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Living on writers' block

Ashby Ponds authors unleash the power if the written word

Created date

October 27th, 2009

In a community of vast interests, eight Ashby Ponds residents share a love for the written word and the distinction of being published authors. Writing on topics as diverse as stamp collecting, military history, and linguistics, each writer recently donated at least one of his/her works to the Ashby Ponds library.

Commanding language

 Writing is something I really enjoy, says Jud Conner, who graduated from West Point before earning an advanced degree in journalism and international affairs. While in journalism school, I studied under an instructor who taught me to write and recognize the beauty in the flow of words properly arranged. It was this ability to write clear, concise prose that Conner credits to his advancement during his 36 years in the Army. My first love was commanding troops, but to get such assignments you have to do a lot of staff work, and this entails a lot of writing, he says. Being able to write had a great deal to do with my getting command of ever larger groups of soldiers, up to brigade level. Since retiring, Conner has written a number of books, including Muskets, Knives and Bloody Marshes: The Fight for Colonial Georgia and Rhymes of Age For Senior Citizens with a Sense of Humor (And Those Who Hope Someday To Be One). I am particularly proud of Muskets, Knives and Bloody Marshes, says Conner. It filled a serious gap in Georgia s colonial history. For various reasons, the critical battles that shaped Georgia s history went largely unrecorded at the time they took place. The book is now the only accurate depiction of what really happened currently in print. Conner s neighbor and fellow author Bill Olcheski parlayed his love of writing into a career in public relations and as a speechwriter with the federal government. He also taught writing at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Graduate School. He has written several books, most of them on his favorite pastime, stamp collecting. He wrote the only correspondence course on stamp collecting for Penn State. It won national recognition for the best new correspondence course, drawing in more than 600 students.

Local lore

As one of the most prolific writers living at Ashby Ponds, Robert L. Skidmore has written 20 novels and is currently working on another. I always wanted to write, but I was often busy with work, says Skidmore, who spent 35 years in the U.S. Foreign Service. I m from a family of writers, including twin uncles who published in the 1920s and 30s as well as an aunt who wrote stories that were made into movies. Now that I m retired, I am able to spend time writing. It s a hobby for me. In recent years, Skidmore has translated his love for the history of Northern Virginia into a five-part fictional saga of a Loudoun County family from 1740 until the Civil War. In addition, he s written a series of mysteries in which the hero works for the Loudoun County Sheriff s Department. Ashby Ponds Ray Birch has also contributed to the history of the Northern Virginia area with a short memoir that is included in Voices of Chantilly, a collection from 22 authors on the history of this area of Virginia. And, in search of his family s ancestry, Birch wrote Steps Along the Way, A Memoir. I didn t know what my early ancestors did, what they read, what they thought, why they did certain things, why they moved, or any of the details that seem important to me, says Birch. For these reasons, I wanted to leave a record for my children so they will know what I thought, what I did,and what was important to me in my life.

Poetic magic

As the resident poet in the group, Roderick Grant has donated all three books of poetry, The Gate to Understanding, On the Rim of Time, and A Wild Bird in My Open Hand, to the Ashby Ponds library. Writing poetry allows you to express your thoughts in a succinct way, he says. I believe it carries a message more pointedly than prose. Believing in what he calls the magic of words, Grant uses everyday life to inspire his writing. His poems span the full range of human emotions, including love, destiny, despair, and hope. Grant is currently working on a fourth book of poems.

Creative circle

Two Ph.D.s also rank among the distinguished Ashby Ponds writers: Colonel Franklin D. Margiotta, Ph.D., U. S. Air Force (Ret.), the executive editor of Brassey s Encyclopedia of Military History and Biography, and Anne Graffam Walker, Ph.D., an internationally known forensic linguist who has written several books and professional journal articles. Recognizing the talent possessed by his neighbors, John Kraft who co-edited The New Organizational Reality: Downsizing, Restructuring, and Revitalization decided to start a writers group. Anyone interested in writing is invited to attend. I knew there were other writers like me living here, many who had been in writing groups or taken writing classes before. It is a vibrant group of people, says Kraft. I always find it such a joy to spend time together.