What a gift holiday seasons bring or give or dump on us. Take your pick of delivery methods. It seems to cause a shift from everyday mundanity to lights and shopping craziness and softened smiles. You know about all of the above if you’ve lived through very many Thanksgivings and Christmases. Then you won’t be surprised to learn what my gift is this week: an awareness of the many connections I’ve made that have enriched my writing life. Let me name a few.
My writing journey seriously began at Vermont College of Fine Arts where I gathered up a Master’s Degree between 2002 and 2004 in a limited residency program. I traveled to Montpelier and fulfilled a ten-day stay five times during the two years, working with a different mentor each semester. Upon reflection, I gleaned a valuable picture of the publishing industry and how it works. Yes, I learned a great deal about writing too, but the greatest eye-opener was industry news (and January weather in Vermont).
Fast-forward to today’s writing journey, which includes a bi-monthly two-day retreat with two Kansas children’s authors. We convene in Emporia, Council Grove, El Dorado, our homes, or cabins on lakes. We read each other’s materials and mostly talk about again, publishers and the submission saga. Being a writer in the Midwest is a lonely existence; our gatherings help.
I include in my writing journey those people about whom I’ve written. Gordon Parks has been with me since Vermont days when I first began researching his story and writing about him. I’m forever grateful that the relationship included face time with him on several occasions. I can still hear his voice and the little “click” he made with his tongue. He taught me about persistence, reaching goals, and enjoying the ride. Most of all, never giving up.
I also think of Coach Tex Winter and the lessons learned from studying his life. His trip was about persistence too, but of a different vein. He straight-lined his life through sports—mostly basketball—to a fine reputation of changing the way the game is played. I admire him for that. He’s 91 years old and still as spontaneous as ever. His smile remains.
Secret Service Agent Jerry Parr holds a special place in my writing log also. He converted a slip-shod childhood into a life of service to his country to saving President Ronald Reagan’s life the day John Hinckley decided to destroy the president. Jerry is the man you see in the famous pictures shoving Reagan into the presidential limo at the Washington, D.C. Hilton Hotel. A book called Rawhide Down by Del Quentin Wilber describes that day as if you were there. Jerry and his wife Carolyn have since written a book, In the Secret Service, about Jerry’s life. My manuscript about Jerry is aimed at middle grade readers and describes his growing-up life and how it contributed to his Secret Service work. I’m grateful for all these subjects and the many more about whom I’ve written shorter pieces over the years.
Tonight, I’ll be joining an informal group at the local library. We call ourselves the Scribblers. Remember how I mentioned the isolation of being a writer? For that reason, I set up times and places where writers gather, talk, and commiserate about how hard it is to come up with a piece that satisfies us, the writers, (and publishers). I think I’m fair in saying that only another writer knows the solitary nature of BIC (Bottom in Chair) for hours and hours and understands the need to be around people on occasion.
Reading brings life-like companions to a writer’s life also. Think about how real characters become to us. How much we care about what happens to them. How much we crave a little surprise that makes an arm-pumping satisfying ending.
Which help make the point that no matter what we writers do, we can call it research. Whether it’s people-watching at the airport, surviving a family holiday get-together or sitting hunched up on the closet floor with a book and a flashlight, it’s research. Believe me.
What will I be doing Thanksgiving Day? Researching more about what makes my family tick. Taking mental notes about words, gestures, and attitudes and how I've been shaped by them. And if I were traveling that day, I’d probably claim mileage as business expense.