Friday, February 26, 2010

Hey! I'm Over Here!!!

Nearly 50 years ago I made the decision to be a writer when I grew up.

I began by writing a story about my past - editing the hard parts until I had a happy ending. Goodness, that story was written in pencil, on a legal pad, while I was living in a tent. I was the hippie's hippie, living on dreams.My decision to become a famous author was less a pipe dream than a vow 'til the death.

From today's perspective, it seems clear, death will come first!

I knew, from my Sunday School teachers that faith without works is nothing, so I wrote another book - this one about an ancestor who was in the patent medicine business after the Civil War. This one was written on a portable typewriter - it wasn't even electric and getting a clean copy was a nightmare. But erasers and holes in my manuscript from fixing my typos did not deter me. Something awesome, however, happened.

My story bumbled along following my hero (ancestor Levi Terk) who joined the circus to sell more product. There came, after many months of work, an odd revelation: I wrote a dream sequence about the fall of Atlantis and my death there. I had discovered the way to see my past lives - and I did it all by myself!

The next year I wrote a story about my adventures as a musician in upstate New York called The Picker. I played in a dance band, bassist for dance music and bluegrass standards. I was in hog heaven, playing music on nights and weekends, writing until the next gig.

Did the world care? Not one bit! I was convinced I was going to do what it takes to be a famous author. A look at my resume told me that I might need to change my stars, so I sold my kitchen table and chairs to the girl moving in the next apartment and sent my application to the nearest community college. I graduated with honors, and raised my sights to the next degree. I approached Skidmore College's University Without Walls and earned my degree in American Studies. I was thrilled to learn that Lena Spencer, of Cafe Lena in Saratoga Springs, was given an honorary doctorate for her support of musicians like Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger that year. Talk about being in the company of saints!

About that time I sold my first story and received $125 for a tale called Harvest Dance for a magazine called American Square Dance. This was a huge amount of payment for a story back in the early 80s, encouraging my dream and putting my bottom in the chair daily. I wasn't famous yet, but I could see that hard work could indeed pay off.

I went back to waitressing (a perennial source of income) and wrote a couple of dozen short stories the summer I got my first Epson computer - which cost as much as a new car at the time. Freed of constant re-typing and messy manuscripts, my work took off like a shot! I even sold some stories to little and literary magazines, which mostly paid in bragging rights and free copies.

The novels followed, year after year. Hell or High Water told the story of a rural electrification project and the people who were displaced in the flooding of the Sacandaga River Valley in upstate New York.

Hang Your Head Over bared a family secret of incest in a remote coal mining town.

The Last Priestess came in at over 100,000 words, telling the story of the last priestess of the Goddess and the emergence of the bloody sun worship. (Now available as an e-book series)

Mystick Moon told the story of an abused orphan who is accused of witchcraft, not once but twice, and survives in colonial days.

Crazy Quilt is a collection of short stories, including the title story Crazy Quilt, which was first published in Prophetic Voices - a magazine that published many famous authors early in their careers!

Imagine was my try at writing a mystery on a dare from a chat friend - it took me 28 days!

I kept working, and even taught storytelling at a writer's conference for several years. I pored over Writer's Market and submitted hundreds of manuscripts - in fact, at one point I burned a three-inch stack of rejection letters.

After a migration to Maryland, I penned Ancient Memories, a story that follows the soul's journey to true love.

Cleaving to a friend's advice, next I wrote a book about planning community events. Eh... Even after five years as a reporter writing for a small-town daily newspaper, I still did not get a thrill from writing non-fiction, but it is out there if you might need some advice about how to put together a big event. (The experience behind this book came from seven years of work with local not-for-profit organizations as a fund-raiser.)

Working for the newspaper, by the way, was wonderful. I covered everything from triathlons to municipal meetings, reports on environmental issues and muskrat cooking contests. I even had to take my own photos, and I loved every moment of it... but it wasn't being a famous author. Every reporter knows people wrap fish guts in your story the following day. But the job has merit. It teaches you that writer's block is a fiction, and that no matter how good the story, you should never get a swelled head.

My next volume was a departure from both fiction and fact. Runaway Hearts told the stories of Dorchester County, MD in verse. It includes stories about colonial days, trappers, watermen and the slave Harriet Tubman who stole her people away on the Underground Railroad.

Fifteen years of life on the Eastern Shore of Maryland triggered my four-volume Chesapeake Heritage Series - fictional tales of strong women who lived on the peninsula from first the first colony until the end of the Civil War.

Most of these books are available either in print or as e-books, and I know in my heart I have answered the call that came so many years ago. I worked hard, learned the rules, supported the dream, and continued to pursue that dream for all these years. There are a couple of new books finished and waiting for the next step.

I need to get noticed.

So, here I am hollering "Hey! I'm over here. I wrote books! I am an author!! I am, after all these years, still a starving artist!

Terry L White -Author of the Chesapeake Heritage Series
"Travel Through Time With Terry"