My heart's desire was always to be a writer but it never entered my mind that I actually had the talent. I didn't find writing - writing found me.
It was totally unexpected. I was puttering around the house on a hot summer day in Florida. Julie, my next door neighbor called and asked me to have breakfast with her. Julie is a high school honors teacher who doesn’t have much extra time during the school year to socialize. I said I would love to have breakfast with her and we set up a date.
After a few minutes of getting acquainted, I realized that Julie had something more on her mind than getting to know each other. She was on a mission. Julie had just got back from “character camp.” It seems our Florida Governor, Jeb Bush had mandated that character education be taught in the schools. Julie relayed to me that she was really pumped up about this. (She had always tried to teach character education to her pupils, though indirectly) She went on to say that while sitting on the beach and watching the waves one day, she knew she had to write a book on character education. That’s where I came in.
“I want you to help me write this book. I am very passionate about this,” she explained. I told her that although I was in a romance writer’s club years ago, I couldn’t seem to put the words on the page. Something was stopping me but I didn’t know what it was. I told her that my dream was always to be a writer, but guessed it was just a dream. The words just wouldn’t come.
“Why do you think that I can write? You don’t know me that well,” I asked.
We had spoken casually when seeing each other in the yard or getting mail, but that was all until this moment.
“I can’t tell you why I know this. I just know that you can write. Maybe it’s fate or God. I don’t know but I know you can do this. I need a partner. There is another teacher who has retired that I also want as a partner. The three of us together can do this. I know we can.”
I heard myself saying I would do it. I really wanted to write more than anything. I didn’t know how I would do it but Julie was so sure that I could write. It was really quite amazing that she knew this.
The next week, Julie, Laura and I went out to lunch. Laura and I were introduced to each other and l liked her quite unassuming manner right away. It seemed to complement Julie’s certainty and aggressiveness. As a matter of fact, each one of our personalities seemed to fit together like a jig saw puzzle. As one, we could flow together and fill in each other’s weak parts.
Laura agreed to be a third partner.
The excitement snowballed as we set up a time and date for our first meeting at my house.
The next week, prior to the meeting I found myself wondering why I committed to this project. I made Zucchini pie while scolding myself for saying yes.
Julie, in the meantime, had called me several times with ideas that were punctuated with enthusiasm and zest.
I have to at least try. I can’t let her down. I especially can’t let anyone down who believes so strongly that I can do this.
We had our first meeting. The plan was that I would do some short fiction stories that subtlety brought out issues that teens deal with, such as peer pressure and bullying. Julie would write a section about kindness to animals and Laura would research and fill in discussion/written questions that would relate to the story.
I sat down at my computer and started asking myself if my four daughters had gone through something that might still ring true for today’s teen. Then, I remembered a sweet sixteen birthday party that had gone bad when we gave our daughter, Cherise her party. Slowly, I began to type out the story while changing names and places. Before I knew it, I had completed the first short story that I named, “The Birthday Party.”
The words just seemed to appear like magic on my page. I couldn’t type fast enough for my thoughts. How could I be doing this? Why couldn’t I do this years ago? I am 65 years old and just discovering that I can write. What editor wants to accept work from an old lady? Well, that’s not for me to worry about right now. I have to concentrate on fulfilling my obligation to Julie.
I shared “The Birthday Party” with Julie and Laura. They were elated. They liked it. I was shocked and excited. I felt as though I was not only walking on a cloud but that I never wanted to come off that cloud.
“Are you sure it is OK?” I posed Julie this question. Her answer was sure and instant. “Fran, if two English teachers tell you that you have talent, then you do!”
I floated to my computer and whipped out a few more short stories that summer. The same thing happened….The words appeared on the page and I wondered where they came from. Did these words actually come from me?”
Some of the short stories were based on events that happened to my daughters when they were teens and one story based on something that happened on the golf course where my husband plays golf. I learned to add embellishments that would punctuate the story line. Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty to learn about writing but I was doing it. I was having the time of my life.
“We need to get this done this summer, ”Julie urged. I managed to put out one story a week. Laura and Julie were both doing their part and also editing my stories. We wanted grammar, spelling, everything just perfect. I wrote and rewrote over and over. Jim, my husband whispered in my ear not to get discouraged.
We did finish that summer, a year ago. We were practically giddy as we saw our “baby” that was at last born. The cover turned out beautiful and we were satisfied that we had done our very best.
For me, that was only the beginning. I have to tear myself away from the computer to exercise and fix dinner. I have become a recluse. (I am trying to balance my life more because I can be a better writer that way.)
I can’t answer the question as to why I could not write years ago. Perhaps it was the topic of character education that spurred me on. After rearing four daughters, I did have something to say about good character. Perhaps it was just the timing. Or maybe there isn’t an authentic reason why. I think of it as a gift….a new beginning….a magic time.
Maybe it was just in God’s perfect timing.
My fingers fly over the keys. I go from one project to another. My mind races. I could write greeting cards. I know what short story I am going to write next. I write my poetry when the mood hits me. I am almost finished with my solo book. I soak up writing tips like a sponge in the ocean. I am learning. I am dreaming. I am actually fulfilling my dream.
Thank you God. Thank you for revealing my gift through my neighbor, Julie.
Thank you not only for allowing a u-turn but also for the extra roads that curve around to joy and opportunity.
I found my voice.
…By Francine Larson
Contact information: franl.writing-write.info