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Scribes club prides itself on giving writers good feedback — the kind way

A Lakewood Ranch writers’ club meets twice monthly to critique each other’s work and build lifetime bonds.

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  • | 2:30 p.m. August 27, 2022
A sampling of books written by Scribes’ members (Photo by Harry Sayer)
A sampling of books written by Scribes’ members (Photo by Harry Sayer)
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Meet Aroon Chaddha, that rare human who loves Zoom meetings. 

He has his reasons. Chaddha founded the Lakewood Ranch Scribes, a group of writers who meet twice a month to read their work and have their fellow members offer edits and suggestions. Until March 2020, the club gathered in a room at the Lakewood Ranch Town Hall. As many as 25 scribes, from accomplished to amateur, gathered on the first and third Saturday of each month, starting at 10:30 a.m.

That all changed, of course, when a certain pandemic turned the world upside down.

Enter Zoom.

“I love Zoom,” Chaddha says. “It changed the dynamics of the group. We don’t have to travel to meet. It’s safer from a health standpoint. And it allows people from anywhere to be part of what we do.”

Five of the roughly 10 active members live in Lakewood Ranch, including Chaddha. Not everyone was crazy about the move to Zoom, so it caused some attrition in the ranks. All the current members are retired seniors. And, because the Lakewood Ranch Scribes no longer use local facilities, the club is open to anyone.

Here’s how the meetings work: Each member emails a maximum of two pages of preferably new material to the rest of the group for them to read in advance of the Zoom gathering. Some, like retired lawyer and writing teacher Claire Matturo, take the evaluation process seriously, making copious notes. Poetry, narrative fiction and memoirs are the current flavors, although other disciplines are welcome.

Since March 2020, the club has met via Zoom. During the meeting, members read their pieces, after which each takes the stage to comment on the work. (Photo by Eric Snider)
Since March 2020, the club has met via Zoom. During the meeting, members read their pieces, after which each takes the stage to comment on the work. (Photo by Eric Snider)

During the get-together, the authors read their pieces, after which each takes the stage to comment on the work. To compensate for the lack of in-person time, Chaddha has added an informal breakfast every fourth Saturday. No agenda. No readings. Just friends hanging out eating omelets. “We include our spouses, so we have to be on our best behavior,” he says with a laugh.

Two basic rules govern the official meetings. Be civil. Better yet: Be nice. “Critique gently,” Chaddha says. “We don’t want people pouring their hearts out, sharing their psyche, their souls, only to have someone say, ‘this is crap.’”

That, or something like it, has happened on a few occasions. In such cases, Chaddha has asked members to resign after committing their third or fourth offenses. Even then, he does so politely. “I tell them, ‘You are really too good for this group,’” he says, chuckling.

The other essential rule: no commercialism. A few people have joined to gain access to the email list and then pitch astrology sessions, essential oils and other nonsense. Those interlopers were hastily expurgated from the club and the list.

As a rule of thumb, the Scribes recognize the value of keeping their feedback relatively short and pointed. Now and then, Chaddha gently interrupts to move the commentary along. The group usually takes his cue. Again, Zoom has helped in this regard. “We’re all storytellers, so we’re all talkers,” says Matturo, a member since 2018. “When we met in person, we’d get a lot of people reacting to a piece of writing by saying, ‘That reminds me of the time I …’ and off they’d go. When we were at Town Hall, the meetings ran well over two hours. We’d have to take a break. One of the benefits of meeting in person was that someone usually brought cookies.”

Sometimes things got a little ugly. “There was a woman who, each time she talked, she’d go on for 10 minutes or more,” recalls longtime member Ann Trick, a Lakewood Ranch resident who spends summers in Canada with her husband, Dave. “Finally, Aroon said, ‘We’re going to need to move on,’ and she got mad and yelled, ‘This is the last time I’m coming. I’m really disappointed in the group!’”

The woman kept her word, much to the satisfaction of the others.


Zoom time

It’s the first Saturday in June and the meeting gets underway precisely at 10:30 a.m. The group includes three women: Claire Matturro, Ann Trick, Joan Sparks; and six men: Aroon Chaddha, Barry Zack, Vinny Visco, Dan Dana, Marty Collins, and Bob Heron. Hair is scarce on the heads of the fellas. “We’re a group of beautiful women and bald men,” Chaddha effuses in the musical accent of his native India.

An endearing air of bonhomie informs the gathering. You can tell that each Scribe sees these get-togethers, and the writing that goes along with them, as vitally important to the quality of life in their advancing years.

Leading off, Dana reads two of his “haiku quintets,” for which he stitches five of the 17-syllable poems together to make one. His own subgenre, as it were. He’s in the process of compiling dozens of such pieces to create a memoir in verse and has submitted two poems to the group. The last haiku from “My Dad’s Afterlife” reads: "and then he was gone … glimpsed in wistful, wishful dreams he still breathes in me."


The Scribes at Joan Sparks’ house before their monthly Saturday brunch. Left to right: Robert Heron, Vincent Visco, Dan Dana, Aroon Chaddha, Barry Zack and Joan Sparks. (Photo by Harry Sayer)
The Scribes at Joan Sparks’ house before their monthly Saturday brunch. Left to right: Robert Heron, Vincent Visco, Dan Dana, Aroon Chaddha, Barry Zack and Joan Sparks. (Photo by Harry Sayer)


Chaddha is the de facto leader of an effectively leaderless group. At 82, the retired engineer exudes infectious joie de vivre. He’s the Scribes’ founder, moderator, organizer, recruiter and evangelist. Chaddha enlisted Ann Trick at a Music on Main concert. He met Vinny Visco, a witty Brooklyn native with an accent to match, in the hot tub at LA Fitness, where they started to chat about writing.

Chaddha came to the U.S. from India in 1961 to study engineering at University of Michigan, and then earned an MBA from Northwestern University. He got a job designing televisions and set up a nice life in suburban Chicago, with a wife and two children. In the mid-1970s, a vague discontent started gnawing at him. “I just felt this kind of frustration, and one day I came home from work and started to write,” he recalls. “A poem just poured out of me. It uplifted me out of a foul mood. I felt so much better. It was like cleaning the dirt out of your system.”

Chaddha had ignited his artistic side — and he was hooked. He started writing regularly, publishing pieces about his vegan lifestyle, and penning poems and essays with spiritual themes. In 2003, he joined his first writers group, then two years later he and a friend started the Schaumburg Scribes in the Chicago ‘burbs.

When Chaddha and his wife, Lilly, moved to Lakewood Ranch in August 2014, he thought his new community would benefit from a writers group of its own. He founded the Lakewood Ranch Scribes a couple of months after arriving.


Zoom time continued

As the meeting moves along, the members suggest cuts and expansions for the various works. New ideas and points of view are brought to the table. They dissect technique, construction and meaning, discuss imagery and metaphor. At no point do the critiques veer into negative territory. And, even if some writers are more advanced than others, no hierarchy is evident; there’s no cool kids’ table.

It’s clear, however, that Matturo has taken on the role of mentor. “I guess I’ve never gotten over being a writing teacher,” says the Bradenton native and retired attorney who taught legal research and writing at FSU. She’s also published eight novels — legal thrillers and ones featuring female sleuths, four of which were put out by HarperCollins. In recent years, she’s been focusing on poetry. Her entry on this Saturday, “Trespassers,” muses about the guilt she and her husband felt for building a small house in the woods 45 minutes outside Tallahassee. It ends: "We pray the woods will one day reclaim our house."

Environmentalism runs deep within this cabal of writers, as does spiritualism. Sparks, a relatively new member, describes her work as “a conversation between my innermost soul and the universe itself. It’s like a river that’s constantly flowing to the sea.” She has not published but feels that her compiled prose “will move toward a book at some point.”

The Scribes agree that being part of the club helps improve their work, but it’s not expressly a vehicle to promote professional advancement. Sometimes, however, the group achieves a kind of critical mass and helps push a piece of writing over the top. “I had this long poem based on a news story,” Matturo recalls. “It had been rejected by a publisher. I took it to the Scribes, and they said things like ‘that stanza doesn’t work, and this one’s far too wordy. You need to have taste and smell in it, the five senses.’ I took all those comments and rewrote it. I submitted the poem to the publication that had previously rejected it and they published it.”

As she tells the story, it’s apparent that Matturo is prouder of the group’s cooperative efforts than having the piece published. She points out yet another benefit to belonging to the Lakewood Ranch Scribes. “You have an audience to write for,” she explains. “Every two weeks you’re supposed to submit something, but there are times when you go dry. The group kind of forces you out of those dry periods and gets you going again.”


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