In an online, international survey, 82% of early readers said they liked Secret Speakers better than or equal to Twilight. 68% said they liked it better than or equal to Harry Potter. Secret Speakers won Textnovel’s 2008 Reader’s Choice Award as a serialized novel.
Let There Be Write
Gwennie and Me
When God was handing out left brains my twin sister and I were off finger painting and scribbling stories in the far reaches of the universe. When I arrived in my mother’s arms, little did I know that creativity would be one of the defining marks of my life. My artist mother taught me to see. My ancestors passed on a love of writing and words. I can hear my mother saying, “Look at that shade of purple in the clouds, dears,” while we hurtled down the freeway in our pea-green Ford Country Squire station wagon with the sweaty vinyl seats. Or, “Look how the color of the mountain ranges fades in the distance.” Or, “Can you see how the objects in that painting lead the eye to the point of interest?”
My great-great grandfather was the editor of the Times and Seasons and the Nauvoo Neighbor in Nauvoo, Illinois during the 1800’s. I inherited a love of funny stories somewhere along the way. It might come from my father’s namesake, Samuel W. Taylor, who wrote the short stories on which Disney’s movies, Flubber and The Absent Minded Professor were based.
Growing up, I was surrounded by stories. My grandparents moved out from Skokie, Illinois and talked about our ancestors while we sat around the impeccably appointed Sunday dinner table set with crystal, silver, and fresh flowers, always fresh flowers. Stories seeped into the air from the spirituals my mother sang with us girls in the kitchen, while our brothers shouted, “Stop singing!” from the living room. Many nights while Mount Olympus glowed in the setting sun, I heard Alistair Cooke describe that evening’s Masterpiece Theatahh movie while I warmed up after my bath in front of the fire. I thought the stories seemed incredibly boring at the time, but I remember many of the scenes and language to this day. The stories that meant the most to me, though, came from the pulpit of our Christian congregation, from the hymnal, from my Sunday School teachers, and from a school lunch delivery man who used to come over to our house with his British wife. She smelled deliciously of violets. From these sources, I heard stories from the Bible that opened my soul, filled my mind with wonder, and gave me chills.
The gully behind my home was filled with stories. My friends and I lived the life of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer on the island in the middle of the creek that looks so small to me now. I slept with a BB gun–in case of robbers–in the fort my brother and I built by cutting down our neighbor’s newly planted tree. I spent hours daydreaming on the worm-eaten Cottonwood logs around the fire pit, creating my own story about life’s meaning.
Writing Gets Better With Age. Maybe.
My sisters are on the right. Spending a summer holiday at Aunt Liberty's in Hollywood Hills. 1970?
For those of you who know about writers, you likely know that storytelling usually comes naturally to those who have tough childhoods. I’ll just say ditto. When you live without feelings of safety or predictability, you back away from the world and learn the precious art of studying character motive, and who might do what, when, and why. Then you make your plan. Lots of us get an early start on our career that way. Not me.
I wasn’t a voracious reader of chapter books when I was young. My favorite books centered around languages, grammar, and secret codes. I taught myself to read Greek in the sixth grade, because I wanted to read the New Testament in its original language. Go figure. When my sixth grade teacher showed us how to diagram sentences, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
In elementary school the two chapter books that riveted me were The Boxcar Children and My Side of the Mountain—both stories where the main characters are on their own and thriving. I felt they understood me and I understood them like no one in real life could. I fell in love with the biographies of Harriet Tubman and George Washington Carver. It was the first time I realized people could do really important things to help others. The word I loved most in my pre-college years was “underdog.” I knew I wanted to help those who were on the fringe of society. Even though I was shy at the time, I stood up with fiery indignation if someone was being bullied.
I knew I wanted to become a writer when my Honors English teacher, the late Shirley Collins said, “All of you moving on to AP English will do very well except for Karey Taylor . . .” I sat in shock for a minute not sure I had heard right. Then I felt every head turn to look at me at the same time. The universe stood still. When I recovered I felt small enough to sit on a nickel and swing my legs. Then Mrs. Collins said something that changed my life, “. . . because Karey has such a natural gift for creative writing.” I knew right then I could write, would write, and wanted to write. Weeks earlier, I had written a paper on William Faulkner’s, As I Lay Dying, which she’d had me stand and read to the class from beginning to end.
I majored in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing, studied British Literature at the University of Cambridge one summer, and studied poetry from Mark Strand, sure that I’d spend the rest of my life writing. Chaucer, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Shakespeare were my friends. Victor Hugo most of all. Oh, Victor. But my first marriage brought any penchant for putting pen on paper to a screeching halt. I spent all my energy trying to nurture my amazingly active, non-nap taking, delightful children, and munch them with kisses while I was trying to survive and have our home be completely French-speaking. When I wrote, it was just to chronicle my life in my journal. Sometimes I wonder whether I should burn those suckers.
My husband and I live with our dog Wyatt, who looks like a white baby cow. He even eats grass and moos. We have a combined family of seven children and five grand children. I raised my children in New Orleans, Montreal, and Vermont.
I spent 2007-2009 mostly in bed or on the couch with pretty bad Fibromyalgia pain all over my body. I did get out, but only with a fake smile on my face. It’s hard not to whine when you feel like your whole body has hit its funny bone and the pain doesn’t go away, but Patrick kept me from being too much of a wimp. He helped me get through that time by drawing me lots of hot baths into which I’d pour half a bag of Epsom Salts then sit and groan until the pain subsided. He brought me breakfast in bed over and over, and rubbed my arms and legs.
Patrick, who I call Mr. Hobbs for no reason at all, other than I love the guy. I'm usually behind the camera.
He rarely said anything about dinner not being on the table. I wouldn’t trade that time for anything in the world; not only because we grew closer because of it, but because that’s when I scrapped the entire manuscript for Secret Speakers and started from scratch. It was my time away from the world to focus. My first attempts should never see the light of day and lie gasping in piles behind my desk. I also got to know my future readers on Goodreads.
I’m better now thanks to physical therapy, and I’m living a very quiet life I love. My days revolve around my family, my neighbors, good food, getting outside to walk or hike in the mountains with our dog, watching movies, and trying to figure out if there’s a way I can make a difference in global education for girls through the Arts. Life is always full of ups and downs, but I just keep pressing forward, trusting that things are as they should be. Even if I don’t have a Masters or Ph.D., have a singing career, dance as much as I’d like, or paint on canvas–but that’s for another story.