One Friday last April at a Denver restaurant, the attention of every woman at the table was riveted to Sara Megibow, a literary agent four months into a surrogate pregnancy. She told of how she agreed to do it for close friends, a breast cancer survivor and her husband. Her story resonated not because anyone present was in the market for a good surrogate. But most there were always in the market for a good story. At least two of the women weighed Megibow’s experience as potential material to write about. One said it might make a good article for a woman’s magazine. Another thought it might fit into one of her series of inspirational books. This was a table of women with ink in their blood.
Its web site describes Literary Ladies Luncheon as “A loose association of women writers. Or an association of loose women writers…and editors and literary agents.” The group—started by writer and publicity consultant Bella Stander— meets monthly at a designated Denver-area eatery, and often about a dozen attend for chow and chat, but twice that many may dined together at more prolific times. The emailed invitees number up to 45; some show up for every lunch, others appear most of the time, and a few drop in occasionally.
Stander and a small circle of friends started the lunches in Charlottesville, Virginia in 1996. “I was bored and lonely,” she says. “As a writer you sit home and work alone, so it’s good to get to know other writers.” Stander founded a Colorado branch less than a year after she moved to the state in 2005. The southern chapter still flourishes. “We want to take over the world,” she says.
And sometimes it sounds like they are. At any given time one or more luncheon ladies are riding the waves of successful projects. This year cable player Lifetime picked up film rights for member Carleen Brice’s novel Orange Mint and Honey. In mid-October Brice will be going to the Vancouver set to meet R&B singer and actress Jill Scott of HBO’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Scott will play the recovering alcoholic mom of the story that, for TV, will be called Sins of the Mother.
Other LLL women have great back stories, too. Stander’s father was Lionel Stander, blacklisted Hollywood actor whose most remembered role was as the gravely voiced chauffeur on the ’80s TV show Hart to Hart. Early in her career, Stander read scripts for New Line Cinema. Then she became a book reviewer for various publications, including People and The Washington Post. That drew her into the literary world where she accumulated contacts and honed an expertise in marketing, out of which grew her workshop and consulting firm Book Promotion 101.
LLL member Kim Reid has benefited from Stander’s insider knowledge. When Reid’s autobiographical No Place Safe debuted in 2007, about growing up beneath the shadow the Atlanta Child Killings and having a cop for a mom, she turned to the consultant for advice about handling press interviews. Reid, who dreamed in college of being the first black secretary of state, now works managing budgets for programs and projects at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Her book won the Colorado Book Award in Nonfiction in 2008.
She praises the luncheons as opportunities to sit and talk with like others. “Your friends and family are supportive, but only writers can understand some things about being a writer.
They understand the great feeling you get when you get into that zone and you know where the book is going or how excited you are because you are going to fix the subplot. You can try to explain those things to other folks all day, and they will never get it,” Reid says.
A few LLLers recall being in writers’ groups populated exclusively by the aspiring and inexperienced, where no one was published and so could not share seasoned advice. Most of the people who come to the first-Friday-of-the-month lunches make their living in the industry.
“When I took a writing course once I realized I was with people who were never going to be published,” Carleen Brice says. (Her new book, Children of the Waters, was published in May.)
“Now that I know people it’s nice to hear about their successes,” Megibow says. Sharing stories, questions, concerns, ideas—all of that is really wonderful. Also, I like being part of a mix of different perspectives—listening to writers talk about the industry from their point of view really helps me as an agent!”
Kristin Nelson, the head of the Denver-based Nelson Literary Agency, where Megibow works, agrees. “As agents, we get a reputation for being cold and aloof. I think it is really smart for us to be involved in the community.”
Lunching with writers gives her a chance to hear voices from another side of the business, she says. Otherwise it might be too easy see the literary world exclusively from an agent’s perspective.
While the LLL world itself might seem a touch exclusive to some, its literary starlings are not insulated from everyday woes. Stander’s husband recently lost his job. Soon she will be moving to the Hudson River Valley area, where they have more family and friends. Brice will become the new secretary.
“I’ll found an LLL chapter when I move to New York,” Stander says. “But I wish people would start their own across the US—even the world. It’s so easy to do: just meet a woman writer for lunch and it’ll snowball from there. I think it would be cool to have a national convention, with hundreds–or thousands!–of Literary Ladies meeting over lunch.”
Janet Singleton, a member of the LLL, is a journalist, novelist, and winner of the 2002 Colorado Book Award in Fiction for This Side of the Sky (published under the name Elyse Singleton). Currently, she works on a second novel and leads creative writing workshops.