I received the news late Friday night via email that the leader of our local writer's workshop group, Nelson Williams, had passed away. I was stunned and shook up. I had seen him last Friday at our workshop meeting and he seemed happy, in good spirits and in good health. How drastically things can change in such a short time.
Nelson was the leader of our local writer's workshop group and an interesting person. He had done a lot of things in his eighty some years on the planet including being an attorney, putting up with wannabe writers and collecting trains.
His writing critiques could be rough as could his delivery of the critique but you always got the sense that the gruffness protected a loving soul who only wanted the best for all us wayward writers with a pen.
I first Nelson, Elissa Malcohn and Meredith in 2004 when a librarian led me to the room where they met to discuss writing and offer critiques. I was scared, intrigued and raring for a chance to become a writer. Nelson explained the format and the expectations and from that day forward I accumulated a second family of sorts. I was the youngest writer in the group which many times intimidated me. All that wisdom and experience was enough to make me faint.
Eventually I got over my fear and settled in to work on writing. I was decent but the group helped make me better. And I got to read interesting works from the others who attend the workshops.
Nelson loved children, loved his trains and loved to write about his passion. He was our focal point. Around him, we all revolved and any time he was out, we all felt at loose ends. It wasn't quite the same without his witty rejoinders or his blunt observations. My favorite part of attending the workshops would be when he would bring in his trains and we'd get to see up close and personal what he wrote about. I learned many train facts and information that I still remember today. I never really thought of trains as something other than a means of transportation of people or goods. Nelson taught us that they were more than that.
I enjoyed watching him go from someone who "wouldn't touch science fiction and fantasy with a ten-foot pole" to a man who enjoyed reading adventures in those strange and bizarre worlds.
I have him to thank for my finally finishing a first draft of a novel. I started with the group in 2004 but had failed to get past the first or second chapter of numerous stories. After I participated in the 2008 NaNoWriMo (November) and came up with the first ten chapters of Werelove, Nelson was the first to say congratulations. In the next breath, he looked me in the eyes and laughingly said, "You'll never finish. You'll move on to the next thing and leave us all hanging. I hope to read a completed first draft novel of yours before I die. But at the rate you're going, I'll have to stick around a while."
I took those words as a personal challenge to prove him wrong. To show him, my fellow writers and myself that I could do what seemed impossible for me: finish a first draft of a novel.
My newfound motivation drove me to bust my butt from December 2008 - July 31, 2009 when I penned the last word of my novel. Twenty-one chapters later and I had taken Nelson, my fellow workshop writers, and myself on a journey of intrigue, self-discovery and family angst.
I happily crowed, "I did it!" on our first biweekly meeting in August. Nelson just smiled, but that smile was worth more than a thousand words. I saw the pride in that smile and his happiness for me. That moment will be forever etched in my mind, and it is one I cherish greatly.
I will truly miss him, his insights, his sincerity and his passion. May we continue to keep that writing flame burning for other new writers who find there way into our group.