Jeanne: Mama Said

As a young girl, my mother wanted to be an author. When I was twelve or so, and fired up about becoming a writer myself, I asked her why she’d never pursued this dream. To her credit, she did not point out, as she might reasonably have done, that she had seven kids, (one of whom was disabled), helped run my dad’s real estate business and kept a huge old house so clean you could eat off the floors, leaving little time for writing.

Instead, she took my question for what it was, a request to know what might get in the way of my own journey to being an author. She said it was because she didn’t have the education to be a writer. She had graduated salutatorian from her tiny high school near Richmond, Kentucky, a circumstance that frustrated her because if she hadn’t had the second best grades in her class she would have been class poet, a title much more to her liking. She’d also done a year of nursing school at Berea College, the tuition-free Kentucky college dedicated to offering an education to the children of coal miners. But she hadn’t studied writing.

She said there was a lot more to being a good author than loving to read and being good in English class. Despite her other responsibilities, she was a prodigious reader, plowing through Frank Yerby and Daphne Du Maurier and all of Mazo do la Roche’s Jalna chronicle, along with romantic suspense luminaries like Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt. I followed in her footsteps, reading several books a week through middle school and high school, but she said that wasn’t enough.

I was pretty sure she was wrong. There were plenty of famous writers who’d never gone to college–Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, Beatrix Potter and Truman Capote, to name a few.

So after I dropped out of Indiana University, where I was a journalism major, I tried my hand at writing a few novels. I got precisely nowhere, because that’s where my plots went–nowhere. Even today it feels like I should have been able to analyze my favorites among the hundreds of books that I’d read and figure out what made them tick, but I never got past being so carried away by the story that I forgot to look under the covers.

Like my mother before me, my life got caught up in raising and providing for a family, and it wasn’t until I was in my late fifties that I went back to college–McDaniel College, in Baltimore–and learned how plots are supposed to work. Since then, I’ve published two books and expect to publish three more this year.

Right again, Mom.

6 thoughts on “Jeanne: Mama Said

  1. I took one of those aptitude tests in high school, and the results suggested my best occupational fit was playwright. I came home from school and mocked these results to my mom, who said she thought the test was dead on. I know that the reason I never once considered trying to write a play was because I’d never heard of a female playwright, and I still think even now it would be tough to pin your aspirational hopes and goals on this form. But I have to say that I think my strength as a writer is in dialogue, so maybe they were right.

    Well, really, moms are always right. Mine’s been gone for five, and I always wish I could still ask her stuff.

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