Monday, July 1, 2013

Tribute to Betty Hyland, our champion

Gathering adults together to improve their art of storytelling was always exciting. Still, there was one first morning when a lovely female walked through the door and caught my eye. Her

flowing ensemble and blonde hair was so Lauran Bacall, so movie star, so California. But, her sparkling brown eyes and quick words were so Elaine Stritch, so Broadway stage, so New York.

This attractive woman sat at a desk as everyone told what kind of writing project they were trying to finish, Betty Hyland revealed that she had a book in print. Hungry to be published, the class was eager to ask about it. She explained that MY CRAZY BROTHER was a fictional account of a boy entering his teen years where schizophrenia waited for him.

Enthralled with the topic, we threw questions at her. She graciously answered each one proving her expertise and her compassion for all family members struck by this calamity.

Our classes continued and whenever a question about the basics of writing or storytelling arose, Betty's hand was the first to go up. She easily gave the correct information and more to

our class. We all warmed to her. especially when she told about a tough writing teacher she had studied under in California who embarrassed the adult students when they erred. Betty's eyes lit up when she said, "But, we never forgot what she told us!"

A few classes in, I walked to the parking lot with this elegant lady and asked her why she was in this writing class when she could teach it? She slipped her arm through mine and said, "I kept hearing your name when I asked about writers groups ... so I wanted to meet you."

We both laughed until I explained, "You could have joined us at the Chantilly Library!"

And Betty did join us, sharing her life stories and razor sharp wit. Still, Betty Hyland was a task mistress when it came to "publishable writing." When she caught any one of our works filled with bad grammar, sliding tenses or erroneous spelling? She threatened to make us bend over so she could spank our bottoms with her Big Stick!

We were blessed with Betty's vigilant stewardship over our words and her sweet companionship in our hearts.

The Writers of Chantilly dedicate this anthology in fond memory of our leader, Betty Hyland.

Betty’s loving grandchildren called her Nana—hence the title of this anthology. Betty taught us and she cheered us on. She motivated us to be creative, accurate, and precise. Betty maintained the highest standards in all aspects of her life. She set a fine example for all who knew her and loved her.

She was—and she is—truly an inspiration to all of us, reminding us to “get crackin’” and to become better writers.

When Mary Ellen Gavin invited me to become a part of the Writers of Chantilly, I was both excited and nervous. I had no idea what to expect or what would be expected of me, a “wannabe” writer who had been writing “that first novel” since I picked up a pen as a child.

The first person I met was a vibrant, outspoken lady named Betty Hyland. She welcomed me graciously. I brought my first reading and nervously awaited comments from the writers. I was surprised that their corrections were not only spot on, but done with great care to encourage, not discourage me. I discovered why this was so. Betty had set a precedent with WOC that everyone who sat around the table was to be treated with respect, regardless of what talents or perspectives they held.
Here’s what I learned from almost a decade of sitting around the writers’ table while Betty chaired our meetings:

She was honest. She shared about her particular talents, life experiences and achievements, but never held them up as “bragging rights” (even though all of us recognized how talented she was).
 She was forthright. She always saw the best in our writing efforts, but offered ways to help us to help ourselves. Betty asked that we not bring our personal lives to the table, so that we would keep our views unobstructed by personal feelings; they would only get in the way of our objectivity and honesty.
She set the example for us. Our anthologies became our “voices.” Betty took on the challenging aspects of editing and dealing with the publishing companies, the extent to which none of us had an inkling of the time, cost  and frustration that entailed until she had passed away.

She gave us structure. Because of Betty’s self-respect and the respect we felt for her, the leadership was passed on, at Betty’s request, to Ruth Perry. In the spirit of what Betty meant to all of us who knew her and to honor her memory, her strong influence continues. I can think of no better way to honor her, than to be a part of the Writers of Chantilly flourishing and becoming all that Betty knew we could be.

The best indication of who Betty Hyland was is felt at our meetings. She gave us something permanent to reflect back on and to keep us moving forward. As writers, we keep on writing. She said it best with “get cracking.”

Betty was simply an okay broad. In the very best sense of the phrase. And being from the Bronx that is a true compliment.  Betty pulled no punches, but was the most adamant supporter of writers I have ever had the privilege of meeting.

I met her in 2003 when I joined the Writers of Chantilly. She was professional, exacting, supportive, but also fun. She was patient, which I find a rare attribute for a writer, especially such a gifted and knowledgeable soul as Betty.

She laughed freely, even at herself. She was more than accommodating and when listening to rather dull, ill-written tomes (even mine), she smiled and kept a beautiful composure adding critiques only to benefit the writer though I’m sure her thoughts were different than the helpful words that left her mouth.

She helped me immensely in my writing – but – mostly by being my friend. When my daughter passed she was a warm and supportive confidant. I so appreciated her being there. A lovely women that had only the best to share with and about others.

Though a great life may have been had and enjoyed, the loss of a wonderful woman, spirit and muse is never acceptable.  

I will miss her so very much.

Betty. When you passed away, I was sad. Sad you were gone. Sad that I had disappeared on you yet again. I didn't get a chance to say goodbye. I wish I could look at you now and say thank you, deeply and meaningfully.

I have a folder full of emails from you. Pages after pages: reminders, meeting minutes, advice, grammar lessons, competitions. I love the personal emails. You embraced me, encouraged me, pushed me, valued what I penned. Even when I vanished for a year or two I filed those emails. Why? Because you believed in me even if I was hiding and silent. I avoided me, but you wouldn't.

You were beautiful, kind, gracious - a forceful presence in our writing lives. I loved your unflagging devotion and your energetic passion. When I feel timid about my writing, I only have to think of you, and doubting voices fall away.

Dear Betty. Deeply, meaningfully, I THANK YOU for being a champion for all the Writers of Chantilly.

When I joined the Chantilly Writers Group in early 2003, Betty had not yet taken the helm.  But even then she was a strong, encouraging presence in our group whose suggestions were concise and on target.  

After Mary Ellen left, Betty led our group successfully.   As we read our pieces at the meetings, or had someone else read them for us, Betty always made pertinent suggestions for improvement in a helpful, positive way.

I left Virginia in 2005 and Betty continued to email me, expressing confidence in my short stories and giving me valuable pointers.  I was thrilled when she suggested that I should gather my short stories up and publish them as a collection.  I’ve held that thought in my mind over the years and intend to carry out her suggestion in the near future.  

Thanks for all your advice Betty!  I’m glad I got to know you.


Below is the last full email I received from Betty in 6/29/2010:

Good advice from my friend and first teacher, Gloria Miklowitz    Betty


1. Does your story have a plot type? Is it PURPOSE ACHIEVED (through ingenuity, courage or a special ability?) or MISUNDERSTANDING, DISCOVERY AND REVERSAL?

2. What is the story question in one sentence?

3. What is your theme, the moral statement you want to make? Is it developed through the story's action?

4. Have you shown the story problem within the first page? Is there action in those first paragraphs?

5. Do you have conflict through an antagonist, nature, or the main character's personal flaw?

6. Does the hero solve his own problem?

7. Is the story told through one person's viewpoint?

8. Have  you avoided solving problems through coincidence?

9. Does the story build through several scenes to a climax in which the hero seems to have lost the battle? Then, does the solution follow quickly?

10 Have you checked every word, sentence, paragraph to see if it belongs or can be improved?

Master these elements and you'll write a better short story. Master them and writing the novel will be even more manageable. 

I tried to sneak into a Writers of Chantilly meeting in ~Aug 2005 and hide in the back, an author wannabee, a newbie, nervous that my beginner status somehow made me not worthy of attendance. And then I met this wonderfully kind and energetic woman who accepted me into the group: Betty. In 5 minutes she put me at ease with a warm smile that might as well have been a hug from an old friend.

And that is the memory I carry with me of someone I knew for only a short time, but where each interaction was meaningful and touching. To the point I developed a true bond and friendship. I like that. So much so I'd like for it to become a part of my personality. Thanks for that Betty. I'm going to get crackin' now...

More tributes to come...

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