Our founder, Gail Chatfield: Front page news

posted Oct 19, 2016, 8:16 AM by Michael Wood   [ updated Nov 3, 2017, 2:42 PM by Bruce Rowe ]
Technically incorrect. Gail was featured in the San Diego Union-Tribune's Lifestyle/People section on October 16th, 2016.

She talks about why the group was started, why it is important for veterans to write their stories, and the release of a our anthology; "Away for the Holidays."


October 16, 2016, 6:00 AM

Gail Chatfield’s father was a Marine who served in World War II, but he died when Chatfield was a teen, so she never heard any of his stories about his time in the service. She found herself fascinated by the stories of other veterans her father’s age, though, and eventually co-founded the Veterans’ Writing Group San Diego County.

“We want to bring together people who love to write and guide them through the writing process. … ,” she says. “The writers in our group share the experience of having served in the military, and we strive to give them a safe and understanding environment to write their stories. Although we are not a therapy group, many of our members find the process of writing therapeutic.”

Chatfield, ... is also a writer who’s authored a book about the experiences of the men who served where her father did on the Pacific front. She and her husband also own and operate Chatfield Air Ambulance, Inc., which provides air transportation to healthcare facilities. She took some time to talk about the writing group, why she finds it important for veterans to share their stories, and the anthology the writing group is releasing at the end of this month, “Away for the Holidays.”

Q: What is your role with the Veterans Writing Group? 

A: As co-founder, I lead the group, book mentors, find opportunities for open-mic events, help our writers find publishing outlets for their work and bring the bagels and coffee.

Q: How did the group get started?

A: I was leading a writing group at the (VA San Diego Healthcare System) when I was invited to attend the Veterans Writing Project weekend retreat, an annual event put on by the Writers Guild Foundation (WGF) in Los Angeles. At the event, I met John Maki, a retired Marine from Oceanside. We were so impressed with the format of having professional screenwriters and authors mentor writers in a creative atmosphere that we wanted to do something similar for the robust veteran community in San Diego. We outlined a plan, booked a room at the Oceanside library, and put out flyers and notices in the local newspapers inviting veterans who wanted to write to come join us.

Q: When did the group start?

A: We started in June 2010 with sheer determination, enthusiasm and absolutely no funding. We do not charge veterans to participate and receive no outside funding or donations. We rely on volunteers and the kindness of the Veterans Association of North County, which provides us a meeting place free of charge.

 

What I love about Oceanside ...

Oceanside has beautiful beaches and great places to get a cup of coffee like the Succulent Cafe. The city hosts music, film and literary festivals, which are such important parts of any community. The Oceanside Library has been very helpful to our group as I am sure it is with others. Not surprising, Oceanside is truly supportive of Marine Corps community and that gives the city a worthy patriotic vibe. 

 

Q: How many members/participants do you have in the group?

A: Our group is quite diverse. We have veterans from World War II to Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom, all branches of the military and ranks. Our monthly meetings have about 12 to 15 attendees, but since we began, we have had over 120 writers join us. They get the help, confidence, or skill that they are looking for and move on to the next phase of their writing journey. And that is what we hope they do: get inspired, find their voice, and take the time to write their stories.

Q: What happens during a meeting?

A: We try to have a professional mentor discuss writing, we may do a writing prompt, but always spend time doing read-and-critique. For the past several months, we have been working on our very first anthology based on one of our writing prompts to describe holidays spent away from home while in the service. The stories were heartfelt and heart-rending and certainly worthy of a wider audience. We have 22 authors and poets represented in the book, appropriately entitled “Away for the Holidays,” which will be released the end of October.

Q: How has the group evolved in the time since it began? (changes that have been made, etc.)

A: When we began, we focused on the writing. We still do, but we now incorporate opportunities to read at events around the community. We’ve participated in open mics at coffee shops from Encinitas to Escondido. We are pleased to be the special guest at Writers Read at the Fallbrook library on Nov. 15. We have also been featured in PBS’ Veterans Coming Home project.

Q: Have you noticed any changes in people because of their involvement in the group?

A: We had one Vietnam veteran who attended the meetings for several months without saying a word or sharing any of his writing. Then, at one meeting, he volunteered to read one of his stories. He was very uncomfortable reading in front of us and his voice was shaky and hesitant. However, he challenged himself every month to write down and share his innermost thoughts. He paid us a great compliment saying that he could never have done this without the support and understanding from a group of his peers who had “been there and done that.” 

Q: Where did your interest in veterans’ stories come from?

A: My dad was a Marine on Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), Guam and Iwo Jima in World War II. Sadly, he died when I was 15, so I never heard any stories of his time in service. Many years ago, my husband and I attended the Iwo Jima veterans’ reunion banquet at Camp Pendleton, and I was pleased to meet many veterans who, like my father, were in some of the most horrific battles on the Pacific front. The stories they shared, albeit 60 years later, of courage, humor and camaraderie fascinated me and I thought that if I enjoyed listening to them, others may want to hear them as well.

Q: What’s one of the stories from the writing group’s upcoming anthology?

A: I’m proud of the quality of all the stories but one stands out to me because the author has been so successful in pursuing his writing career. Ramon Garcia was one of our first members and … his talent has taken him far in the entertainment industry. Ramon’s story, “Hiding from the Monster,” is raw, expressive, and insightful into the challenges, chaos and camaraderie that was Kandahar.

Q: Why is it important to you that veterans write their stories?

A: Because their stories are unfiltered, real and we would know nothing about military life or war without their voices being heard. And they have the best stories full of interesting characters.

Q: What have you found challenging about running this group?

A: The biggest challenge is to keep the group focused at times as they love to share, but I don’t find that a bad thing.

Q: What’s been rewarding about your work with the group?

A: I have made some terrific friends and heard some incredible storytelling. I am pleased that their enthusiasm for writing has produced this book.

Q: What have you learned about yourself as a result of this work?

A: That like the veterans, I can accomplish the mission.

Q: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: Believe there is good in the world and be the good.

Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: I worked in the entertainment industry with positions at the American Federation of Television and Radio Arts (AFTRA), the William Morris Agency and nearly a decade as the personal assistant to Farrah Fawcett.

Q: Describe your ideal San Diego weekend.

A: An ideal weekend would be walking the beach and the Guy Fleming Trail at the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve, dinner at the Poseidon in Del Mar, and Netflix at home. Sunday would be church services at the La Jolla United Methodist Church, enjoying ensalada de carne asada on the patio at (Casa) Sol y Mar’s in Carmel Valley and watching the latest must-see movie at the theater.

 

Email: lisa.deaderick@sduniontribune.com

Twitter: @lisadeaderick

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