Category: fiction

COUNTDOWN: One Day to Remember How It Rained

ast The flood at Naponee, where my mother was born four years later

ONE Family Story Woven In

Darkwater Creek, Nebraska is the setting for my novels, a fictional town along the Republican River in Nebraska, in Franklin County, my parents’ home.

The house on my grandparents’ farm was first located on the Republican River bottom, and it flooded in 1935. The man who owned the house then crawled into the attic to escape the floodwaters. He scrawled his will on the attic rafters, then hacked an escape through either a roof or an attic window, we’re not sure which. A man passing in a rowboat rescued him.

After the flood, the house was moved up to its current higher and drier location, and my grandparents bought the farm in the 1950s. When my grandparents remodeled the house, they found that homeowner’s writing, his last will and testament on the attic rafter. It was one of those stories about the house our family would talk about.

When I found that same story recounted in a published flood narrative during my research, and I was able to match up the name from the story with the former owner of our family home, history came alive for me. Family history lives if we breathe into it our interest and our intention. Remember with me in my novels, and revisit your own history when you can. In remembering you’ll find your place in a story, one worth sharing with the next generation.

BTW, If you haven’t already, you might begin with Seven Kinds of Rain: River Saga Book One. Then you’ll be ready for Remember How It Rained: River Saga Book Two.

 

*photo by Webber from noaa.gov, courtesy Joe Torrey

Náápiikoan Winter: Book Review

Náápiikoan Winter by Alethea Williams

When one nation strives to dominate another for economic gain, more than money is at stake. Cultures, lives, passions, traditions and human needs also fall in sacrifice. This realization resonates through the deeply-woven story line and intriguing characters of Alethea Williams’s novel, Náápiikoan Winter.

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As we writers do when we deliver a new novel, Alethea Williams provided a review copy of this book for my consideration. Although I don’t know Ms. Williams personally, I offered to review her book because I read primarily historical fiction about the Great Plains and American West. When I do, I look for that magical blend of re-examined history and story, careful truth and colorful imagination. In short, a believable story well told.

Náápiikoan Winter is an ambitious novel; it sets out to portray an epic view in very personal detail. It captures a turning point in the American West when Native tribes face the crisis of aggressive English and French trading and exploration. This novel succeeds, through well-integrated research, in making this intense, global crisis feel immediate and personal. Several characters bond and clash to demonstrate the spiritual and material treasures at stake for Native and European interests at the turn of the 19th Century, on the as-yet uncharted North American continent.

Strong Characters Collide

The first key character in the book is a young Mexican girl who grows into one of the significant women in this story, Buffalo Stone Woman. I won’t spoil the plot, but young Isobel undergoes personal and cultural trauma and transformations. After a strong introduction to Isobel, the author only hints at most of her adolescent changes, but they ultimately situate Isobel to sense oncoming disaster and try to save her adopted Pììkáni tribe.

The second key character is Donal Thomas, a Náápiikoan (meaning Old Man Person, a term given by the Siksikà to White traders, out of respect for their many wonders). The seventeen-year-old boy, indentured to the Hudson Bay Company for seven years, is sent against his will to the Rocky Mountains to learn and to trade. He is a fascinating character, depicted well from within (ambitious, yet traumatized by his childhood), and through the eyes of Native characters. I found Donal believable as he naively and unwittingly precipitates several levels of social, spiritual and domestic disaster for the Pììkáni, who welcome and host him for the winter.

Ms. Williams develops many other Native characters into clear and interesting individuals who struggle for tribal status, safety or love. One of particular interest and beauty is Sweetgrass Woman, a credible teenage girl who longs for respectability and self-determination in a tribal culture that has already decided her domestic role. Her confused attempt for spiritual autonomy through association with Buffalo Stone Woman is particularly touching. I also appreciate the depth and complexity of Bear Dog, who could have easily remained a one-dimensional “bad guy,” yet he, with his devious longing for acceptance, feels complex and human. Also deeply satisfying is the character of Saahkómaapi, the elderly dreamer who squabbles with his wife, hungers for more women, and risks everything to protect his people’s medicine from Náápiikoan.

A Wild, Believable West

Náápiikoan Winter doesn’t romanticize tribal or individual behavior or suffering. Complex tribal and inter-tribal politics, family rivalries, and White disruption of these dynamics—all are well-depicted, often through tense, yet subtle confrontations. Several well-drawn secondary characters sense, but don’t know how to resist, the looming “white wings” of the traders and the civilization they signify. The goods and relationships the traders bring to the tribe are attractive, yet unrelentingly erode Pììkáni religion, leadership, decision-making and survival through this one Náápiikoan winter, and through those to come.

The Writer’s Strength

In addition to her intuitively-integrated research, one aspect of storytelling Ms. Williams manages well is what I’ve learned to call “knowledge gaps.” She skillfully withholds and manages key information, giving the characters and reader just enough knowledge, but keeping all in the dark for just long enough, to keep the pages turning.

When I closed the covers of Náápiikoan Winter, I felt a sense of loss for a time in history. I felt a connection to place, and regret for characters and cultures who would have no happy-ever-after, romantic ending. I respected the author for not glossing over a hard telling of a story that seemed true, both in facts and in details. I felt the dust of the past clinging to me. I had that echo—of living character voices and cultures intimately experienced—that I get from fine historical fiction.

Recommendation

I highly recommend Náápiikoan Winter to readers who like strongly-researched fiction about the clash of cultures and diverse individuals, in North American history.

Alethea headshot

Alethea Williams, author

Alethea Will

Náápiikoan Winter may be purchased at:

Barnes and Noble online: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/naapiikoan-winter-alethea-williams/1123779705?ean=9781532710568

Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Naapiikoan-Winter-Alethea-Williams-ebook/dp/B01EIQNCMO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1472572992&sr=8-1&keywords=naapiikoan-winter-alethea-williams

Read more about Alethea’s work at: http://actuallyalethea.blogspot.com

A New Kind of Rain

A Change in the Weather

You could say it’s a new kind of rain. Or seven kinds, to be clear.

Imagining, researching, crafting and editing. Three years of cultivating Seven Kinds of Rain are about to bear fruit. That’s a long time to wait for a crop, but so it goes with writing novels. Seven Kinds of Rain, River Saga Book One is available for purchase this Friday, July 1.

I’ve read about and walked through the environment and history of my beloved Nebraska and Kansas Republican River Valley. I’ve developed, challenged, and deepened my characters. The result? Seven Kinds of Rain is a story about the early 20th-Century Great Plains, about marginalized people who struggle to survive. It’s also about how, by reconsidering history, we can make the world a better place today.

http://klynwurth.net/book/seven-kinds-of-rain-river-saga-book-one/

What About that Bird? And Is That a Tornado?

Now, a little background for the cover design. The magpie represents not only actual birds who appear in the story, but also Magpie, a significant and powerful figure in Pawnee culture and legends. Magpie also becomes the nickname for a character, Margaret Rose. The window and wall where Magpie perches represent an inside view of the riverside treehouse where the three children gather. The storm clouds in the distance and the descending tornado signify the importance of rain and weather disasters in the characters’ interests, in the plot and in Great Plains history. As for the title, I’ll leave you to read the book to find out what that means. I can’t tell you everything!

Writing Brings Change

Since my first novel’s publication in 2013, I’ve become more deeply committed to this writing life. I’ve met people who’ve read The Darkwater Liar’s Account, and they’ve overwhelmed me with their love and support. I’ve made countless friends through Women Writing the West, strong writers who’ve improved my writing and galvanized my commitment to telling stories of the Great Plains and the American West. You can learn more about that here.

Available Now, for Your Imagination

Book marketing is harder than writing, and much less fun. The shameless self-promotion involved is embarrassing at times, and I’m no social media whiz. Yet, I’d like to invite you, gentle reader, to take a chance on my novel, Seven Kinds of Rain, River Saga Book One. And then, if you like it, recommend it to a friend or leave a brief review online (amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, or Goodreads.). The number of words doesn’t matter…as in so many things, it’s just showing up that counts.

You can preorder Seven Kinds of Rain now online (CreateSpace, Amazon or Barnes and Noble), if you like to shop that way. It’s also available through Ingram’s bookstore distribution service, if you prefer to shop at your local bookstore on or after July 1, which I strongly encourage you to do. I love bookstores. I need bookstores, and so do you. So please spend money there whenever you can.

But Wait…There’s More Coming!

I hope you’ll read and enjoy Margaret Rose, Jack and Kuruk. They’ve become some of my favorite people, so much so that I had to give them another book to live in, along with more changes in the weather. You’ll read more about them in Seven Kinds of Rain‘s sequel, for now mysteriously subtitled Book Two of the River Saga. I’ll announce that novel’s full title later. I’m hard at work on the sequel’s rewrite (meaning the full story’s on paper, undergoing quality reconstruction.) I intend to publish River Saga Book Two in January of 2017, so you won’t have long to wait for more of the same characters you’ll come to know in Seven Kinds of Rain.

For those of you who are already ordering, reading and reviewing Seven Kinds of Rain, thank you for your interest and kind comments. I treasure you, my readers. I hope my writing will be some of your best summer reading.

With words of gratitude and love,

Kelly

Little Servants

Little Servants

Children at Work in the 20th Century

 

The little servants were everywhere . . . until 1938, when President Roosevelt’s Fair Labor Standards Act included some of their concerns, American children were subjected to all manner of exploitation, service and labor, unprotected by any national laws. It’s sometimes said that, had the Great Depression not made adults willing to work for a child’s wage, reform may not have happened even then. Before Roosevelt’s Act, a 1916 national child labor law went into effect to block interstate transport of goods if underage laborers were involved in production, but it was struck down in 1918. In 1924, Congress attempted to pass a constitutional amendment to protect children, but it was blocked and eventually dropped. Children were fair game in America in the early 1900s, both in their families and in society.

1280px-AddieCard05282vLewisHine

“Frequently beginning their working lives before their tenth birthday, children worked in hazardous jobs at mines, mills, factories, sweatshops, and on farms, with little or no wages. Labor laws did not exist, and the common perception of the ease with which children were manipulated made them targets for a variety of rights violations.”1

While laws protect most children today, their labor remains unregulated in American agriculture. The 1938 federal laws still allow children as young as 12 years old to work unlimited hours before and after school in the ag sector. As a result, as many as 500,000 children pick almost a quarter of America’s harvested food, and they’re sorely underpaid. Some may assume this is an immigration issue, or describes children who work on prosperous family farms, but most of these working children are American citizens who suffer from poverty so intense, they can’t afford to buy the food they harvest.2

My grandmother, Laura, was born in 1906, into a world where children were often seen by many as little servants, small adults expected to work to survive, often in fields or factories. Readers may have seen Laura’s handwriting and read her ledger notes in my first novel, The Darkwater Liar’s Account. Before she was the young housewife recording how to make her own soap from lard and lye, she was the abandoned child left at a Lutheran orphanage in Fremont, Nebraska.

For some orphans in 1911, adoption offered a chance to be part of a family, but this didn’t happen for my grandmother. When she was five years old, she and her sister were placed with different families, and Laura’s didn’t choose to adopt her. They wanted a worker, so in the official census in 1920, she’s recorded as a “boarder” at that family’s address. In truth, she was a hard-worked child servant in a household that looked down on her, even as they provided the bare essentials. A typical Christmas gift was a few yards of cloth for that year’s dress. Her responsibilities included taking care of children not much younger than herself, and she was whipped for their misbehavior. There were no laws to protect children during her childhood, and no loving parents, in her case.

My grandmother’s story, like many stories of the little servants who worked in America, remains a mystery. We’ve never located either of her parents, and we don’t know why her father left her behind, promising to return, and yet, never did so. Family mysteries inspire stories, and my grandmother is the inspiration for Margaret Rose and the little servants, the unwanted children in my new novel, Seven Kinds of Rain, to be released this summer. My grandmother was quieter than Margaret, but surely had as much grit, to survive as she did.

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I think readers will like Margaret Rose, who earns the nickname Magpie in the story. She’s smart and takes on all comers. Here’s a little of Maggie’s voice, as she considers the woman she works for, in Seven Kinds of Rain:

“In one carton of books up here, I found Fowles’ New Easy Latin Primer. It teaches a funny language nobody speaks, but it’s a mother to other languages. It has no letter W. Latin is confusing, so I asked my teacher about declensions. She said it’s not a usual question for an eight-year-old girl, but she explained well.

“Trying to forget about Florence, I sit on my mattress to look at the Latin book. My teacher says I’m lucky to have a special talent to remember everything I read and with Latin, I have my own secret language. Maybe for a diary, or if I have a friend someday, we can use it for secrets. To help me feel better, I also found some little swears nobody will understand, but nothing bad enough to send me to hell. Like puter anus, which means rotten old woman but sounds worse. And verres and clunis, hog and buttock.

“Remembering Florence’s red, crying face distracts me from the Latin on the pages. I’m sorry for her and want to forgive the whippings and missed school. The Latin swears help a little, like letting steam out of my hot kettle, but I can only say them in the closet or up here. It doesn’t help that Florence’s little pointy teeth and long nose remind me of a fox, vulpes. If she looked softer, more like a rabbit, lepus, I’d feel more like petting her, and less like trapping her and pelting her out.”

Watch for more information about the world of Seven Kinds of Rain in upcoming posts, with Maggie and her friends, Jack and Kuruk. Then the book comes, in summer, 2016, for you to find yourself in the story.

Be sure to subscribe for updates, and follow K. Lyn Wurth on Facebook, to stay up-to-date. And thanks for reading. I appreciate every one of you!

Notes:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Child_labor_laws_in_the_United_States
  1. http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/03/do-children-harvest-your-food/254853/
  1. Child photo from Wikipedia, “Addie Card, 12 years. Spinner in North Pormal [i.e., Pownal] Cotton Mill. Vt.” by Lewis Hine, 1912 – 1913. E. F. Brown – Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, National Child Labor Committee Collection, Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-nclc-01830 This image is available from the United States Library of Congress‘s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID nclc.05282.

WWW and Seven Kinds of Rain

October was a great month for travel, and the Pacific Northwest put on a beautiful show for Women Writing the West in Redmond. This month also brings a sense of direction for my latest novel, SEVEN KINDS OF RAIN.

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In Oregon we walked and drove through breathtaking landscapes, visited the Imperial Livestock Ranch where we met an amazing Western woman entrepreneur, learned about the latest trends in publishing and honed our craft. Not to mention having a great time catching up with old and new friends! Endless inspiration . . . I came home energized to write more. I also met some very nice sheep.

I appreciate receiving an honorable mention for my short story, “Fool’s Moon,” which you can read along with other LAURA Short Fiction Award winners here. I read an excerpt at the awards dinner and people laughed in all the right places. A writer always hopes for that!

Since returning from Oregon, I’ve been editing my novel-in-process, which I’ve titled SEVEN KINDS OF RAIN. Yes, this the working title announcement and you saw it here, first. I’ll publish a sneak-preview synopsis soon.

While I had expected to self-publish this novel and its sequel, my professional editor surprised me with her favorable response to the manuscript. When she said loved it so much, she’d be reading it in “all six of her book clubs,” I began to rethink my publishing and marketing strategy. I’ve already designed a book cover and a book trailer. It felt good to move in that familiar direction, but . . .

I’m not one to think less of a self-published novel, or more of one that’s traditionally published. Literary excellence can rise or fail and there can be pitfalls, either way. But after self-publishing THE DARKWATER LIAR’S ACCOUNT, I understand more of the difficult aspects of doing everything myself. The most difficult parts are gaining reader and professional reviews, garnering publicity and otherwise expanding my reach to more readers.

Of course, an author gives up control when she joins with a professional team to produce a book. It’s business. It’s about sales number and the bottom line. I will face difficulties, simply different ones, if a publishing house sees potential in my novel. I’ll still be engaged in the marketing, as every author must be in today’s competitive marketplace.

So, SEVEN KINDS OF RAIN now begins the query circuit, seeking literary agent representation. I’ve done this before, so I’m pumping up for the emotional and mental exertion—many successful novels have endured more than seventy rejections before an agent fell in love. Each one of those attempts signifies selecting and researching an appropriate agent, crafting a personal pitch letter, tailoring a novel synopsis and then waiting, sometimes from 6-8 weeks, for a reply. My first novel, THE DARKWATER LIAR’S ACCOUNT, went through thirty attempts before I decided to self-publish. It takes a thick skin to find an agent, then to endure numerous rejections by publishing houses. So, we’ll see how it goes . . . because unexpected, amazing things can happen.

And one can always use  one more item to cross off the Bucket List.

Exceed seventy literary agent rejections for one novel manuscript.

Better yet, let’s be optimistic. Send your good wishes to SEVEN KINDS OF RAIN, my latest and best story yet. I hope to share it with my faithful and new readers, soon!

Magpie and Ancestral Voices

Mr. Magpie photo by Keith Williams to be used on Seven Kinds of Rain book cover

In my upcoming novel, the title of which I will soon announce, Magpie and ancestral voices are inseparable. Magpie is a figure of myth and a real bird, but also the nickname for one of my central characters. In the story, Margaret Rose doesn’t choose that nickname for herself, but it is apt. She’s both dark and light, smart, vivacious and a bit of a thief. Like the bird, she’s smart, sensitive, loyal and eager to make use of what others leave behind.

I harbored some reservations about including magpies in my Nebraska stories. I wondered if they truly inhabited the Republican River valley, as I couldn’t remember seeing one when I was a child. I try to mind regional details, as well as historical ones, in my writing. As if to answer my concerns, when I drove along the Republican River last year for my research trip, a magpie flew low along the roadside where I traveled, showing me his white belly and glossy blue-black plumage. It seemed more than a random wildlife sighting, perhaps even a blessing on how I’m weaving the birds, the characters and the myths of Magpie into my novels.

Magpies, mystery, meaning and myths run through my writing, alongside what history would retell and science would prove. Margaret, my novel’s Magpie, loves both stories and science, as do her friends. In upcoming posts, I’ll discuss about other folktales, rhymes and mythical threads I’m weaving into the early 1900s characters, along with scientific theories and historical events.

The epigraph I’ve chosen for the book is a verse from Psalm 78. I claim no Biblical authority with these words, nor do I announce any religious theme or agenda for my little book. Rather, the quote expresses my belief that we should hold on to all the stories we receive from ancestors, and bring them to light for generations.

I will open my mouth in a parable, things we have known from of old, things our ancestors have told us.         Psalm 78

When we braid the old stories with our own, our lives become an extension of those who stood in this place before us. Even if the storytellers are not related to us by blood, their stories are one with this place, and their voices can deepen and amplify our own accounts.

No longer wandering alone in the midst of our facts, may we find ourselves illuminated by the multitude of ancestors, their presence, whimsy and wisdom. May our children and grandchildren, well-educated in science, consider also the light of history and myth.

(I’d like to give special thanks to Keith Williams, the photographer who captured this brilliant photo of Mr. Magpie, which I use as the featured image for this post. He kindly gave permission for me to use the image on the book cover of my upcoming novel…what a great guy, and an amazing photographer!)

Magpie and Myth

The word “myth” in conversation is often used to label something untrue, but in many dictionaries, that definition is secondary. Merriam-Webster’s primary definition of myth is “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.” The word “ostensibly” raises doubts of factual truth, but doesn’t rule out aspects of truth in cultural myths, or their important purpose of explanation. Those who study Greek and Roman myths, for example, understand that while the more magical antics of gods and goddesses are likely not factual, they speak a sort of truth about our human foibles, while mentioned battles, conquests and heroes may originate in recorded events and real people.

Science poses questions, ventures hypotheses and seeks proofs to determine what is fact. I love science, and believe that anything true has nothing to fear from science. Yet, science has yet to develop measurements or proofs for every aspect of human experience. Therein remains the margin, the mystery and the role of myth, even in an age of science. Because of the space between fact and meaning, there lingers our human need for a good story, to enlighten and explain.

So the magpie remains, not only as genus and species, but also a meaningful figure. Sometimes heralds of disaster or bad weather, in other cases, magpies are considered good omens. Mixed human feelings about the noisy birds are evident in nursery rhymes, first noted in European print in 1780, in John Brand’s Observations on Popular Antiquities:

charhallmagpieptgOne for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a wedding,
And four for death.
This beautiful illustration, titled “One for Sorrow Two for Joy” was painted by Char Hall. (Prints are for sale here on Etsy.)

Combing world history and literature for magpie stories, I focused on Magpie as a figure in Native American, specifically Pawnee, tribal lore. Readers of my first novel, The Darkwater Liar’s Account, may recall what seemed like a throwaway line on page 257. While mowing her lawn, Bridget wonders who will take up that chore after she dies. She considers, “Maybe it will just go wild, back to tall prairie grass. Better yet, back to the Pawnee, who hunted here.” (I have since writing that line met a person who did exactly that—he returned his Nebraska land to the Pawnee tribe. More on that, later.)

In my next post, I’ll explore how the Pawnee and their mythic Magpie became central to my upcoming novels.

Greeting a Magpie

My first childhood experience of greeting a magpie was in Estes Park, Colorado, in a parking lot. When I held a cracker or cookie or some other object overhead, a magpie would swoop down and take it. This interaction with people impressed me, as did the rushing, iridescent black feathers and sizzling white belly feathers on that swooping bird. Reading about magpies since, I find they have a reputation as highly intelligent thieves of shiny objects, especially in captivity.

Magpies are members of the corvid, or crow family, as are rooks, jays and nutcrackers. There are different magpie varieties, with the most widespread American bird being the type I met in Estes Park, the black-billed magpie, Pica hudsonia. Another variety with a yellow bill, Pica nuttalli, inhabits only woodland regions of central and southern California. The non-corvid Australian magpie, Cracticus tibicen, is a piebald bird. There’s also an entire genus of blue-green magpies in the Orient, Urocissa, and the azure-winged Cyanopica. A distant Corvidae relative, the black magpie Platysmurus leucoptyrus, is in fact a treepie and not a magpie. Take note, and thank you Wikipedia for sorting that out for us. We wouldn’t want to confuse our magpies and treepies!

I became a voracious seeker of magpie lore while researching my upcoming novel. Throughout North America, England, Germany, China, Korea and ancient Rome, the magpie appears in traditional stories and proverbs. On A Letter from the Netherlands, an expat British writer muses on how the superstition-laden magpie carries a bad reputation and is most often a bad omen in her tradition and family experience.

Reading about mythical magpies led me to reflect on the power and durability of myth, and how myths hold value for us today. In my next post, I’ll address this and greet Magpie as a mythic figure.

(Thanks to Christophe Libert for use of his magpie photo!)

 

 

A Special Sort of Patience

Thirty years ago, I was a young mother with two preschool children, one of them less than a year old. The necessities of life transplanted me to a tiny house in a tiny South Dakota town, where I was lonely and exhausted, with a touch of the postpartum blues. There were cloth diapers to wash, a home to maintain on a shoestring, cheap meals to prepare, a baby to nurse, kids crying and laughing, me crying and laughing and not one friend within a 500 mile radius. Life took a special sort of patience, then.

It was a good, messy, joyful and hard time, and I sensed even then that my children would bring me a lifetime of rewards. Yet, in the midst of it all, something was missing, specifically the creative writing process that inspired me as a college student. In a life-changing moment of temporary insanity, I resolved to add fiction writing to my hectic days.

So at five a.m., while everyone else slept, I would seclude myself in our little enclosed front porch. There were no heat vents out there and the chill poured off the old storm windows, requiring socks, sweaters and, if memory serves me, a blanket over my shoulders. I wrote for a while by hand, then bought a used typewriter (a major investment in those lean days). Between ideas, I’d sit looking at my reflection in the glass (which is all you can see at five a.m. in South Dakota in winter, in case you wondered) and make up stories. Some were long and some were short, and few were notably good. But I knew I ‘d learn, if I didn’t give up.

In order to have something else to look at besides my own ghostly pre-dawn image, I took a 3×5 piece of notepaper and wrote on it a quote from Gustave Flaubert.

Talent is a long patience.

I taped that quote to the woodwork between the windows above the typewriter. Of course, the day I copied it down, I didn’t imagine how long my patience would need to be, to become the writer I hoped to become. And yet, I was already a writer from those first days, because I was putting down stories, editing them and sending them out.

This was back when we ambitious, wordy folks with delusions of publication typed stories on paper and sent them through the mail. With stamps. You know, to publishers and editors, who sent back rejection letters. If you remember, you probably did it, too. I looked forward to the rejections and those mostly-kind editors sent many, but I kept writing. I took pride in having been gently, even personally, rejected by some of the best publishing houses in New York. Yes, a personal rejection with a note of encouragement went a long way, in those days. I even had a close call, coming a hair’s breadth from having a short story published in Redbook. An agent represented my second novel manuscript, and I felt discouraged when that story didn’t become a book. Now I’m glad it didn’t. It wasn’t ready and neither was I! But I kept writing, and more short stories and novel manuscripts followed, along with skill and confidence. They were just the practice I needed.

Because practice didn’t put bread on the table, I pursued other lines of work, some quite happily. I went to grad school, studied writing and medicine, ran a home-based writing and graphic design business, learned about the world from different viewpoints and raised my family. Writing fiction and telling stories ran through it all, like an underground river, coursing unseen while sustaining me.

The tools changed . . . I graduated from typewriter to word processor to computer, from dot-matrix to digital printing and from typed letters to email. Publishing changed, too . . . it opened to everyone, even as it became more challenging to land a book contract with traditional publishers.

an occasional payment for words

an occasional payment for words

Inevitably, I changed, as well . . . there were personal problems, life problems and health problems. Unforeseen interruptions appeared to veer me off track, then turned out to be the stuff of life and writing. It’s been quite a time, the past thirty years. Good news, though. Everything got better! (Everything that matters, anyway.) Even my writing skills, apparently, because a few stories found publication in journals and in an anthology, The Arduous Touch: Women’s Voices in Healthcare. Every now and then, a check came my way. I went out on a limb and embraced publishing my own novel, The Darkwater Liar’s Account, in 2013, a grand adventure because talent isn’t only a long patience, it’s being willing to take a risk now and then. I have two more novels sitting on my desk right now. One is en route to an editor, and the other, its sequel, is a completed first draft.

In thirty years, some things haven’t changed, perhaps most notably that I’m still writing. I enjoy research and growing stories out of what I learn, about life on the Great Plains and in the West, history, family life and health. That scrap of note paper with its message is constant, too. Eleven different apartments and homes have housed me since I first taped up that quote. Everywhere I’ve gone, it’s followed. The tape’s changed so often, the paper’s upper edge is tattered as if someone’s been chewing on it. It’s a little wrinkled, too, like me. We’ve both proven ourselves in ways that the twenty-something girl I was wouldn’t have expected, and may have terrified her, had she known.

Talent is a long patience.

 As I write this, I look up and it’s there, between the windows in my workshop, over my desk. The words still inspire me. After all this time, I don’t intend to lose them.