If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster. (Isaac Asimov)
I’ve been writing for a long time – mostly journals, essays and research papers. I don’t recall ever taking this type of writing seriously. I certainly would never have called myself a writer. In my mind, I wasn’t a “real writer” because “real writers” write fiction – not three-hundred pages of a Master’s thesis or articles published in peer-reviewed journals. This belief came from the fact that my mother was a “real writer”.
On the night my mother lay on her death-bed in the hospital she gathered her failing breath and focused all her attention on the doctor who leaned over her bed. In a tone that was full of dignity and pride she said, “I’m a published author, did you know that?”
As I think about witnessing my mother speak those words – words she felt to be so important she would utter them when she knew she
didn’t have too much more time to speak – I am awash in a cascade of childhood memories. I can hear the sound of my mom’s old-black-Remington typewriter lulling us to sleep most nights – the clack, clack of the keys and the bell at the end of the row that signaled the carriage return. My mom was writing a novel.As I grew older and became an avid reader of anything and everything I could lay my hands on, I begged to read pages from her novel. I can remember waiting with bated breath for the next page to roll out of the typewriter. The odd thing is that I can’t remember getting past the first couple of chapters, which my mother had polished to perfection by rewrite after rewrite. I know there was a full draft of the novel somewhere. I can’t remember what the title was but I do remember there was a pretty middle-aged woman named Laura who was in a terrible marriage. She seemed to spend a lot of time in her basically white kitchen lamenting her state of affairs. There was a very attractive young man named Rafe who seemed to really like Laura. He was always referred to by his vile father as “the breed.” Rafe had been born to a Native mother out-of-wedlock through some form of violence his father, Sheriff Calder, had subjected her to. Sheriff Calder especially gripped my young imagination as he went around town whistling, Ain’t Misbehaving, while lording his power over the people he ruled with an iron fist.
As I reflect on memories of my mother’s novel I wonder now if she had only given me censored pages to read. In her later years she published a short-story and worked with a small group of writers to publish an anthology of their short stories. Yes indeed – my mom was a writer and my mom was a published author.
In many ways I know I’ve always been a real writer, but I do feel less of a fraud now when I say it out loud. I guess the process of struggling through several drafts of my first novel has helped. There is no one here in my isolated cabin on the lake, except the dog, to hear the clack, clack of typewriter keys, even if I were to use such an archaic method of writing; but I am a writer – just like my mom.