Writing Groups

Irma and the Shantyboat

by Darlyn Finch Kuhn on September 20, 2017

Shantyboat and Lynn Skapyak Harlin

Those of you who know your Scribbler, or who’ve read my novel, Sewing Holes, know that it’s based loosely on my childhood in Jacksonville during the Vietnam War.  On May 1st I returned “home” to Jacksonville to help care for my dying mother in our little house on Trout River (called Bass River in the book.) Mama died in mid-June, and just as I started to stick my head out the door in September to try to connect with my writing “tribe” in North Florida, hurricane Irma came along and gob-smacked one of its most-beloved institutions – Lynn Skapyak Harlin and her Shantyboat.

That’s Lynn in the photo with the magical houseboat that was tied up at Seafarer’s Marina on Trout River by the Main Street Bridge, until Irma’s fury left nothing behind but its splintered deck. What makes this more than another sad tale of someone’s leisure “toy” getting smashed by Mother Nature’s fury is that Shantyboat was a place where writers gathered to learn, write, share, and improve their work. The workshops held there were Lynn’s livelihood and her passion.

I know we’re all shell-shocked and weary of hearing about natural disaster-induced troubles and pleas for financial help for the victims. But yes, I’m going to ask you to consider helping Lynn and Jim Harlin rebuild or replace Shantyboat so that future writers can experience the kind of help that turns first drafts into polished work for our reading pleasure.

Watch the First Coast News video about Shantyboat, and read their report below. Then help if you can, by donating at this GoFundMe page.

Thank you!

Darlyn Finch Kuhn

Here is the text from First Coast News:

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. —  An old shantyboat sat at the end of the dock at Seafarers Marina on Trout River Drive for 16 years. It had weathered strong waves, winds and dismayed looks from visitors over the years. Described as down right ugly by its owners, Shantyboat was admired by the hundreds of writers who dared to hop aboard and learn from a teacher with a sharp tongue and quick wit.

“I smoke cigarettes, I swear, I’m obnoxious,” said Lynn Skapyak Harlin. “There I could be whoever I am. And if they didn’t like it they could leave.”

Shantyboat was a place to teach lessons learned in her lifetime, more than seven decades. It’s where she held classes for aspiring writers. Harlin and her husband Jim, purchased the boat in Georgia in 1995. But with Hurricane Irma came pounding waves that ripped apart docks and sunk boats that were in some cases people homes, for Harlin it was her dream.

“That’s all that’s left,” said Jim Harlin. He shook his head while pointing to pieces of wood barely intact. “That’s the front deck. So we were afraid that it had sunk right there but several people saw it going away.”

There’s a large makeshift sign on display at the beginning of the broken down dock that reads: “Boat owners only. No visitors, no guests, no sightseers.” The sights that remain following Irma are not appealing. There’s caution tape tied from one loose post to another and beyond the warnings are battered boats, some ripped in half.

“People have lost everything and we’re whining over this ratty little floating shack,” said Jim Harlin. “But we love it. This boat over here that sank that was a man’s home and it’s gone. A lot of them have no other place to go. They have no other home than these boats that they live on and no means to really get another home.”

Management at Seafarers Marina estimate the damage will total at least $250,000.

“That’s mother nature, that’s the whole package,” said Lynn while looking out on the Trout River’s calming waves. “Any boat owner will tell you it’s the best and worst thing that could happen to you and your boat. So you have to take those chances.”
Harlin says losing the Shantyboat was like losing a part of her body. It appears the old boat and Lynn’s stern ways have touched a lot of people. One of her writers started a gofundme page for the couple just a few days ago and it has already raised more than 3,000 dollars.

In her own words, Lynn Skapyak Harlin: “It is 2:30a.m. and I can’t sleep. Yesterday Keitha Nelson, ch12 news reporter & her cameraman Todd came to Seafarers Marina to talk about the loss of the Shantyboat. She asked me a lot of questions and as usual I was my flippant self. But now after replaying what she asked and what I said I really want to tell what the loss of the boat is to me. The Shantyboat Writers Workshop was a refuge where writers black, white, young, old, rich and not so rich all were equal. It was a melting pot of creative, imaginative and dedicated folks who came for one purpose to make their writing better. All I did was share craft techniques and show them how to pick out what worked and what didn’t work in a piece. This was exciting. I got to watch & listen to writers become better at sharing their stories. The magic of the Shantyboat was the people who dared to trek down the dock and step into a place were they were with writers who all cared about words. All the writers’ styles, stories and characters were their own and none of them sounded nor wrote alike. They all learned the tools of the trade, the craft techniques that all writers need to make readers care about their characters and turn pages to find out what happened. I loved what I did but more than that I loved where I did it. Our Shantyboat was where I was happiest being surrounded by folks who wanted to make their stories the best they could be. The boat is gone but hopefully the lessons the writers learned will live on in the stories they create.”


Shantyboat - wrecked

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Detail & Description Logo


Want your stories to come to life on the page? Want your readers to see, taste, feel, smell, and hear your memories? Want your writing to feel fresh and new? Then, I have just the answer for you. The easiest way to improve your writing tenfold rests in using detail and description. No problem, you say. I’ll just throw in a few extra adjectives and adverbs. Well, that’s one way, but it’s not the best way to make your stories more vivid. Detail and description takes advantage of all our senses, not just sight, using specific words, and incorporating metaphor and simile while avoiding cliché. It may sound daunting, but when you know how to do it, you add another dimension to your writing and give your readers a complete experience. Join me for my next coaching program, Writing Detail and Description, which begins Tuesday, September 6th with a get-acquainted call for all participants. Writing Detail and Description combines ten or more instructional videos you access online at your convenience, including:

  • Writer’s Block
  • A Bit of Inspiration
  • Not Just Adjectives and Adverbs
  • Specificity
  • Sensory Detail
  • Cliché
  • Scent and Memory
  • Historical Context
  • Simile and Metaphor
  • Writing with Photographs
  • Perfectionism

In addition to the videos, you receive:

  • exclusive access to an online community where you can post your stories, request feedback, ask questions, respond to fellow participants’ stories and comments
  • group coaching calls
  • individual coaching
  • outlines, worksheets, handouts, and other written materials to complement the training modules
  • random notes of encouragement and writing tips to keep you on track
  • on-demand access to training modules to review at your leisure for six full months
  • incentives to those who participate fully in the program
  • and much, much more

You may be thinking: Wow, a program that includes this much must cost a fortune! It should, but it doesn’t. I want as many people to participate as possible, so I’ve deliberately kept the price down. If you sign up for the program before September 1st, you can be a part of Writing Detail and Description for just $129. After September 1st the price goes up to $149. Plus, Writing Detail and Description comes with a money-back guarantee. Go through the first two modules, do the work recommended, and if you find the program doesn’t meet your needs, just let me know, and I’ll refund your payment in full. No questions asked. If you’ve previously participated in any Writing Your Life coaching programs—Finish My Book in 90 Days, Get Started-Write My Story, Writing People and Places, Edit Like an Expert, Electronic Editing—you may be eligible for a special discount. Contact me at patricia@writingyourlife.org to find out and possibly receive a promotional code to obtain the reduced price.

Sign up today and learn how to make your stories come to life by Writing Detail and Description!

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Show, Tell, Write with Patricia Charpentier at Infusion Tea

by Darlyn Finch Kuhn on July 18, 2016



Remember when you were in first grade, and you brought a treasure to school to share in show and tell? That was loads of fun, so why should such a time be available only for kids? Welcome to show and tell for big people, with a twist. Join the fun at Show, Tell, Write presented by Patricia Charpentier each month in conjunction with Bookmark It, Orlando’s independent bookstore, and Infusion Tea, College Park’s award-winning tea and vegetarian cafe. This month, Show, Tell, Write will be on the fourth Tuesday of the month, July 26th. After July, the event will be held the third Tuesday of every month. Come early and grab a tasty meal and cup of tea before the fun begins at 6:30 p.m. Bring in a memento or item from your past or present each month (or photos, if the objects are too large) that is meaningful and holds many memories. Then, take a few minutes to share the item with the group and tell its story and significance to you.

Then, after being given a bit of instruction, we’ll write for a few minutes about the object you brought in or some other story you’d like to tell. You’ll learn how to write vivid descriptions, convey sentiment, and detail the item’s history and importance. No previous writing experience is required for this fun, hands-on event.

Don’t want to talk about your treasure? No problem. Bring it with you anyway; come, listen, write, and be a part of the group.

Before you head home around 8:00 p.m., check out Bookmark It’s great selection of books on site in Infusion Tea, 1600 Edgewater Drive, Orlando, FL 32804.

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Writing With Courage: An Invitation to Write the Unspeakable

by Darlyn Finch Kuhn on July 14, 2016

stop sign with bullet holes

Pat Spears, author of It’s Not Like I Knew Her, and Nylda Dieppa, author of  Alborada, A Poetic Memoir, will speak to the Maitland Writers Group at the Maitland Public Library at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 14th.  Free and open to the public. The following is from MWG’s July newsletter:

Pat Spears and Nylda Dieppa

Writing With Courage: An Invitation to Write the Unspeakable

June 12, 2016, will be forever remembered as the day Orlando, Florida, crystalized its identity as an inclusive and loving city. On that day, a young man who cloaked his internalized homophobia under the mantle of terrorism massacred forty-nine people and seriously injured many more at Pulse nightclub. The story he never shared with others traumatized a city and touched the world. Following this tragedy, the secret stories of people who had not yet been able to share their experiences as closeted individuals in the GLBTQ spectrum were heard for the first time. Untold stories of fear, insecurity, and grief were transformed into healing, loving, and unifying tales, but others motivated family members to eschew their loved ones and refuse to accept their bodies for burial because they were gay, perceived as shameful or disgraced.
Because the consequences of sharing our truths do not promise a clear, rosy outcome, we may be terrified to share with ourselves (never mind others) important accounts the world needs to learn from. Untold stories, however, can grow into distorted, festering, and deformed excuses for evil. By telling our difficult, “unspeakable” stories, we communicate our deepest thoughts, teach the fruits of our experiences to others, and heal our own and our communities’ profound hurts. Stories of all kinds and on all topics help us grieve, grow, forgive, and be able to love and be loved once again.

Pat Spears: Writing with Courage
Several years ago, Pat Spears began writing a book about living gay in the south. The book, although not autobiographical, incorporated much her own experience of growing up in a society that despised her for who she was. Once the manuscript was finished, she put it aside for several years, unsure about risking the exposure publication could bring, until 2015, when she placed the manuscript with Twisted Road Publications. In her presentation, Pat will talk about the journey that allowed her to write honestly about being an outsider and about the decision to make her story public.

Nylda Dieppa: Writing the Unspeakable
Nylda’s interactive workshop following Pat’s talk will inspire participants to write about the unspeakable in their own lives. Through private writing exercises, attendees will come away with one-paragraph starting points on the topic of their choosing. (Only those who want to share will be asked to do so.) The results should help writers mature, heal, and develop healthy (and new) relationships with themselves and their readers.

The Presenters
Pat Spears’s second novel, It’s Not Like I Knew Her, was released in July 2016 by Twisted Road Publications. Her debut novel, Dream Chaser, was released in 2014. She has twice received honorable mention in the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition, first in 2013 for “Stranger At My Door” and again in 2015 for “Free Ride.” Pat’s short stories have appeared in numerous journals (including North American Review, Appalachian Heritage, and Seven Hills Review) and anthologies (Law and Disorder from Main Street Rag, Bridges and Borders from Jane’s Stories Press, and Saints and Sinners: New Fiction from the Festival 2012). Her short story “Whelping” was a finalist for the Rash Award and appears in the 2014 issue of Broad River Review. Pat is a sixth-generation Floridian and lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

Nylda Dieppa is the author of the 2014 Royal Palm Literary Awards winning poetry collection Alborada: A Poetic Memoir Across Cultures, which also garnered an award from the 2016 International Latino Book Awards for her cover illustration. She has read her poetry at Cornelia Street Café and the Ear Inn in New York City as well as Bookmark It! and Infusion Tea in Orlando. She participated as a panelist at the Enzian Theater’s fund raiser for Pulse victims screening of the documentary Memories of a Penitent Heart, which unearths a new and healthier story about the relationship between Nylda’s gay brother Miguel and their devout mother, Carmen. Nylda’s work has been published in America magazine and other corporate publications. She is completing a second collection of poems and gathering the courage to finish Amada (Beloved), a historical fiction novelization of her ancestors’ lives in Puerto Rico. Nylda writes for the College Park Community Newspaper and leads the Maitland Writers Group, an affiliate of the Florida Writers Association.


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