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Book Review: THE DRUMMOND GIRLS by Mardi Jo Link

[This post is the sixth in an eight-part series of Book Reviews of books by some of our 2017 Midwest Writers faculty. The MWW interns wrote the reviews as one of their assignments for the Ball State University class “Literary Citizenship in a Digital Age,” taught by MWW Director Jama Kehoe Bigger.]

The Drummond Girls: A Review With Utmost Respect For The Women and Their Stories

Mardi Jo Link’s memoir, The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance, is a textbook example of why it is difficult to maintain friendships, but also, why it is important to do so. For an accurate comparison, imagine Thelma and Louise, but with eight women instead of two and “no cops on the [Drummond] island.” The possibilities for these ladies’ shenanigans were basically endless, but the fun and friendships cannot last forever without being tested by some things. Heart problems, tough pregnancies, rotten marriages and subsequent divorces, children growing up, and parents growing old are just some of the hardships these women face during their two decades of travel and companionship; even so, the harsh nature of Drummond island was no match for these women, and now, the world knows it too.​

This memoir was insightfully tongue-in-cheek at times, most memorably when introducing the eight ladies. “Susan is in the kitchen…mixing a cocktail. It might be her second Maker’s and Caffeine-Free Diet; it might be her fifth. Two decades in, yet it is impossible for me to tell which,” and, “I am older now than [Mary Lynn] was when she died, and I silently vow to never get myself invited to one of those [cardiac events],” are among my favorite remarks in this book, as well as my favorite introductions ever. After going on the first adventure with the original four Drummond Girls, I was not sure that the hijinks could get any better, but I am ecstatic to say I was wrong.

Link writes, “When I was just out of college, I’d always thought that by the time I reached a certain age, say fifty, my life would be pretty much set. I’d…have a couple good friends, a successful career, and my life would be settled into a comforting predictability.” Throughout the memoir, Link takes the reader on 13 trips to Drummond Island–some include more description about the trip itself, others include more about the ladies’ lives. As I progressed through the pages, they progressed in years, and the story slowly turned away from my experiences as a 20-something college student. The more I read, the more I could see my mother in the remaining pages telling me about her own experiences with her friends; this is why I fell in love with the Drummond Girls.

These eight ladies are a reminder that friendships foster over time, and when they foster, they are for life. They become family. Link continues the previous quote, “But predictability was not something I valued in my twenties, so why did I think it would be desirable thirty years into the future? Like that one, most of the assumptions I’d made back then turned out to be wrong…I could accept all of that uncertainty because I had seven constants in my life. I had the Drummond Girls. And they had me.”

The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance is first and foremost a story about friendship: the kind of friendship that needs to be documented. These eight ladies have had their share of ups and downs, as is wont to do in friendships, but they have weathered the proverbial storm together. Link’s memoir is a testament to the love and dedication people can give to one another. The Drummond Girls were #friendshipgoals before the pound sign became the hashtag, and most people can only aspire to live it up as much as these women have in their lifetimes. I can honestly say that I have never enjoyed a memoir as much as this one, and the only way to truly appreciate their story is to read it and then live it for yourself. Find your Drummond Girls and do not let fear stop you.

I’ve already found mine.

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Thank you for reading.

Title: The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance
Author: Mardi Jo Link
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Copyright: 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4555-5474-4
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Creative Nonfiction
Page Count: 269

Find it on Amazon

Interview with author Hank Nuwer

headshotnuwerLHank Nuwer is best known for his four young adult and adult books on the topic of hazing in society-including High School Hazing. He teaches journalism at Franklin College, Indiana but speaks on hazing at schools such as Kenyon College, Maine, Toronto, Cornell, Chico State, Dartmouth, Oregon, Michigan and Stetson. He also teaches on the art of nonfiction storytelling at writer conferences. Nuwer also has written To the Young Writer, a book for young adults on the business of writing as seen through the eyes of well-known authors; it was a New York Public Library 2002 award winner for Best Books for Young Adult readers. Other books for youngsters include a biography of Jesse Owens and books on football, baseball, sports scandals, steroids, and recruiting in sports.  His journalism has appeared in Harper’s, Outside, Fraternal Law, The Nation, Toronto Globe & Mail, Montreal Standard and Boston Magazine.

MWW Social media intern, Madison R Jones interviewed Hank for this week’s E-pistle.

JONES: At MWW you will teach three different nonfiction workshops: two on the art of storytelling in nonfiction and another about writing memoir. What’s the most important rule for a nonfiction writer to follow when trying to balance facts and truth with telling a good story?

NUWER: Oh, man. that is an easy question. Selection of detail. Cultivating the value of ruthlessness with regard to story. Pare to the essentials. Develop the parts too sparsely described. If you were reading this aloud, you’d want the audience leaning in to catch your every word. Nothing left out, nothing superfluous. It isn’t easy, but it can be done, and it must be.

JONES: You have taught at Midwest Writers before. How does it feel to be coming back, and what do you enjoy most about this conference?

NUWER: The energy. From the first step in the door and getting a hug from like five old friends to the class itself and getting to discover new talent, the entire MWW conference is a rush. One of my students (Gary Eller) went on to write a book and get an MFA from the famous writers school at the University of Iowa. Getting together with writers who love and appreciate good writing? It’s better than a love-in or jam session. It’s creativity at work. I won’t sleep for a week after the conference–just write. Seriously. I’m in the middle of a book right now and it’s 2:45 a.m. and what’s better in life than writing at 2:45 a.m.?

JONES: How old were you when you first were published?

NUWER: Age sixteen with two essays-for-pay in the Buffalo News. One was an op-ed, the other a review of a bad baseball game broadcast by Dizzy Dean.

JONES: When did you take your first creative writing class, and where was it?

NUWER: Hamline University in July 2012. I had never had a creative writing class before that. My professor was the poet and essayist Lia Purpura–who was in the New Yorker two issues back with a piece.

JONES: You had never had a writing class before that?

NUWER: Never.

JONES: What do you emphasize in your sessions?

NUWER: Great storytelling. Bringing out the telling details. Knowing what to leave in and what to pare out.

JONES: You said in your 2012 CBS interview with Tracy Smith that you’ve been writing about hazing since 1975. That’s nearly 40 years. What is it about this issue that draws you to write about it?

NUWER: I came to young adulthood in the 1960s when the driving urge for many of us was to make a difference. As a graduate student at the University of Nevada-Reno, I knew many members of a fraternal club of mainly athletes called the Sundowner Club through my own associations as a onetime president of the Graduate Student Association and intramural sports. The Sundowners conducted their bare-chested drinking initiations in public, and I saw two of them (alcohol-fueled hazings), actually imploring one friendly member to walk a student for hours that I had found inert under a pool table and frothing at the mouth. Just before I quit the program to pursue a freelance writing career I had started years earlier, the Sundowners had a third initiation far from campus and killed John Davies and caused a second pledge to have brain damage.

I wrangled an assignment from Human Behavior magazine to write about hazing behaviors and interviewed giants in the field of behavior about such theories as groupthink and our human urge for camaraderie and acceptance. I came to the belief that my interviews with such experts might in time put together all the best science and knowledge to eradicate hazing. With all due humility, I’d like to think my four books and countless articles on hazing have made a difference for the better to try to put an end to the degradation and violence that occurs worldwide in hazing acts.

JONES: What would be your advice for the new/young nonfiction writer when it comes to finding that topic or issue to write about and finding their niche?

NUWER: From my own experience, I say this. 1) Sometimes a topic will find you. An online friend named Sheryl Hill started the ClearCause Foundation to highlight the dangers of too-little-planned school travel tips after her son Tyler perished in a horrific fall. I never would have written about hazing if the Nevada-Reno death hadn’t occurred. I had experienced hazing in Scouts and a fraternity, but not the kind that causes a death–more of  a timewaster and irritation than anything serious. The UNR death was serious. 2) Sometimes you find a topic. Some topics we choose on our own and pursue and through research and exploration and hard work we finally publish. Examples would be my biographies of Olympic legend Jesse Owens and (in-progress) Kurt Vonnegut. I went after those contracts hard before editors assigned them to me. Many hazing contracts are offered me. But outside of hazing, I get assignments through queries and proposals to editors.

JONES: What is the best gift you can give a student?

NUWER: Guarded enthusiasm and paying attention to find that writer’s singular voice.

JONES: Why is it that some people with real writing talent don’t go as far as they can?

NUWER: They have to develop a thick skin. One or a hundred rejections later and they give up. Or they don’t keep a daily writing routine. When you’re not writing it should be because you’re on a vacation to put something back into your mental fuel tank. And even then, keep a notebook handy and jot down ideas for stories or articles as they come to you. Real writers know the importance of developing a writing routine and regimen. And they stick to those.  Make a list of all the things you can cut out that can have an hour or two of daily writing put in its place. Then write instead of doing those other things. Put something, anything, down on a blank page. Don’t wait for inspiration. Just do it, as the commercial says. And sooner than you think, you’ll have done it.

JONES: Is there one quotation every aspiring writer attending MWW should commit to memory?

NUWER: Theodore Roosevelt said this: “Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Now combine the advice and techniques you acquire at MWW with discipline and courage . . . and you’re ALL the way there–you’re a writer.

Hank’s Part II sessions, Friday and Saturday include:

  • Putting Storytelling into Your Nonfiction (session in two parts)
  • Writing Memoir

Meet a Pulitzer Prize Finalist!

Meet MWW faculty member Lee Martin

Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction

MWW Committee Member Cathy Shouse continues her Q&As with this year’s faculty. Here is her interview with Lee Martin, who will teach a Part I Intensive Session (“Literary Fiction, The Art of Flash Fiction”), as well as a session on writing the memoir.  

Lee is the author of the novels, The Bright Forever, a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Fiction; River of Heaven; Quakertown; and Break the Skin. He has also published two memoirs, From Our House and Turning Bones, and another memoir, Such a Life, is set to appear in 2012. He teaches in the MFA Program at The Ohio State University, where he was the winner of the 2006 Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching.   

Martin lee

Q. I’ve read The Bright Forever, your novel which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. How is it different from writing the Flash Fiction you’re teaching in your intensive session this summer? Also, I’ve heard the term, but how do you define Flash Fiction and what are some ways writing it can help authors of any genre?

Writing a novel is like running a marathon. It takes endurance and a faith that eventually you’ll cross the finish line. Flash fiction takes a similar faith that you can follow a track over a page, or a few pages, but the process itself is more of a dash. It’s a completely different rhythm, one that allows you to create a draft with few words. A complete story in 500 words, or 750, or 1,000 or so. It’s really more like writing a poem, coming to a moment of illumination. We sometimes call the form sudden fiction, or micro-fiction. Steve Heller says, “Sudden fiction, it seems, can be anything, as long as it is short and delivers an impact that is both significant and lasting.” William Peden is more precise with his definition of the form:  “a single-episode narrative with a single setting, a brief time span, and a limited number of speaking characters (three or four at the most); a revelation-epiphany; the click of a camera, the opening or closing of a window, a moment of insight.” Writing in this compressed form makes the artistic choices that a writer makes in structure, characterization, detail, point of view, and language stand out more boldly. When we write flash fiction, we internalize the tools we need to have in order to write longer works.

Q. You’re also teaching on writing a memoir. Although The Bright Forever is a novel, are there autobiographical aspects to the book? How does exploring one’s life help in writing fiction, if you think it does?

The Bright Forever is based on a true story, the abduction of a young girl in a small town eight miles from where I grew up. Some of the facts of that case made their way into the novel along with a number of created characters, events, etc. I believe that all writing, no matter the form, allows us to think more fully about what Faulkner called “the old verities and truths of the heart.” In The Bright Forever, for example, I was able to express and explore my own experiences growing up in a small Midwestern town and the sense of the inner lives that people lived there.

Q. Explain to us your idea of “literary fiction.” Your setting is a small town and the story deals with the painful subject of a missing young girl, which could, on the surface, be “commercial” fiction. Do you think an author chooses to write literary fiction or does it choose him or her? Some of us are a bit afraid of it. It sounds serious and difficult! 🙂

Oh, I hate hearing that the term “literary fiction” sounds intimidating. I think the writer’s first obligation is to entertain the reader, and, of course, plots similar to more mainstream fiction come into play in literary fiction. Think of The Great Gatsby, for example–a story of a man trying to reconnect with a lost love. Haven’t a number of mainstream novels used that premise for the effect of leading a reader to wonder what will happen next in a plot? That question of what will happen next is important for entertainment value in literary fiction as well, but, unlike many mainstream novels, literary fiction is primarily interested in what the plot of a novel has to show us about characters and the mysteries of human existence. In literary fiction, characters create their own plots through the choices they make and the actions they take. Henry James said, “What is character but the determination of character? What is incident but the illustration of character?” To me, this is the crux of literary fiction–characters creating their own fates and plots revealing more of the mysteries of those characters’ personalities and what they have to show us about what it is to be human. The writer of literary fiction has to be extremely interested in the contradictions that reside within human beings and how acting from those contradictions can unfold plots that will show readers something interesting about the characters who created them. It’s a matter of a writer deciding what he or she wants to do–only entertain a reader, or entertain a reader while also investigating the complexities of human beings.

Q. If someone signs up to learn Flash Fiction in the intensive, is there preparation that should be done? For the uninitiated, can you recommend some quality Flash Fiction for us to explore?

The anthology, Sudden Fiction, edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas, is an excellent collection of examples of the form. I don’t think any special preparation is necessary. As long as someone has a storytelling impulse, and imagination, and a love of the music language can make on the page, we should be good to go.

Q. Is there anything else you would like to add, which might include hints on your philosophy/approach to writing and/or your teaching style?

I’m a firm believer that writing is a matter of artistic choices creating specific effects. Reading and writing flash fiction becomes one way of taking an inventory of such choices and effects.

Q. In these economic times, writers sometimes wonder if they should invest in attending a conference.
Writers’ conferences played a large role in my development as a writer. I was a waiter (work-study scholarship) at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 1986 and then a Scholar there in 1992. Attending that conference, and others, put me in touch with a larger community of writers, editors, and agents. It allowed me a more intense study of craft while at the same time permitting me to make friends and professional contacts that are still important to me to this day. Such are the benefits of attending a writers’ conference. My first published story came about as a result of my first summer at Bread Loaf. That one publication raised my confidence level, and I went on from there.

Patti Digh: From Blog to Book

2011 Midwest Writers Workshop – Nonfiction “From Blog to Book” – Are you a blogger who longs for a book contract? Or have you thought of starting a blog to get a book contract? We’ve all heard of six-figure advances being paid to bloggers to turn their blogs into books. Those stories have spurred many people to create blogs – without having anything to say, or without identifying what they long to say. In this hands-on session, we’ll explore why blogging is a good first step to writing a book — and, conversely, why and how focusing on the book deal splits our focus. We’ll explore where we need to stand to tell our stories, how to open space to tell them, how to interact with a blog audience in a way that doesn’t change our voice, and how to define and clarify the organizing principles of both a blog and book. Many of us write from a place of split intentions: we want to tell our story AND we want the audience to love us. This session focused on stepping out of that split intention. It focused more on voice and writing than on book deals, though a Q&A session during the session opened space for sharing of information on the publishing process.