Monday, November 24, 2014

Perseverance, with an Example

Every writer, myself included, has given others some of the standard advice. Write what you know (or some version of that statement), and never give up. Keep going no matter the obstacles. Persevere, persevere, persevere. And every writer who has ever published anything will nod her head knowingly. On this wet and windy Monday morning I offer an example of that advice.

Dorothy Stephens is a freelance writer who published her first novel, for the YA audience, at the age of ninety. Someone who knows her has to tell you she's ninety because otherwise you wouldn't believe it. That aside, her novel, A Door Just Opened, is set in rural America in 1910. The story takes us into the life of thirteen-year-old Anna, who longs to escape the world of the farm and attend high school. But there is no money to send her to school, her mother needs her on the farm, and soon her older sister, Mary Ellen, brings a complication that threatens to sink the family. Based on a family story, the book was published by Fire and Ice, a young adult imprint of Melange Books, LLC.

I first met Dorothy through a friend, another writer, who steered me to Dorothy's memoir, Kwa Heri Means Goodbye: Memories of Kenya 1957-1959. The memoir was a finalist for the 1996 Bakeless Prize in Nonfiction, 1993, given by Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Dorothy's memoir is a reminder of how much the world has changed as well as how free we Americans once were when traveling abroad.

I'm writing about this here, today, not only because I admire Dorothy and enjoy her work but also as a reminder to me to look beyond immediate circumstances.

Over the last several weeks I have been dealing with a family illness, and as focused as I have been on this my mind has occasionally wandered into more selfish terrain, where I have the shocking, nearly debilitating thought that I will never write again, that I've lost my place in the pantheon of midlist writers, and, yes, that I'm drowning in melodrama.

I'm not terribly good at selfless acts, and I never fully ascribed to the idea that you "go where life takes you," as though I were in a canoe without a paddle--and without hands. But those moments pass, and at the end of it all, as things start to improve, I forget the selfish thoughts, congratulate the patient on such a strong recovery, and sit down at my desk, once again trying to figure out how to solve a murder I set up before I had a solution. Very short sighted of me, I know, but apparently typical.

Dorothy Stephens is a delightful person and an accomplished writer, and, at the very least, a sobering reminder of the importance of taking the long view and persevering all the way.