As with many things in my life, synchronicity played a large part in me becoming an author. It all began in 1986 when a series of seemingly unrelated events came together. In that year, my hometown, Shell Wyoming, had its centennial celebration. In conjunction were all sorts of activities. A huge community picnic, a reunion of all the one-room school houses in the area, a dance, a horseshoe contest and all sorts of other festivities. There was even a parade—Shell is exactly three blocks long, so it was a very short parade.
In conjunction with all the hype, a book called The Shell Valley was released. It was a compilation of early pioneer tales and pictures that a man named Press Stephens collected and published. In it were a handful of narratives written by my great-grandfather. They were wonderful and told family stories I had never heard. Hoping to discover the source, I contacted a cousin of my father’s to see if she knew where they had originated. She didn’t know but suggested I contact another cousin of my father’s, Irvin Kershener. That’s when I hit pay dirt.
Before my great-grandfather died in the 1940’s he had written a memoir of his life. Upon his death, his wife Mary had given it to Irvin as the eldest grandchild. Irvin had waited nearly fifty years for someone in the family to show some interest. He was more than delighted to send me a copy.
From the first page I was enthralled. Starting with his near death on the horns of an irritated milk cow when he was three, to homesteading in Wyoming territory in the late1800’s, my great grandfather told story after story, chronicling his life with a humorous twist on even the most harrowing experiences.
“It has everything,” I told my husband, “romance, adventure, mystery. Someone should write a book.”
“So write it,” he said.
I’m pretty sure I laughed at him. Many of my author friends always knew they would one day write books, but I was not that way. Sure, I had plenty of practice from my youth making up stories as I rode the range gathering cattle. I’d even written a couple of very forgettable short stories, but I never saw myself as a novelist. I couldn’t imagine being able to write a whole book. So the idea slipped to the back of my mind.
I might never have gotten around to writing that book if not for a completely unrelated incident several months later. I am not a sports fan so when I found myself trapped in a van for six straight hours while everyone else listened avidly to the basketball championships, I was less than excited. In fact, because no one was allowed to talk, and it was too dark to read, I was downright bored, something for which I have zero tolerance. Without even thinking about it, I defaulted into the method I’d used to entertain myself during those long hours in the saddle as a teenager. I started making up a story in my head.
I don’t really know where the germ of the idea came from, but by the time we reached home, I had a heroine with amnesia, a hero still grieving for his dead wife, and the first few scenes of their love story. Thanks to my great-grandfather’s memoir, the setting was the ranch where I grew up. I’ve often wondered if I’d have written something else if Charles Lampman’s amazing stories of settling the West hadn’t already been on my mind. If I were to have an inspiration like that now, I would get it written down as soon as I could find a piece of paper. But that night it never occurred to me. In fact, it was probably three months before I wrote a word.
Again, I might never have gotten around to doing anything with the story if not for my life suddenly going wonky. Two years earlier my husband and I had started adoption proceedings for two little boys. It was a long, involved process, so long that we’d had a baby girl in the meantime. A few months from the end, an issue suddenly arose that threatened the adoption. In fact, we didn’t know until we walked into the court room if we were going to get to keep our boys or not. Meanwhile, the school district I worked for began moving teachers around due to budget cuts. I was assigned to a new position working with a type of student I hadn’t worked with before. As part of the deal I was going to share a room with another teacher. To say I was nervous about my new job was a gross understatement. As if that wasn’t confusing enough, we moved to a new house at the same time I moved my classroom. Then my husband suddenly lost his job. My world was out of control; life was crashing in on me. Years later when speaking at a writer’s conference, I jokingly stated I’d started writing instead of drinking. The minute the words left my mouth I realized they were true.
I’ll never know what prompted me to sit down and start typing, but I’m pretty sure it saved my sanity. I was driven as never before or since. The words came pouring out. I wore out my little portable typewriter, took it to the repair shop and rented another so I could continue. Two months, 600 pages and 150,000 plus words later I had a rough draft of what eventually became Shadows In the Wind.
I still never know what a book will be when I begin. Even now, eleven books and somewhere around a million and a half words later, I am continually amazed at what shows up on the page. But the magical enchantment I discovered that summer so long ago has never gone away. I’ve written my way through everything life has to offer, from tragedy and loss, to joy and celebration. I hope to continue writing until the very end. I can’t imagine any greater way to go than face down on my keyboard in the middle of a great scene or a funny punchline.