Writing Group Plots to Thicken Membership Rolls


The Fictionaires, Orange County’s premiere private writing workshop, is looking for a few good writers.

The 34-year-old writing group--an assortment of published and unpublished novelists and short-story writers whose ranks have included best-selling authors T. Jefferson Parker, Elizabeth George and Jo-Ann Mapson--meets twice a month in the community room of a Tustin bank to read and critique one another’s work.

The group has 23 members, with about a dozen typically showing up for meetings. Membership has always been limited and the call for applicants is the first time the group has publicly sought new members. Recently, applicants primarily have been sponsored by current members.


Why the change?

“We wonder if there are people who would be perfect for the group that just aren’t applying,” said president Barbara DeMarco Barrett, a 10-year member. “We’re really looking for people who are doing interesting stuff.”

The Fictionaires was formed in 1966 when a handful of writing students in Pat Kubis’ creative writing class at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa asked her if there was a way they could continue meeting after the class ended. Kubis suggested that the students form a writers workshop and meet in members’ homes.

In addition to Parker, George and Mapson, past Fictionaires include Robert Ray (the Orange County-set Murdock mystery series) and Cynthia Saunders (creator of NBC’s “Profiler” series.

Among the current members: Maxine O’Callaghan (the Orange County-set Delilah West mystery series), romance writer Jackie Hyman (aka Jacqueline Diamond and Jacqueline Topaz), screenwriter Terry Black (“Dead Heat”), Patricia Guiver (“Delilah Doolittle and the Missing Macaw”), Dennis McDougal (“The Last Mogul:: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the Hidden History of Hollywood”), Donald Stanwood (“The Seventh Royale”), Patricia McFall (“Night Butterfly”), Barbara Seranella (“Unwanted Company”), Taylor Smith (“Random Acts”) and screenwriter and novelist Neal Shusterman, who has written television adaptations for R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series.

DeMarco Barrett, a freelance writer and writing instructor who hosts “Writers on Writing,” a weekly author interview program on KUCI (88.9 FM) in Irvine, said membership is highly competitive.

Prospective members must first submit 12 sample manuscript pages from a novel or short story before even being asked to attend a meeting.

DeMarco Barrett said they’re looking for literary, mainstream or genre fiction writers--”all areas of fiction. But [the writers] have to be good--even if not published yet--and they have to be serious about their work. “In part, their work has to be something we think will mesh with the group too, and we have to feel we can help them.”

If a prospective member’s sample work passes muster, the writer will be asked to attend three meetings where three members each read about 12 pages of material. The applicant will take part in the critiques during the first two meetings. At the third meeting, the applicant will be the third reader. After listening to the group’s critique, the applicant will be asked to leave so members can vote.

Applicants are called the next morning with the verdict.

“It’s terribly stressful--it’s not for the faint of heart,” said DeMarco Barrett. “It’s probably worse than trying to get into graduate school in some ways because it’s so personal.”

In fact, she said, that’s one reason the group is searching for applicants.

“When a member sponsors somebody and the person doesn’t get in, it gets personal. You might love the [applying] writer and their writing, but the group decides they’re not right for the group or the group is not right for them. They may need more intensive one-on-one [guidance].”

Information: DeMarco Barrett at (949) 760-8086, or at

Huntington Beach Poet to Read From His Work

In his first public reading in nearly three years, Huntington Beach poet Robert Peters will read from his poetry-book-in-progress at 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Gypsy Den Cafe and Reading Room in the Lab Anti-Mall, 3930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. Free. (714) 549-7012.

In “Familial Love and Other Misfortunes,” Peters, a retired UC Irvine professor of literature, returns to the northern Wisconsin material of his boyhood as depicted in his 1988 memoir, “Crunching Gravel” (Wisconsin Press.)

The new collection will feature about 80 poems.

“I’ve been working on it like mad since February,” said Peters, 75. “I’ve been obsessed with it.”

The new collection grew out of 13 poems Peters wrote late last year at the request of Artlife, a Ventura-based art and literary magazine, which focused its January issue on the poetry of Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel of Tulare, Calif.

The 81-year-old McDaniel is known as “The Okie Poet.”

Peters has never met McDaniel, but they’ve exchanged letters and books over the years and he considers themselves “very close.” Peters is a great admirer of what he calls McDaniel’s “homespun poetry with a bite.”

“I love her poems so much I thought I’d try to write some like hers,” said Peters, describing them as “kinship of spirit poems. They’re about my northern Wisconsin family life and poverty and hers are about Oklahoma farm life and poverty.”

Some of the poems Peters wrote are addressed directly to McDaniel.

Taking off on one letter to him from McDaniel in which she wrote about how important the mail was to her family when she was growing up, Peters wrote a poem about their mailboxes and what they meant to them as kids in rural America.

“She also told me she went to a two-room country school,” he said. “I imagined what her school was like, then wrote about what my one-room country school was like.”

Peters has more than 40 books to his credit, including about 30 volumes of poetry. “That sounds almost obscene, but it’s true. I’ve been busy all my life,” he said.

Peters is best known for his poetry books “Songs for a Son” and “The Gift to Be Simple” and for two of his monologue books, “The Blood Countess” and “Snapshots for a Serial Killer,” in which he imagines he’s inside the head of Orange County serial killer Randy Kraft.

Peters said that writing the 13 poems for Artlife magazine provided the impetus for his latest collection.

Also Coming Up

* Young adult author Neal Shusterman, author of “The Shadow Club” and “MindQuakes: Stories to Shatter Your Brain,” will speak at the “Meet the Authors” program at the Newport Beach Central Library, 1000 Avocado Ave. 7 p.m. Wednesday. (949) 717-3801. Shusterman has directed many films and has written adaptations for R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” series.

* Barbara DeMarco Barrett will interview authors Harriet Rubin (“Soloing”) and Carol Lloyd (“Creating a Life Worth Living”) on KUCI (88.9 FM) in Irvine. 4 p.m. Thursday.

* Lenore Fogelson Millian will discuss and sign “The Second Wives Club” at Barnes & Noble in Fashion Island, 953 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach. 7 p.m. Thursday. (949) 759-0982.

* Romance writer Karen Kay and literary agent Carolyn Grayson will speak at the Romance Writers of America meeting at the Four Points Sheraton, 1500 S. Raymond Ave., Fullerton. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. $7 for members; $15 for nonmembers. (714) 284-7331 or

* Joey O’Connor will sign “Have Your Wedding Cake and Eat It Too” at Barnes & Noble in Fashion Island, 953 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach. 7 p.m. Saturday (949) 759-0982.

* Gail Burgess will speak and sign “911: Urgent Dating Solutions”) at Super Crown, 30622 Santa Margarita Parkway, Rancho Santa Margarita. 2 p.m. Saturday. (949) 888-8425.


Send information about book-related events at least 10 days before event to: Dennis McLellan, O.C. Books & Authors, The Times’ Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626. Or e-mail to