I was born the only daughter of a cotton farmer in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas in the 1940s. As a girl, I had no experience with what other kids spoke of—the neighborhood. My first friends were the children of the kind, hard-working Mexican laborers who lived on our farm. Later, my circle expanded to include friends who lived just down the unpaved road, also farmers’ daughters. These constituted my neighborhood.
With school friends living in town several miles away, I learned early on to love reading. The characters Jack & Janet, Dick & Jane, and Tip & Sally fascinated me. Come summertime, you could find me in the community library where the air conditioning created such a crisp, welcoming atmosphere that I could stay all day. I can still feel the air and get a whiff of the distinctive scent of book bindings.
By fourth grade, my appetite for reading was insatiable. With a dictionary at my side, I read Little Women and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In fifth grade, The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, and Gone with the Wind. By sixth grade it was Where the Red Fern Grows and The Red Badge of Courage, and by middle school, I was tackling Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, and A Tale of Two Cities. Later on, To Kill a Mockingbird made an indelible imprint on my mind, heart, and conscience. I could go on, but you get the picture … No matter the genre, setting, plot, or characters, I experienced each story world and shared the characters’ emotions, failures, and triumphs.
When I was a student at Abilene Christian University, a daily delight was writing letters home. I told Mother and Daddy and my little brother Dale virtually every move I made, no doubt with some editorial embellishments. A quirky English professor pulled me aside one summer and asked if I’d ever considered creative writing as a career. In a word—No—not seriously but how intriguing that he would have discovered that secret longing I thought no one knew about. You see, the thought of baring my soul in print—a reality I knew even then that writing would entail—was more than I could consider.
Just before I graduated from college, my mother asked me to write down a family history. Her clan had migrated in 1923 from Oklahoma to the southernmost tip of Texas in a train of seven covered wagons, a novelty on the roads even then. Intrigued, I jumped at the chance to take the family’s recollections of that caravan journey and set them down for posterity. Although it turned out to be a cataloging of who traveled in which wagons, where they stopped and for what purpose, and the spectacle they presented along the way, it ignited a desire to write historical fiction based in family history. I had a well spring from which to draw.
Decades of life took me elsewhere in Texas and to Alabama and Germany, with fun-filled forays into Great Britain, South America, Europe, and Scandinavia. I was an Army spouse rearing children and living life, so my writing pen sat in a drawer. Years later when my daughter struggled with an at-risk triplet pregnancy and the three 2 ½ pound babies fought for survival, I felt a tugging at my heart to release the storehouse of words I had long bottled up. Nine years later, I won the Jerry B. Jenkins Operation First Novel award. My debut novel, The Calling of Ella McFarland, is due to be released by Mountainview Books in December 2015. Now I’m working on the next story.
Certain ancestors and their experiences appear in my stories: a bit of my grandmother and a strong dash of my mother in one character; my father’s sterling qualities in another; and a low-down family reprobate in another. Cotton planting, hoeing, and harvest time. The glorious aroma of fresh-picked cotton and the nothing-in-the-world-like-it odor from the pig pen. The whir of the sewing machine, the clink of a milk pail, and the bellow of a cow hollering to be milked. The summer sun on my face, the hearty South Texas wind in my hair, and the comfort of backing up to a wall heater on a cold winter morning. All find their way into my stories.
Through it all—my family’s history, my own life, and the kaleidoscope of lives in my stories—Jesus appears as the golden thread that links the past to the present and beyond. He turns an ordinary morning into a hint of the “Sweet By & By.” He adds the delicate aroma of the Rose of Sharon to the sultry stillness before a summer storm. And He wraps the bitterness of grief and failure in the richness of His incomparable grace.
Tales that reach beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary because of Jesus—those are the stories I write by His grace.