My friend, Genyne, wrote historical mystery lesbian romance novels. They were as fabulous as they sound. She opened her home to the writing group to which I belonged. She fed us. She scolded us over grammar and plot mix-ups and phrasing. She wasn’t afraid to voice her opinion, and we ate up her love.
My friend, Ethel, had been in the writing group far longer than Genyne or I. Ethel was from the Bronx. Her thick accent and thicker glasses were just the beginning of her unforgettable personality. She wrote about her family’s flight to the U.S. amid the backdrop of German concentration camps. Most arrived safely at their new home, and listening to Ethel recount her childhood took me to a world that was only known through Ethel’s eyes.
Gynene was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in 2013. She moved across the country to live with her sister. I last saw her when she and a friend visited her old friends in California. I didn’t know it was her farewell tour.
Ethel published her memoirs, “Snapshots and a Bagel” a few years ago. At her book launch, the local bookstore was packed with friends, family, and book lovers. Oh, and Isabel Allende introduced her. Ethel’s books were stacked into tall piles on a table at the back. The room glowed with love.
Genyne and Ethel died on the same morning of the same day: One on the West coast, one on the East coast. Ethel’s book is in the world. Genyne’s beautiful work is not. David Whyte wrote that when someone dies, we also miss how they loved what they loved. Genyne loved my writing group and me in a particular manner that was all her own. She loved her characters in a manner that made her work glow. I miss Ethel. I miss Genyne.
What stories do you have inside that want to find a home in the world? I found that taking baby turtle steps was the only way my story could be written. Sometimes It Looks Like That began as a baby turtle step.
- First, I wrote down a “You’ll never guess what happened…” story about one of my first days teaching at a continuation high school–because I couldn’t believe it had happened.
- Months later, I joined a writing workshop.
- I shared the “You’ll never guess” story in the workshop and was encouraged to edit and keep going.
- That story became a chapter.
- I realized that I had a few more related stories to tell, so I wrote those down and shared them in a writing group too.
- And then an interesting thing happened: The more I wrote, the more I found I had to write about.
- I joined many workshops to share my work and learn the skill. Each one was special, as were the friends I made along the way.
- In addition to workshops, I had so many wonderful readers give feedback. I listened to each one, grateful to learn what I couldn’t have understood about my work on my own.
- Ten years and a million baby turtle steps later….
Here is my beautiful novel. And I know that Genyne and Ethel played a huge role in bringing it into the world. With love.
And from Ethel’s book launch in 2016, still on BookPassage’s website:
Ethel Seiderman – Snapshots and a Bagel
In conversation with Isabel Allende
“Snapshots and a Bagel is a collection of stories and photos, mostly focused on growing up in the Bronx and on the significant influences that span a lifetime and shape a life. Ethel Seiderman’s prose is gutsy, colorful, and presented with love, gratitude, and a wholesome sense of pride.”
I love you, Ethel. I love you, Genyne.