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This article by Richard J. Skelly was prepared for the April 3,

2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Making Room for Writers

Any contract writer who has been practicing his or

her craft for more than a year or two will tell you the business of

writing can be a lonely one: long hours in front of the computer

screen

with communication limited to phone calls and E-mail. The human

element,

the human touch, can often be missing from the writer’s life, and

it can be more pronounced if the writer is single, with no spouse

out there working a straight job to help support the household.

Given this lonesome reality, writers in central New Jersey and eastern

Pennsylvania can now take comfort in the Writers Room in Doylestown,

Pennsylvania. The Writers Room of Bucks County Inc., as it is

officially

known, was born out of loneliness, explains its founder and director,

R. Foster Winans.

"The Writers Room is a manifestation of my gratitude for growing

up in a community like Doylestown, where I was encouraged to become

a writer," Winans tells me, following a particularly useful,

low-key

Writers Room seminar on interviewing techniques. The Writers Room

was a way for Winans to overcome the loneliness inherent in the

business

of writing from a home-based business.

Winans came back to Doylestown from a career in journalism in New

York City, which included a staff job at the Wall Street Journal,

and began writing books. "What I found here was a community that

was becoming more culturally diverse," he says. "The county

had rescued the County Theater from being destroyed and the James

A. Michener Art Museum is becoming very well known."

Winans founded The Writers Room in fall, 1998, when he rented the

storefront location at 4 West Oakland Avenue in Doylestown. His

mother,

a successful importer and wholesaler of tobacco pipes, who later

became

an art dealer in Cape Cod, had died the previous year and left him

a small inheritance.

"I deliberately rented a space that was too large for myself

alone,

believing that other writers would want to work in the same

space,"

he explains. His model was a successful operation he had joined on

Manhattan’s Lower East Side, at Astor Place, near Cooper Union; an

operation also called, "The Writers Room." Whereas the Writers

Room in Manhattan is a place for writers to write and to socialize

together at all hours of the day and night, the Writers Room of Bucks

County gives writers a space to write away from home, and also hosts

an impressive series of seminars and guest speakers.

Winans also helped revive the regional literary quarterly, the Bucks

County Writer, last fall. The second issue, published in January,

features a profile of Pipersville author and biographer William

Wright,

a profile of Allen Hoey, Bucks County poet laureate, and an article

on self-publishing by J. Henry Warren.

Writers Room resident members pay $40 per month for 24-hour-per-day,

7-day-per week access to the space. Annual salon membership, for

admission

to some 70 events programmed events, is $75. Non-member admission

to individual Writers Room salons is $5 to $10. Annual subscriptions

to the Bucks County Writer are $24.

"I grew up in a newsroom," says Winans, seated in a

comfortable

office equipped with two powerful computers, a television, and a

couch,

"a room full of ringing phones and clattering typewriters, and

I missed that. I had been working from home for many years and I got

sick of it. One day I realized I hadn’t taken a shower in two days

and my social life was reduced to the checkout counter at the

K-Mart."

"I was lonely and I started the Writers Room because I was lonely.

In the first year and a half it was very difficult to convince people

who live in 3,000-square-foot boxes around here that they didn’t have

enough room to write. It took some time for me to convince these

people

it wasn’t about room, it was about atmosphere, about synergy, about

getting away from the dryer, the washer, the TV, the kids, the dog,

or whatever."

After the first 18 months, Winans was running out of money to pay

the rent on his storefront, but by that point he had met a lot of

other writers and a few agents who had come down from New York.

Through

the writers he met in this process, he decided to create a non-profit

space.

"I asked them all in an E-mail: `What do you want?’ I’ve either

got to sublet and let the lease go or find some other way of raising

money," he says. "Everyone said they wanted more than just

space to write, they wanted seminars and writers’ talks."

The Writers Room program schedule, which runs from September through

May, is packed with sessions on fiction, non-fiction, poetry,

screenwriting,

and marketing. There are also poetry readings and fiction readings

for writers to share. A complete schedule of events can be accessed

online at www.writersroom.net.

"I like the fact that the Writers Room is able to help demystify

the whole business of being a writer," Winans says. "It used

to be, unless you were being published or being paid, you were not

a writer. Now, that’s no longer true. I like the fact that people

who are emerging writers, who have ideas and books they are working

on, can come in here and find people like myself and others who can

give feedback that is helpful."

Winans argues the writing and publishing profession

has a tendency towards elitism, and he doesn’t think that’s a good

thing.

"I think it’s a good thing to encourage everybody to write, if

only for their own enjoyment," he says.

Over the years of its existence, the Writers Room "has become

a place where there is a lot of sharing and generosity," he adds.

At the seminar on interviewing last winter, there were eight or nine

writers in attendance. Winans led the discussion, yet he was careful

not to dominate the proceedings. He encouraged all to speak up and

share their experiences of their successful and not-so-successful

interviews.

Winans was raised on a farm in Bucks County, before his parents moved

to Doylestown. He attended McGill University in Montreal, but never

completed his degree. He started in newspapers in 1968 at the

Doylestown

Intelligencer, worked at the Courier Times in Bristol, Pennsylvania,

The Evening Times of Trenton, The Austin-American Statesman, and a

Vancouver, Washington, daily. He returned home and worked in his

parents’

tobacco business for a time, then returned to journalism with jobs

at the Intelligencer and, later, The Trentonian. From there he went

to Dow Jones.

"At Dow Jones I worked for `The Ticker,’ and then I began writing

the `Heard On The Street’ column at the Wall Street Journal,"

says Winans, who speaks frankly about what was to become a

life-changing

experience at Dow Jones. "The gist of it was that I was making

$28,000 a year, I was living in New York, and having lunch and dinner

with millionaires," he says. "It was the period of everybody

buying BMWs and condos, and the guy I co-wrote the column with was

making twice as much money as I was."

"I developed a sort of disaffection, and then I met a stockbroker

who seduced me — although I admit I was prepared to be

seduced,"

he says. "He convinced me that it would be no big deal if I told

him the day before what the next day’s column would be about. I gave

him that information, and he paid me $30,000 over a period of four

months. Ultimately, he was so aggressive about his trading that the

American Stock Exchange noticed it and they reported it to the SEC.

I was indicted and admitted what I did, but pleaded not guilty because

my attorney believed the government was not in a position to regulate

a reporter’s activities as long as he was not dealing with actual

inside information," he explains.

"As you may know, the column is gossip and we’re quoting a bunch

of analysts, not unlike what you get on TV now," he says.

"These guys were the insiders, not us, but the Supreme Court

didn’t

agree with that, and they said I took something that didn’t belong

to me and converted it to my own use. The court argued what didn’t

belong to me was the publication schedule of The Wall Street

Journal,"

he adds. Winans served eight months in federal prison and then wrote

a book about his experiences, "Trading Secrets," a successful

venture that got him a national book tour. In a sense, his book was

a way to atone for past mistakes and also helped him move on.

"I don’t mind talking about all this, but I would encourage you

to focus on the volunteer efforts of a lot of people who work here

at the Writers Room," he says, growing a little uncomfortable

with the focus of our conversation.

Since the success of his book, "Trading Secrets," Winans has

written 13 other books, the latest of which is, "The Great Wall

Street Swindle." These days, he divides his time between

non-profit

writing and ghost writing. His current book project is on child

rearing

in America.

As far as future programming for the Writers Room, Winans stresses

the place has a 24-person capacity, so he and others like the idea

of keeping the seminars intimate. Last winter the Writers Room hosted

a seminar on Internet research that was moved to a nearby Internet

cafe. The Writers Room anniversary party spilled out onto the

vest-pocket

lawn out front. A recent reading by James McBride, author of "The

Color of Water," was moved to the more spacious setting of the

Salem United Church of Christ on nearby East Court Street.

So what does Winans get out of all of these seminars and talks? He

stresses they are led by many different types of volunteer writers,

all with different areas of expertise. "I like enabling other

people," he explains, "and I like hearing other peoples’

stories."

Winans insists he regularly gains new insights from his meetings with

cub reporters and wanna-be authors. "If there isn’t a revelation

or some kernel of knowledge that comes out in the seminars I lead,

I find that in my mind I’m refining what I do," he says.

"A lot of people have told me I’m a good interviewer," he

explains, "but I’m also a person who, up until two or three years

ago, could not stand in front of more than two people and talk. So

in a way, every time I do one of these seminars, I’m overcoming my

fear of public speaking."

"I’m not an expert, but I do have some experience and some

skills,"

he says, "and I always learn something from the other writers

who come in here."

— Richard J. Skelly

The Writers Room of Bucks County, 4 West Oakland Avenue,

Doylestown, 215-348-1663. www.WritersRoom.net.

Schedule of upcoming events:

Wednesday, April 10, 7 p.m. "Writing Public

Relations,"

a practical workshop with PR professionals Brenda Lange, Jobert

Abueva,

and Foster Winans.

Sunday, April 14, 1:30 p.m. "Writing for Young

Children:

Art and Commerce," by guest author Deborah Heiligman.

Wednesday, April 17, 7 p.m. "Peer Critique." Join

a peer critique group or form one of your own. Drop-ins are welcome.

Sunday, April 21, 1:30 p.m. "Writers Salon with Edmund

White." White established himself with the publication of "A

Boy’s Own Story" (1982); his most recent novel is "The Married

Man" (2000).

Wednesday, April 24, 7 p.m. "Editing Workshop with

Lucia and Douglas Deaville," area freelance editors.

Friday, April 26, 7 p.m. "Bucks Screenwriters."

Private script development group. For details write

info@writersroom.net

Sunday, April 28 "All Afternoon, Annual Poetry

Marathon,"

held at Blue 52, a jazz club in Doylestown.


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