ST. PETERSBURG — Say what you will about the author's past — The Smuggler's Ghost, the self-published memoirs of former marijuana smuggler Steve Lamb, is a pretty good read.
The tome moves briskly, from planning to executing pot runs to an arrest and prison sentence. Still, its biggest achievement might lie in what Lamb didn't include. To trim the fat from memoirs he spent five years writing, he turned to Diane Marcou.
Ms. Marcou, a well-known local writing coach, did the same for many authors, ghost-writing two books and co-authoring another five, including The Smuggler's Ghost.
"She would take an incident from life and tell it as though it were happening right now," said Elenora Sabin, 75, a student in a writing class taught in the early 1980s by Ms. Marcou.
Ms. Marcou taught aspiring authors in the Pinellas Authors and Writers Organization and other groups for writers to strive for action and a single narrative voice.
"She didn't want description, she wanted to tell the story," said daughter Octavine Swanson, 57.
Ms. Marcou also led a weekly writers group for residents in a treatment program at Bay Pines VA Medical Center.
"She was always gentle, but she didn't sugarcoat anything," said Billie Noakes, 56, who also met Ms. Marcou in writing circles.
She grew up in upstate New York, and worked as a legal secretary. She moved to St. Petersburg in the early 1970s and eventually decided to devote herself to writing full time.
Ms. Marcou also edited at least five books, and had worked as a rape crisis counselor and a certified mediator. At different times in her life, she embraced the Episcopal Church, the Mormon Church and an eclectic spiritualism. She was married and divorced twice. She preferred younger men, but only if they could make her laugh.
She was a generous dog sitter and volunteered her time to friends needing writing advice over long lunches at Panera Bread. She urged writers to stay in the moment, a lesson she learned in 1995 after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
"I believe I had no problem with breast cancer because I never looked at the big picture," she wrote after a double mastectomy. "I looked only at the next step.
"Next steps in any undertaking are just that: the next step — not the second or the third or the final step. And even the smallest step moves us forward."
Though diabetic and complaining of possible bronchitis, Ms. Marcou had not seemed ill recently, her family said. She died Saturday in bed, apparently of natural causes. Ms. Marcou was 79.
Sabin, a fantasy and science fiction writer, published her first novel 10 years ago at age 65. "I doubt that I would ever have been published had it not been for her advice and comments," Sabin wrote in a Facebook tribute to Ms. Marcou.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2248.