Author Interviews/Features


Meet Rosemary Daniell

Rosemary Daniell    Rosemary Daniell is a novelist, memoirist, poet and teacher. More than 20 years ago, she established the Zona Rosa writing groups. In leading these ongoing groups and Zona Rosa workshops held across the United States and in Europe, she has helped many women find and share their writing voices. Daniell's writing credits include The Woman Who Spilled Words All Over Herself: Living and Writing the Zona Rosa Way. She has also written a collection of poems called A Sexual Tour of the Deep South, the novel Hurricane Season, and two memoirs: Fatal Flowers: On Sin, Sex and Suicide in the Deep South, which is about growing up female in the South and her mother's life and death, and Sleeping with Soldiers: In Search of the Macho Man. Her most recent book is Secrets of the Zona Rosa: How Writing (and Sisterhood) Changes the Lives of Smart Women. Daniell lives in Savannah, Georgia. In this interview (originally published in September, 2005, in The Story Circle Journal, Vol. 9, No. 3), Patricia Pando asked about her life and work.

Visit Rosemary's website.

Interviewed by Patricia Pando
Posted on 09/15/2005

At Stories from the Heart III (the Story Circle conference scheduled for February, 2006), you will speak on "When Strong Women Tell Their Truths." Let's start right there. What makes a woman strong and what does telling the truth have to do with it?

A strong woman faces her truths; she doesn't live in denial. Lives change when women tell the truth—the gains from honesty are far more profound than the dangers telling the truth entails. What's more, truth-telling is incredibly freeing, and that translates into energy. Women who are not self-concealing have this energy. The freer that people are in expressing their truths, the more creative they are.

Most women are stronger than they think they are. Sharing the truth in a supportive setting is important; to be where you are, known as you are. I see women become strong women and strong writers as we support each other.

In Fatal Flowers you tell how you began to journal seriously after the birth of your third child. Tell us a about the importance of this in your life.

I've kept a journal most of my life. I filled a five-year diary in six months when I was 14 with entries about boyfriends and school adventures.

My first marriage was when I was very young, 15. I had three children by the time I was 23. I'd been married twice. (I married both of my high-school sweethearts). After the birth of my third child, my second daughter, the drive to write came on me full force. To deal with post-partum depression I began my journal. I examined every belief I'd been brought up with. This opened the door to being an artist. I was searching for my twin passions: painting and writing.

This is when you become a writer?

It was a given that I would be a writer. My mother loved literature and dreamed of being a writer herself, and though she published a few things, she did not become that writer. I did.

As I said, when I was 23 the drive to write came upon me. At first I took classes at the Atlanta College of Arts. Then I took a class in modern poetry at Emory. This changed my life. I made a total commitment and never looked back. For twelve years I wrote only poetry. Then after my mother died, I knew I must write Fatal Flowers. It was cathartic; it saved my life.

And the journal? Do you still keep one?

I've never stopped. I have boxes and boxes. Through the years, it has become more complex. I keep a variety of notebooks for different uses, but the personal journal is the source and the core. I will write anything there. I am totally honest—no holds barred. How I got myself through some hard times is keeping the journal. I write my goals on the first page—both personal and writing, and on the second I write affirmations in the present tense. I read these every morning. There is a book called Write It Down, Make It Happen [Harriet Anne Klauser]. I believe in this theory. I choose affirmations that go to my goals.

I know well about your writing groups, the Zona Rosa. I was a member of the Atlanta group for a number of years. Tell us how you established Zona Rosa.

The seed of Zona Rosa really began in 1975 when I stood at my mother's bedside at the Atlanta hospital as she died of an overdose of pills. Something happened inside of me.

My mother was an extremely talented writer who thought that she did not have the right to be a writer. She should do other things. She felt she had to please other people. She went to work to support her two daughters at a clerical job and never put herself first. After she died, we discovered she had destroyed all of her writing. It was gone along with her.

Plus, I had been doing workshops for women in the Georgia Prison for Women in Milledgeville and knew the strength that came when women tell their own stories.

From the time I began writing, I always had a writing group. In Atlanta I often had a poetry writing group at my home. In 1981 I began a group that, I thought, was to go on for six months. When I offered it again, the same women kept coming back, then we began to on Saturday afternoons once a month. After 20 years, we still are. Plus there is a second Savannah group and the Atlanta group. I give Zona Rosa workshops; there are Zona Rosa peer groups and lots more is coming. Maybe a Zona Rosa imprint.

Describe a typical Zona Rosa meeting.

Zona Rosa meets once a month. Each member does exercises, or "exorcises" as we call them, during the month. We begin with these—without fail. These are the core of the Zona Rosa. We will also share news and activities, but the first part of the meeting is basically sharing. After a break for refreshments and socializing, we return to hear a formal manuscript of one of the members, or, more and more often, we will have a visiting author as a guest. Members usual submit a manuscript during the month. These I return with a critique at the end of the meeting.

The working title of your forthcoming book, Secrets of the Zona Rosa: How Writing (and Sisterhood) Change the Lives of Smart Women (May 2006) seems to say it all! Tell us a bit more about the book.

Lives change when women tell the truth. This book has some of the real success stories of the Zona Rosa. Many of our women have been incredibly successful—both in their writing and in their lives.

As years have gone by I've observed women have habits that lead to happiness. When Fran* faces a crisis—she gets feedback—help from her friends. When she reached a crisis in her marriage she didn't hold back, she told and got support from her pastor, her mother and her friends. When I faced my next crisis—I learned from Fran.

At our retreats, no matter how much fun we have the night before, Derrie will be up to watch the sunrise. It is a ritual of her life. And Maria will be up early to do her yoga and work on her book. Seemingly small things, but they can lead to happiness.

I also present the "Zona Rosa Promises." These are the backbone of the Zona Rosa.

Sounds like the book will be almost as good as going to a Zona Rosa meeting. Now that it is done, what is your next writing project?

I'll return to the project that I put on hold to write Secrets of the Zona Rosa. Right now I'm calling it My Anarchist Heart: A Woman's Travel through Bedlam and Back. It tells of a period when my life was high—things were good. I was single; my children grown. Then two of the three began a long struggle with chronic mental illness. This book deals with their struggles and my own conflicts as a mother and as an artist—15 to 20 years of dealing with crises.

Plus, I've got a bunch of Zona Rosa books I want to write. Maybe The Zona Rosa Book of Life: How to Succeed in Everything! And lots more.

You mentioned the importance of exercises or "exorcises" to both the Zona Rosa meeting and to the writing process. How did they get the name exorcise?

As I mentioned I strongly believe that writing exercises are the core of Zona Rosa. Early in the days of Zona Rosa one of the members of the Savannah group exclaimed, "These are not exercises, they are exorcises!" Thus they were named. They do work that way, providing a breakthrough to blocks and letting us get into the unconscious. There are exorcises in The Woman Who Spilled Words All Over Herself, and there will be loads more in the new book.

How about an exorcise or two that people can work on—before they get your book?

There are so many! One that we start newcomers on is "write about my wildest fantasy of what I will do with my writing." The sky's the limit on this one. It's fine to win the Nobel Prize.

The all-time most meaningful exorcise is "Write about the thing you most don't want to write about. And if you can't yet write about it, then write about why you can't (or won't)." I've seen enormous breakthroughs follow from this. It creates great energy.

*Some names have been changed to protect privacy.