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The Moraine Writers Group

The Moraine Writers Group

If you're going to write a book, the thing to do is just write. Stop thinking about it. So I did. With the encouragement of attendees at the fall Wisconsin Writer's Association conference in October of 2015, I finally began to write my book.

I wrote it pretty much sequentially. I started my volunteering with seeing a small sentence on the back of a University monthly newsletter, back when I worked at Marquette. "Disaster volunteers needed at the local American Red Cross office." It sounded interesting, so I called to see what would be involved.

After starting the book with how I began, I wrote about my training. Then, I began to write about all of the single family and apartment fires I had been to in Milwaukee. I wrote about moving to Allenton, Wisconsin and helping to develop the disaster team in Washington County. Page after page, on I went, about everything that lead me to become a national disaster responder.

Are you falling asleep yet?

Finally, after a very long beginning, I started to write about my first disaster response of 9/11, where I went to the Washington, D.C. area and spent three weeks on the phone talking with people who've lost loved ones in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and on the flight which crashed in Pennsylvania.

Back at the fall writer's conference, I had discovered there is a writer's group not too far from where I live. Sweet! Once a month the Moraine Writer's Group gets together to discuss and critique each other's works. It's amazing!! About two weeks before the group meets I email what I've written to all the group members. All the members do this. Then, we print and read what the members have written. We correct typos, grammar, and punctuation. And we provide our insightful comments about the works we have read. Once we get together in person, we take time to share what we think. It's a great way to provide critique and receive feedback about what we've written. So, if you plan on writing a book, get out and find a writer's group.

I go to my first meeting. There I learned that I love the word "that." I use that word over and over and over. I wasn't even aware that I used that word quite so much. Now, I'm finally at that point where I just can't stand that word. See what I mean. That's nine times I've used it in just this short paragraph. Thanks Moraine Writer's Group for helping me to conquer that particular writing problem.

I also had my good friend Elaine read my first stab at writing a book. Both she and the writer's group both let me know I had a good story, it's interesting, but I needed to get to the point. Does the reader really need to know all about my training? Do they really need to know about every single fire I ever responded to? There were hundreds of fires where I helped provide assistance. They all politely let me know to move on. If the book is going to be about 9/11, hurricane Katrina, and hurricane Sandy, then I need to tell those stories. So, I changed my first very lengthy chapter to a short one about how I began volunteering and what led me to become a national responder. Then, I jump right into the events of 9/11/2001 and how I was able to help and respond.

Everything possible that can be written about 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy has already been written. Except my story. It is an opportunity for me to express my inner life, what I experienced. You know me: my exterior, what you see, and the words you hear me express. But now, it is important for me to finally share my inner journey with you. I want my grandchildren, and others, to really know what I experienced, what I accomplished, and maybe most importantly what I was feeling, not just what they see about who I am. My book will provide a glimpse into my inner thoughts and feelings about what I experienced, not just what you see on the outside of me.



I've come to learn that writing a book is both exhilarating and exhausting. It's fraught with highs and lows; one moment sure it will be the next big blockbuster of the century, after that not sure if even my grandkids will find it interesting—and they love me.

Before I attended the Wisconsin Writers Association conference in October of 2015, I had a conversation with my oldest granddaughter Paige, who is now twenty-one. We were discussing 9/11 and how it affected her when she was very young. In a high school psychology class, they discussed people jumping out of the World Trade Center buildings rather than facing their death trapped and unable to escape the burning buildings.

During our discussion, I realized that my ten grandchildren don't know the extent of my journey with the American Red Cross. Some day in school, they might learn of what happened on 9/11, at hurricane Katrina, and during hurricane Sandy. It was this conversation that would be the impetus to bring the possibility of writing a book about my volunteering to the forefront of my mind.

I'm not special, disaster volunteers number in the hundreds of thousands. There are many who have been to more single family fires than I; and, many to more national disasters than me. It kinda gets in our blood and we thrive on the adrenaline rush of being called to disasters. And, we want to help. We're trained to help. I just happened to find a few moments to write in my journal every day.

I'm writing this book for my grandchildren. All of them know that I've volunteered with the Red Cross. Several marched in Fourth of July parades with me as we'd walk in front of our disaster van carrying the United States flag, the Red Cross flag, and a Red Cross banner. Others sat on the curb watching me march past. Even our youngest granddaughter at the age of four is fascinated by my framed poster of Minnie Mouse. Minnie is wearing a dress with a Red Cross on it while she hugs a little girl whose house was destroyed by a tornado.

They know of my volunteering with the Red Cross, but they don't know the extent of my involvement. Will they care? I think they might. I've decided I need to share my story with them. Because no one knows it but me.

While travelling with my husband, I was in the habit of keeping a travel journal. Just bits and pieces about where we went, what we saw, and what restaurants we visited. When I traveled to disaster locations with the Red Cross I decided to keep a daily journal. I'd send the journals back home to my family so they'd know what I was doing. Well, not just my family. I'd send it to distant relatives, all my co-workers, and many colleagues in my profession along with near and far friends. I thought they might be interested. And, they were.

In fall of 2015, when I attended the fall Wisconsin Writers Conference, I was inspired and encouraged to finally dust off the copies of the daily journals I kept and do something with them. The time has finally arrived.

So, I began. I wrote and wrote. I wrote the full history of how I started with the Red Cross, what training I needed, and about my pager going off in the middle of the night to help families as I volunteered on the Disaster Action Team in Milwaukee.

Thoughts filled my head. I'd jump up in the middle of the night to jot things down. The thing to do when writing a book, at least a memoir like mine, is to just keep writing. I kept writing until I wrote everything I remembered about how my volunteering began. Then I started reviewing my journals from 9/11. I reviewed every day of my 9/11 journey. Fifteen years later it's still impossible for me to revisit my 9/11 journals without coming to tears. I updated it into a readable format correcting grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Then I sent it to my friend Elaine, for her to read. And, I sent it to the Moraine Writer's group I had discovered through the writer's conference I attended.

- Debbie

Next blog...
What Elaine and the writer's group thought of the beginning of my book.