Friday, March 20, 2015

North Meets South Part II

(With, from left to right, writers Esther M. Leiper-Estabrooks, Karen Dent,
and Dan Szczesny)
Last March, members of my brilliant Berlin Writers' Group, which gathers every Tuesday night in this frozen, remote corner of the planet, traveled down state to meet with members of my equally-brilliant Southern New Hampshire writers' group, which I left when we bought our house 150-plus miles away. The event known as North Meets South was a smashing success, held at a restaurant located at the halfway point between both groups, whose members started to interact and form friendships through the Sunday salons and parties held up here following our big move.  This time around, BWG agreed that it was only fair to honor the effort routinely put forth by the southern gang, who always travel up here to hang out, write, dine, and celebrate the literary life, so we traveled to Milford, New Hampshire, where my small family used to live and where so many gatherings were held in our former apartment. And I knew the exact, perfect place where twenty or more scribes could spend an afternoon dining and sharing pages for the read-aloud portion of the fun.

In early 2012, the Saki House Restaurant opened in Milford.  We received a menu in the mail that winter, right before my adventure to New York City.  I moseyed over the following Tuesday afternoon for the buffet, which is unique in that it's different from your typical set up of steam tables, where you help yourself.  At Saki, you order off the menu -- four selections from an extensive list of offerings, plus soup -- and the food is brought out fresh from the kitchen.  After the first pass, you can order two more selections from the menu, and two more after that, and two more ad infinitum.  My kid sister and I, who made Fridays at Saki House a weekly highlight, never got higher than the 4th Round.

(Writers from North, South, and all points on the map)
I have great memories of Tuesdays at the restaurant, on my own and armed with pen and whatever latest story was presently getting its time front and center, and Fridays with my awesome sister.  I have also commented extensively about the hostile stares cast my way whenever the pen got uncapped and the pages put down -- the food was amazing and ridiculously reasonable, but the waiter always wanted me gone the moment I finished, not lingering around and writing down fresh pages of stories, novellas, and novels.  In my defense, always before I left a very generous tip.  And I never forgot how wonderful it was to have General Tso chicken, dumplings (fried, not steamed), boneless spare ribs, egg rolls, lo mein, hot and sour soup, and other menu choices come out sizzling hot and made to order.

When the notion of repeating last year's fun surfaced in January, I called around to various restaurants.  One famous New Hampshire diner's manager rushed me rudely off the phone, telling me to call back (I didn't).  Another didn't understand what I was inquiring about -- space enough to host a meeting of writers.  One call to Saki House, and the big table at the back of the restaurant was ours.

(With the talented, gorgeous Sisters Dent, Roxanne, l, and Karen, r)
Of course, it had been over two years since I'd set foot in the place, and I only hoped the food was as wonderful as my last visit (it was). Early on Saturday, March 14, a gloomy gray day that threatened to have rotten wintery-mix weather, I rode with three other BWG members down to Milford, through a steady rain.  We drove past our old apartment, source of so many adventures, the real and the imaginary. Curiously, I felt little of the nostalgia I expected -- life at Xanadu is my reality now, and it has been a rich time filled with creativity and joy. From there, it was on to the restaurant where, as soon as we entered, half an hour early, we were joined by Danny Sheehan, one of our poets from up north, and Karen and Roxanne Dent, the brilliant sisters who both write and are widely published (Karen also holds the distinction of appearing on my late, beloved soap, One Life to Live during her acting years in New York City).  Soon, writers began to arrive -- twenty-three party goers total when you add in my friend Doug's daughters.  We ordered meals, and food came out of the kitchen, as luscious and fresh as I recalled.  The hostility from the waitstaff was still there, though meted out in short doses.  And then, one at a time, writers stood up and read from their latest works.  More than once, other diners at tables waved us over, asking who we were and complimenting us on the quality of the unexpected lunchtime entertainment.

North Meets South Part II was another smashing success.  Seventeen of us read. I shared the opening pages of a new short story, "Winterization", which I am writing for consideration in Dan Szczesny's anthology of newsroom noir crime stories, Murder in the Newsroom, and got to enjoy poetry, mysteries, science fiction, gothic horror, a narrative, and work from some of my favorite writers and people.  After saying farewells-for-now, we packed back into the car and drove north, through the rain and into that promised mix of ice and snow.  On the return trip, the going got hairy halfway up the state, near the exit to New Hampshire's lakes region. But once we were in the state's chimney again, the roads were clear, and the adventure concluded. There's been some discussion about doing this again in six months -- up here this time, and down there six months later. And one member was so impressed with the concept and turn out that he's thinking about organizing a statewide day salon for several writing groups, which would be an amazing and fun event, I think. North Meets South II was a delight, and I can't wait for the next opportunity to break bread with members of my two writers' groups:  May 17, at the big birthday bash here at Xanadu to celebrate my 50th year on Spaceship Earth.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, love -- maybe one day you'll join our gatherings! Wouldn't that be fun?!