half full
Desk/Comfy Chair or Bed
ACTUAL BOOK!!!/Kindle, Audio
Introvert by nature/Trained Extrovert by up-bringing
Something old/Something new ☺