A group of writers meeting at Oakmont Carnegie Library for six weeks this summer found the experience so positive they decided to continue. As a result, a new author’s guild has formed at the library with all ten original writers returning and five new participants.
The summer’s "Journal to Book" sessions led by published author, Lillie Leonardi, a resident of Arnold, included exercises and chats with several Pittsburgh authors who have been successful in their efforts. They included Charles (Chip) Bell, Leah Pileggi, Connie Anne Valenti and Raymond Vennare. The goal was to give the writers a chance to journal and stimulate their creative abilities with the possibility of turning what they wrote into a book.
"Lillie was terrific as class leader, and we wanted the sessions to continue," said Kathy Kienholz, a free lance art historian from Fox Chapel and a twice-published, nonfiction author who said she took the sessions because she also wanted to get into fiction.
After the last scheduled session, Ms. Leonardi went to library director, Beth Mellor, to see if they could continue. The answer was yes.
“Participants have given great feedback about the workshops and have said that Ms. Leonardi offered a comfortable and supportive atmosphere in which to work on their writing projects,” said Stephanie Zimble, reference librarian.
At the moment, the guild is accepting additional members for its monthly meetings, to be held from 6 to 8 p.m. the third Wednesday. Cost is $5 for each session.
Sessions are ongoing. Ms. Leonardi said she hopes participants develop a support system and share each other’s skills. In the summer sessions, the group included two marketing experts and two artists with skills that could come in handy when trying to publish a book.
“I have experience in editing, which is the skill I can contribute,” Ms. Kienholz said.
Besides being an author, Ms. Leonardi, 58, has more than 25 years in law enforcement, starting in 1984 when she became the first female police office with the city of Arnold. She also has a total of six years’ experience as director of security at both Carlow and Chatham universities.
From 1998 to 2010, she was employed by the FBI’s Pittsburgh Division as its Community Outreach Specialist. One of her greatest challenges occurred in the aftermath of the Sept.11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when she was assigned to work with law enforcement, government and social service agencies, assisting with evidence recovery from Flight 93 that had been downed in a field in Shanksville, Pa., and with preparations for two Flight 93 memorial services.
During this time, she not only served as primary liaison to the United Airlines humanitarian response team —- present at daily briefings and interacting with surviving family members —- but also escorted families to the crash site for services.
While working for 12 days at the site, the horrors of the crash took an emotional toll, and she developed post-traumatic stress disorder. Eventually, her medical condition prevented further work in law enforcement, and she left the FBI in 2010. Since then, she’s pursued a writing career, something she said she has always wanted to do.
In 2008, a psychiatrist she was seeing suggested that she journal the thoughts and emotions of her 9/11 experiences as part of therapy. She said her family thought sharing her journal might have a healing quality for others.
The result was a published memoir titled "In The Shadow Of A Badge: A Story Of Flight 93, A Field Of Angels, And My Spiritual Homecoming."
In May, Ms. Leonardi held a three-part workshop at Oakmont Library called "Healing Touches and Whispers,” based on the memoir.
The series will be reprised Oct.11 and continue Oct.18 and Nov.1. The three sessions will be held from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and will cost $75, which will go to support the library. To register, call 412-828-9532.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.