Once upon a time, at a family picnic, my teenage sister Tami and I sat on a homemade quilt under towering pines and discussed synchronicity. I was fresh from studying theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and she was in love with Paul McCartney and the revolutionary Beatles. Neither of us had a very sophisticated understanding of the concept, but we finally concluded that events in the present can influence not only the future but the past. That theory underlies my reason for writing my novel The Storm.
I wanted my grandmother and her fifth son, Wendell, to have a happier life, so I took pieces from the past and made up a story in which they did. Will it work, you ask. I have no idea. But telling their stories has certainly influenced mine.
I never much believed in Santa Claus. It was evident early on that my parents sacrificed to buy me the baby doll I didn’t want and the Roy Rogers pistols I did. But Santa Claus and synchronicity are similar: if you believe in them, they’ll affect your life in positive ways.
My mother and I have never talked a lot, though we’ve spent hours working side by side, mostly in the kitchen cooking and cleaning up. However, when she started telling me her family stories, and I began to really listen to them, we found a topic of conversation that we still haven’t exhausted.
We spent a glorious week once in Bowdon, Georgia, just the two of us researching family history and even meeting a distant cousin. My great-grandparents left there right after the Civil War, so we retraced their wagon tracks and stopped by a courthouse in northern Louisiana, which led us to the remains of a cotton mill in Arizona, Louisiana that my great-grandparents had bought after the war yet failed to make a go of. The next year we even organized a family trek there, with three of my mother’s brothers and her two sisters.
Many years later, after I finally completed my novel, I began to do pre-publication readings. I’ve always thought of myself as a very shy, private person, so reading my work aloud terrified me, as it does many new authors. I asked one of my cousins, Mary Beth, a former speech teacher and professional public speaker, for help. She coached me. I needed a Web site, and Mary Beth’s sister, Jo, with a degree in computer science, became my Web mistress. Connie, my partner, has been beside me every step of the way.
I did a reading in Dallas this summer, and to my surprise, six of my new friends from Tyler attended, as did two of my old friends from Ft. Worth. Three of my old friends have asked me to speak to their book clubs after The Storm is published in December, and my BSB friends have been nothing but supportive. In January, I’ll visit Jewel, a lesbian book club in Dallas, to discuss my writing with my new and old friends there. Then I’ll be off to Palm Springs and Austin for other presentations this spring.
Connie has introduced me to Facebook, which has multiplied my circle of friends, and my editor Ruth is teaching me to Tweet on Twitter and fight online pirates who may try to steal my book. I’m even finding a few hours to fashion a new novel, based on some time I spent in Paris during the 1970s.
Writing the stories my mother has shared with me and the ones I’ve made up to complement hers has certainly influenced my future, but has it altered the past? Will the happy ending I’ve given my grandmother and my uncle somehow change the sadness in the life she and he both endured?
I like to think it will, just as writing a novel has changed my life and brought me closer to both family members and old/new friends, and to my more public self.