Secrets of the Zona Rosa:
How Writing (and Sisterhood) Can Change Women's Lives

Rosemary Daniell

Henry Holt and Company: New York, May, 2006. ISBN 0805077804.
Reviewed by Trilla Pando
Posted on 05/01/2006

Nonfiction: Memoir; Nonfiction: Creative Life

When you pick up a copy of Secrets of the Zona Rosa, better pick up two or three extra notebooks and a box of pens or pencils because you are about to start writing.

It's hard to imagine not getting itchy writing fingers while reading the intriguing titles in the table of contents: "We are all doors until someone slams us," "If I was really wild," and "If I thought like a guy."

Rosemary Daniell is an intriguing and powerful woman. She writes her own truths and invites other women to do the same. No, she doesn't invite; she insists. And insistence is hard to resist.

I first met Rosemary Daniell in the pages of her 1997 book, The Woman Who Spilled Words All Over Herself: Writing and Living the Zona Rosa Way. It headed this fallen-away writer back on the writing road. For several years, I was a member of Rosemary's Atlanta Zona Rosa group. It is with real joy I welcome this book, as will other readers of this author's works. Those who have not had the fun and challenge of working their way through Rosemary's exercises—and exorcises—will soon share our enthusiasm.

Rosemary took the name Zona Rosa for the writing groups and workshops that she leads from the bohemian quarter of Mexico City, but she gives it the additional meaning of the "feminine zone," where women (and not a few men) explore using writing not only as a challenging, creative activity but also "as a tool for healing."

Secrets explains how her mother's suicide inspired her to explore her own life and truths through writing, and how the knowledge of her mother's frustrations and sadness over a lost ambition to write led her to devote her time and talents to helping other women not only fulfill their dreams of writing, but also to hone their skills in practical ways. Rosemary, already a published poet, was leading a writing workshop for women prisoners when she learned of her mother's overdose.

"I felt once more how little she—like the women in the prison—had been able to tell of her own truths. How little permission she had been given—whether by herself or others—to express them.

Although I didn't know it yet, Zona Rosa was born in that moment; an unrealized passion that would lead me to spend much of the rest of my life seeking to help women like Mother and women in prisons of all kinds to achieve their dreams."

Rosemary does not and did not flinch at telling her own truths. She spent the next three years of her life writing a memoir, Fatal Flowers: On Sin, Sex, and Suicide in the Deep South, inspired by her mother's death. Not long afterwards, Rosemary began leading a small group of writing women. Zona Rosa was born.

This book tells Rosemary's story and more. She looks back over the nearly twenty-five years of Zona Rona writers and shares (with their permission) the moving tales of how their writing has changed their lives. There are sad stories and stories of triumph, all of them fascinating.

This is not, though, a book of stories. We find guidance and guidelines that all writers, novice or expert, use with relish.

While the book deals with serious subjects, it is filled with Rosemary's wit and humor. "Pilates on Paper" first appears in Chapter 1, and the reader becomes the writer before she turns the page. (Remember my warning about new notebooks and pens!) "Book Therapy" appears regularly with reading suggestions and guidance. Writing exercises (or exorcises as Zona Rosans call them) appear throughout. Toward the end of the book, Rosemary addresses "The Emotional Tai Chi of Getting Your Work Out There"—excellent advice on finishing and submitting our work when it is ready (and we are ready for it) to be shared with the world.

Attending a Zona Rosa group or workshop is an exhilarating experience, but so is reading and writing from this book. I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Check out our interview with the author of Secrets of the Zona Rosa.

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