SOMERS, N.Y. – When Somers resident Linda Spear was old enough to go to college, her parents offered her three choices.
“They said you teach, you become a nurse or you become a secretary,” Spear said.
She chose from the roles imposed on many women at the time, and studied teaching at Temple University in her hometown of Philadelphia. She received her master’s degree from Penn State, and went on to teach second grade.
After marrying her husband, Jay, the couple moved to New York and she decided to stop teaching and move on to something else. Spear decided to pursue writing, which she initially neglected to teach.
After writing for a Westchester magazine, she set her sights on The New York Times, where she reported primarily on evolving health and human interest issues. She worked there until her two daughters went to college.
After that and before publishing her debut novel, “I Know You by Heart,” in 2010, she was the manager of corporate communications at the pharmaceutical company, Ciba-Geigy, now known as Novartis. Her next novel was a mystery called, “The Iceman Checks Out,” published in 2015. She is currently writing the sequel.
She occasionally combines her interests in writing, health and medicine and ghostwrites medical books with doctors. While they have the expertise within their specialty, she helps them present information in a digestible format catered to a broader audience.
Although she delayed doing what she loves, she said she does not regret the journey. Starting later afforded her the opportunity to revisit teaching in a way that merged many of her interests and skills. After finding success within a field she was passionate about, she wanted to offer her expertise to help others do the same.
“I love to write. I love learning about medicine, but my greatest joy is watching people grow with writing which is where my classes come in,” she said. “I have a lot of writers, men and women, and I enjoy seeing them thrive in learning the craft. When they succeed, I succeed. It’ just a tremendous high.”
Spear hosts workshops for writers at the Somers Library and out of her home. She has done so for the past five years with her husband Jay, an experienced editor who sees groups through the editing and publishing process.
At the meetings, participants share prepared pieces of writing with the group, typically one they want to develop further. Others then offer their thoughts, reactions and suggestions. Several participants have gone on to publish novels and other works that were finessed at the workshops.
The writers that attend have varied experience, mastery and writing styles. Like Spear, many of them are returning to, or discovering writing after pursuing careers in fields such as advertising, public relations, standup comedy and teaching, to name a few, and the writers’ differences are asserted through their content.
Like a Netflix commercial, the passionately entwined lovers from a romantic comedy and a flesh-eating zombie all have a place at Linda Spear’s table. Visitors to the workshop might: hear snippets from a series of long form poems about Old Bet and her journey to Somers, be invited to hear a first-person narrative of a man’s graphic sexual encounter with a mermaid, vicariously come of age with an orphaned teenager living on a horse ranch in 1960s Middle America, or be a fly on the wall to a cosmopolitan couple mired in pre-election tension, a stale marriage and a competitive social hierarchy.
Spear said the breadth of ideas and experiences among the writers she encounters in her workshops never fails to impress her.
A long-time private investigator, Ed Webster joined the group at the behest of his wife, a former publishing and journalism professional who said his stories were worth sharing. Now retired, he said that after methodically filing case reports for years, writing creatively is a challenge. Spear and the other writers disagree, however, and said his observations are poignant and the experiences he’s had provide good material. Spear and his wife agree that he has the talent but needs to be guided in the right direction, which is exactly the type of support writers can expect to get at a workshop, Spear said.
Through Spears’ gentle coaching and an unspoken set of Thanksgiving guidelines—no religion or politics at the table unless it pertains to a piece of writing—trust is maintained and the writers act as a valuable focus group to one another, Spear said.
“Writing is a lonely profession and it is very difficult to create something in the absence of readers,” said Garth Hallberg, a published nonfiction writer and former advertising professional and college professor.
The value of the workshop lies in reading aloud and gaining feedback from a group of other writers, he said.
Ruthann Scheffer, a weekly columnist for The Somers Record and member of one of the women’s workshops, described the weekly meet-ups as an alternative form of therapy.
“We support each other to the fullest and critiques come from the heart and soul,” Scheffer said.
The writers’ respect for one another is exceeded only by their admiration for Spear, whom many of them refer to as their “fearless leader.”
Spear credits her confidence to the faith she has in the writers.
“You’ll be seeing these people’s work either in print, literary journals, in contests that they’ve won, in books or in novellas,” she pledged. “You will be seeing them because that’s the job we’re working on.”
To learn more about the workshops, reach out to Linda Spear at firstname.lastname@example.org.