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My first three years – now I need to make four more books

302 stories. Seven years. Probably thousands of comments on other people’s stories and replies to their comments on mine.

302 stories. Seven years. Probably thousands of comments on other people's stories and replies to their comments on mine.

For me the Retrospect experience has been divided into 2 eras, the Zussman era 2016-18 (starting as a beta tester with a confidentiality agreement, then being uncertain about whether I would still like writing when the site went public, and fortunately finding I did), followed by my own era 2019-22, when I took over the site with the able assistance of Laurie and Marian, later adding Barb. In the first era, I averaged 35 stories per year, because I didn’t always have a story that fit the prompt. In the second era, I averaged 50 stories per year, which means I wrote basically every week, except there must have been a few times that I either didn’t write, or just recycled an old story. [Note added 1/1/23: I just realized that we didn’t start up in 2019 until March 1, so there were 8 weeks with no stories. Mystery solved! I did write every week.]

At some point during the first year I got the idea of using song titles or lyrics for my story titles. Once I had that going on, I actually went back and changed the titles on some of my earlier stories. There are only about a dozen stories in my whole collection that don’t have titles consisting of song titles or lyrics. Sometimes other writers got into the act, either trying to predict what song I would use, or suggesting titles to me. For my story on the prompt Separating the Art from the Artist, I was planning to use “Take the Money and Run” since it was both a song and a Woody Allen movie. Then I discovered that John S. had alread used that title on another prompt, so I asked him what I should do. He suggested “Sympathy for the Devil,” which of course was perfect.  On one of my stories on The New Year, I couldn’t quickly come up with a song, so I published it as “Closing Out the ’70s in my 20s.” Then Betsy, in the comments, suggested “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” which, again, was a perfect title, so I changed it. (On the same story, John Z. suggested “Party Like It’s 1999” which was also great, but not quite as apt as the Cyndi Lauper song.)

Once I took over the site, it was a joy working with Laurie and Marian to brainstorm prompt ideas, then write the text and find the images to inspire everyone’s stories. We had conference calls on the telephone, and then later on zoom, but I have never met either one of them in person! When we considered asking Barb to join us, I did arrange to meet her in Whittier first, to make sure she was as great as she seemed (she was!). Once she agreed to be part of the team, we discovered her incredible creativity in thinking of prompts, and especially in creating the images to illustrate them. So many times I would say to her, this picture is great, but could you just make it bigger/smaller/a different color/crop something out/add something in — and whatever it was, she would figure out how to do it! Other times I would say this picture is copyrighted so we can’t use it, can you create something similar? And she would do that too! I felt like she was my personal genie, and when I wished for something, no matter how far-fetched, she would give it to me.

And what are my thoughts about the contents of this wonderful website? I have written many stories that I love and am proud of, and I have also read many stories by other writers that I love even more, so it is impossible to make a list of favorites. But looking back at my own stories, I do have some favorite categories. And while I link to stories in some of those categories, they are not necessarily my favorites, they are just good examples of the points I am trying to make.

♦ Stories or prompts by which I discovered commonalities with other Retro writers. This happened most often in the first year or two. On the My First Car prompt, Betsy and I discovered that we had both started out with Plymouth Valiants, mine a ’66 and hers a ’67. From the Camp prompt I learned that Betsy and John Z. had gone to Interlochen, as I had, which perhaps should not have been surprising since they lived in Michigan and that’s where the camp was. In too many stories to list, Charlie and I discovered overlaps in our radical experiences of the Sixties and Seventies.

♦ Stories in which I started out with one memory, but then remembered other things while in the process of writing the story. Also in this category are stories where I learned something new by asking my sisters for their memories of a certain event, or where I discovered relevant facts via online searches. When I was writing on the prompt Family Trips, I not only asked my sisters what they remembered about our 1957 trip from Interlochen back to New Jersey via Canada, but also plotted the route we took on Google Maps to try to figure out how long it took and how we got to each place (The Surrey With the Fringe On Top). In my story on First Time Voting, I was actually able to find online exactly what was on my New Jersey ballot in November 1972 (Power to the People).

♦ Stories that caused me to dig up old photos. I am not well organized with my pre-digital photos, they are in big plastic tubs, still in the envelopes they were in when they came back from being developed. But in a few instances, I was able to dig back and find some choice pix. My son playing Little League (Take Me Out to the Ball Game), my daughter drawing all over her bedroom wall with friends at her ninth birthday party (Fixing A Hole), my husband and I cutting our wedding cake on the dining room table (Glory Days). Also, when writing about my summer in Mexico (Summer of ’66), I was able to find my old textbook, schedules, and a comic book from that summer (but alas, no photos).

♦ While generally I frowned on prompts that were not of the “think back” variety, I am so happy that we did a number of pandemic-related prompts, so that I have my Covid diary of five stories written over the course of a year (Losing A Whole Year and the previous 4 stories linked to there). Likewise, on the prompt Good Trouble, I am thrilled that I wrote a story about going to Georgia in January 2021 for the runoff election (Georgia On My Mind). Some of the details I included in all of those stories are already fading from my memory, so it is nice to have them written down to help me when I try to remember.

♦ One story that had a profound impact on me was the one on the Favorite Teacher prompt, because writing it inspired me to track down my fabulous first grade teacher, and then we traded letters (You Have Made A Difference and Fairy Tale Endings). I feel so lucky that I was able to reach her while she was still alive, considering that she was my teacher 66 years ago.

♦ Exactly four years ago today I wrote Turn, Turn, Turn, reflecting on my first three years of Retrospect and how distraught I was about the fact that the Zussmans were shutting it down. It’s a helpful recollection of what I was thinking when I decided I wanted to become the owner of the site.

♦ And finally, I have to tip my hat to Story Wranglers, the story written by John and Patti that explained their idea in founding the site, and their reasons for closing it down at the end of 2018. I encourage everyone who cares about Retrospect to read it.

Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Fascinating to read how you re-started the site with Laurie and Marian, adding Barb later, and the impact she had on the graphics for the prompt. (I agree they are terrific!)

    And I love the way you organized your favorite prompts (quite different than the way I did), looking for commonality, or learning new things – like our Valiants, or John, you and I all going to Interlochen. Yes, we did learn a lot about one another by reading what each wrote, and now we are all friends! It is a marvelous community, caring, sharing, supportive. We could speak about anything and not feel like we were going to be attacked. This is a rare place. Thanks for all the support.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    I couldn’t wait to read your story this week, Suzy, as I assumed it would be some sort of comprehensive history of Retro from someone who not only knows it so well but has been so responsible for tirelessly leading it over the years. And, in so doing, giving the rest of us Retro-istas such joy. Of course, your story hit it out of the park in terms of doing so. Thank you!

    And, on top of that, thank you for letting us share the delight of your own stories. And I may not have (yet) read all 302 of them — wow! — but close to that.

    As to reading your stories, one particularly personal note. At first, I thought I would most enjoy the ones from your college days since, as you know, we shared most of those years and a lot of the experiences that you wrote about. Sort of like seeing yourself in the background (or occasionally foreground) of somebody else’s photo. But I soon realized that, even with an old college friend like you, it was equally delightful to learn about aspects of your life that I had never been aware of before. Sort of the “Who knew?” factor — such as your great dedication over the years to the Girl Scouts (and their cookie sales).

    I know the accolades for all your work on Retro will come from everyone here, so let me just say that I second whatever they have to say, and you can add a few exclamation points. Simply put, I don’t know how you did it.

    Finally, let me end, as I usually do in my comments about your stories, by addressing your song title titles. As you know, I loved the idea of you doing so every week and, for my part, trying to guess — usually wrongly — what song title you would choose for a given prompt. Sort of like trying to find the “Ninas” in an Al Hirschfeld drawing, while also just enjoying the drawing itself. And, true to form, I was wrong again this week, as I thought you might choose the same song title title that I have used, in specific homage to you. But you made a great other choice from a terrific little musical that, like Retro, ran successfully for years and years. and, in answer to the title, let me assure you that, as to Retro, we WILL remember.

    • Suzy says:

      John, thank you, your comment thrilled me – “couldn’t wait to read” . . . “hit it out of the park” . . . why it’s enough to make me want to keep writing stories. And yet I fear that I am out of things to write about. As you said in your own story, “I can’t imagine there are any good prompts left.”

      I really appreciate you for always paying attention to my musical story titles. You were the only one who did. Sometimes it took me longer to find the song than to write the story! But I always managed to come up with something, and it was so satisfying to find it. And I knew you would either already recognize the song, or look it up if you didn’t. Thank you for that too!

      • John Shutkin says:

        I loved trying to figure out your song title titles. But it has been a humbling experience given the number of ones that I couldn’t identify. My knowledge of such matters dropped off precipitously with any song written after 1981 (when, probably not coincidentally, my first daughter was born).

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    You have done a fabulous job for Retrospect, as everyone who has had the chance to participate, to think back, to reconnect with old memories and make some new ones through the site can attest. I like the way you identified common themes, which I (and I suspect most of us) could identify with, and I well remember many of the stories you reference. Thank you thank you thank you!

  4. Thanx Suzy for this history and behind the scenes look at your Retro adventure, and for the link to the Zussmans’ Story Wranglers.

    And thank you and the admins for giving me this chance to write my heart out for Retro!

  5. Laurie Levy says:

    Suzy, thank you for keeping Retrospect going. I had barely started writing when John and Patti shut it down. I was so glad that you decided to keep it going and honored to be able to work with you. Just as we realized that coming up with fresh prompts was increasingly challenging, the technology bugs hit the site. As the owner, it fell to you to deal with all of these website problems, and I want you to know how much I appreciate how difficult and frustrating that was. As we take our hiatus to contemplate Retro’s future, no matter what happens, I value the experience of working with you, Marian, and Barb to keep the ship afloat. And I loved the challenge of trying to remember. Thank you.

  6. Thanks for the link to the Zussman story, giving me the back story of that period. Thanks also for shedding light on your own experience as a writer and coordinator/owner.
    I have not written nearly as many stories as the “core members” of the site, but a lot for me, a person who has always wished to write more but who found so many priorities over the years that could shove writing to the side. It has been an extremely meaningful part of my life; specifically my retired life, since I think I put up my first story about a month or so after I retired from university teaching.
    Adelante to you, Suzy, whether on Retro or elsewhere. Nos vemos. A la prochaine.

  7. Oh Suzy, it really saddens me to think of the site disappearing after all you — and each of us — has put into it. If it weren’t for the technical side of things, I’m sure enough people would support it monetarily (since it’s really not all that much) just to keep it alive, maybe with monthly prompts, or impromptu prompts. (Oooh, I love the sound of that…impromptu prompts!) But someone would have to see to the nuts and bolts of it, and therein lies the problem. Still, I’m hopeful.

    Thank you SO SO much for all your kind words. (I blush!) It’s been my pleasure.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    One of the most telling things about this site, and the people on it, was that despite the frequent contributors having known each other for years, sometimes “IRL,” I never once felt like a stranger.

  9. John Zussman says:

    Suzy, thanks so much for this lovely reminiscence. Reading it, and all the tributes by the current active authors, I’m so, so happy that you decided to take over the site and add your passion for storytelling to our own. I hope, as others infuse it with their own energy, it continues and grows.

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