In 2010, SciLance came out of the closet, so to speak. We had been operating as a private group for many years, but a bunch of us were headed to a writers’ retreat where some non-SciLancers would also be attending. It was a close-quarters kind of thing—sharing tents and intimate dinners on another writer’s farm in Western Colorado—so it would be hard to hide the existence of our group and our already-formed bonds.
I was pretty nervous because I hate casting the perception that we are a “secret society” or exclusive, and yet, limiting our group’s numbers is imperative for our writer tribe to function. So, I had to let it go. And as I’ve learned time and again in my career, sharing our experiences with other writers didn’t lessen our value or market worth, but rather strengthened it. At that gathering, SciLance inspired a whole new group of writers to join forces and enrich their own writing lives and careers. By featuring different tribes here, we hope to inspire other groups as well.
Based in New Mexico, Julie Rehmeyer writes about math and science, is a contributing editor for Discover magazine, and recently wrote about her father in Aeon. She shares how she co-founded the Posse along with Siri Carpenter and Alex Witze. It’s a group of 17 writers that acts for her like a modern-day group of riders that can be summoned for support and protection of the writerly ego. The Posse’s founders aptly hail from places like Santa Fe, Boulder, Colorado and, Madison, Wisconsin.
How did the Posse come about?
Siri, Alex and I were all at Christie Aschwanden’s Convergence [writers’ retreat] in 2010. Everyone else at the Convergence was part of SciLance, and that was the first that Siri and I had heard of SciLance. We both thought, “Hey! I want to be part of that!” But of course, SciLance was already plenty big enough. So Siri came up with the idea of starting a new group, and she, Alex and I did.
I sometimes call us “Posse members,” and sometimes, with tongue in cheek, “Posse riders.” As we were discussing names, I came up with a bunch of different names for groups like gang, gathering, circle, posse–just spewing them out. Alex seized “posse” saying, “I think we should be a posse. Science writers’ posse. That’s great.”
What kinds of discussions does the group have?
It varies quite a lot. Recently, we’ve had a bunch of discussions about how to get a hostile source to talk, cheering on a couple of our members who are changing jobs, strategizing about those job-changes beforehand, discussing ways of using Twitter, sharing information about fellowships, congratulating ourselves on finally finishing up a whole load of work, sharing a fantastic science music video one of us created, strategizing about where to pitch a story, commiserating on rejections, et cetera.
So how do you get a hostile source to talk?
We talked about the importance of being totally, totally honest, acknowledging whatever it is that makes the source disinclined to talk, and then pointing out the reasons they should anyway — particularly that the whole reason you want to talk to them is to understand their perspective. Covering up the disagreement with the source is unlikely to work and really isn’t a good idea.
What’s your favorite tribe ritual, tradition, or activity?
We don’t have a lot of traditions, but when we see one another’s stories out, we’ll post about it with the subject line “Posse Spotting.” It’s very fun to see the great stuff people do, and to hear their stories about it.
How do you personally benefit from membership in the Posse?
Two things have been huge: One is the role it’s played for me in working on my book. I’m writing this memoir about my experience having a poorly-defined illness that ultimately turned out to be a hypersensitivity to mold. I’ve had a lot of really bizarre things happen along the way, so I end up sharing a lot about my personal life because it intersects with my writing. Because so many of my experiences have been so odd, it’s been really helpful to have a group of folks to bounce them off of, to make sure that I can describe them without sounding like I’m out of my mind.
The other thing is just not feeling so alone, feeling like there are people who’ve got my back. That was really transformative for me. Before the Posse, I often felt confused about interactions with editors, uncertain whether I was handling things correctly. Were the frustrations I was having because I was doing it wrong or inherent to the profession or what? The Posse leaves me confident that I’m being a professional. I waste a lot less energy on uncertainty.
Some Posse members are editors or former editors. Does that create any weird tensions or does it bring added benefits?
I’d say both. When your editor is in the room, you sure aren’t likely to complain about that damn story you’ve been working on for them!
But it’s also incredibly helpful to have folks who can help you see the world through your editor’s eyes. Even really simple, silly things. For example, Alex, a former news editor for Nature, once told me that I should send a pitch early on a Monday or Tuesday morning to a particularly busy editor, because that’s when they’re least likely to be caught up in a million other things.
What’s your best piece of advice to writers wanting to start their own tribe?
Do it! Everyone needs a posse.
Also, work hard to get to know one another — that’s what creates a sense of bonding. When we’re in the same town, we definitely seek each other out and get together. When Alex came for her fellowship at the Santa Fe Institute, she and another member and I whooped it up. When I was in Oakland recently, I got to meet one Posse rider in person for the first time, which was great. It makes a real difference to meet in person.