Life

My English teachers always told us: write what you know. Even then, I thought that was a silly thing to say to 14 year old kids, since they have limited experience. I did better writing about things I WANTED to know. My imaginings were much more interesting than my ho-hum reality. In the many years since then (pick a number between thirty and forty), I have experienced enough life to inspire a hundred novels.

My Swedish Minnesota roots go waaaaayy deep, but after I was married, we lived in many places. My husband was in the Air Force, so a few of those moves were military transfers, but most of it was just my husband’s nomadic impulses. In twenty years of marriage, we lived in 22 houses. It was mostly just local moves, and as long as our family was together, it was okay. As David said, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” We lived in beautiful places.

In those places, I made friends and met different people. Some of those people were very different. In Germany, we had lovely neighbors – mostly elderly people who welcomed us warmly, asked us to buy them American ice cream from the commissary on base and then tried to get us to sample all 20 flavors of schnapps and wine and cordials that they make from every scrap of produce and foliage. It was a rural farming community; they kept cows and sometimes pigs in sheds attached to the house. They gave me lots of helpful advice on raising children, including the firm direction that nursing mothers should drink beer. Out in eastern Washington, I knew a colorful collection of independent, self-sufficient people. The kind who watch out for black helicopters and keep framed copies of the Constitution on the wall in the living room, right next to the moose head. In Missouri, I knew lovely farm wives who dressed in pearls and heels and drank their coffee from glass cups. Frequently they looked at me trying to contain my sons and said, “Bless her heart!” Yes, I know that’s not exactly a compliment, but they were very kind to me anyhow. Life in the U.P. of Michigan was interesting, too. In spite of the cold, the macho high school boys wore shorts for a lot of the winter, except on the days they drove their snowmobiles to school. There was a parking area for them across the street from the school. Deer season was a school holiday. Not kidding.

And more. As you can imagine, that kind of lifestyle is ideal for the aspiring author. For all of those years, I collected people and places and conversations and ideas, but I was busy with a growing family and other projects. As I mentioned recently, I worked with the elderly and disabled for a few years, and that was inspiring, too. I want to put everyone into stories. I have several books in various stages of progress now, according to — SQUIRREL!!! Yes, I do have a short attention span. I have several beautiful single socks, too, because I love to knit but am usually “done” after one completed sock and want to move on to a new project. No self-discipline at all. I have several books in progress.

My current favorite is called “The Other End.” In this story, Annie is a youngish middle-aged widow who moves from Detroit to the remote mountains of Montana to care for her elderly relatives. Annie needs a new start in life and her aunt and uncle know they need help if they don’t want to live in the nursing home. Annie travels to Montana expecting to be caring for two sweet, frail elderly people but instead finds herself trying to manage two stubborn conspiracy theorists who have lived in the mountains all their lives and don’t intend to change now. It’s a funny story, set in a wholesome small community of well-intentioned young people and eccentric old people who just want to go on being as independent as they used to be.

Annie may be the heroine, and there are villains and mysteries, but this is really a story about the fiercely self-sufficient people who lived in that remote part of America through two world wars and the Great Depression. City-bred Annie has to learn to respect them as they are, serve them on their own terms and shield them, when possible, from the indignities of old age and dying.

I am passionate about the humanity of the elderly. It’s the other end of the pro-life spectrum. We all get worked up about babies, but the elderly are loved by God just as they are, no less than when they were children or young adults of middle-aged grandparents. The needs of elderly people, especially if they are in a wheelchair or appear handicapped, are often seen as less immediate than the needs of youth. We are all people, precious children of God, whether we are 2 or 92.

The Greatest Generation is dying, and every death is a loss to the rest of us. I want to capture their stories and use them in contemporary fiction. Those people aren’t just slow, deaf old people. They are men and women who did great things: pilots, nurses, businessmen, advertising men in an age when that was creative work, WWII female factory workers, farmers and more, but they are here and now, the end result of their lifetimes! Still interesting!

So yes, there is youth and romance and adventure in my stories, but they are, underneath it all, stories about people who have done a whole lot of living.

5 thoughts on “Life

  1. Terri Wangard says:

    Hi Cathe! Write what I know is sort of what I did with the story I’ll be pitching at conference. A collection of old letters to my grandparents from distant cousins in Germany, to whom they were sending care packages, gave me the idea. The female character and her family are based on what I gleaned from the letters.

    • Cathe says:

      I think your story sounds fascinating, and I would definitely include in your pitch that it was based on that family history. In fact, that would be a significant selling point. I know I am not very experienced yet, but in my opinion, you should find a way to cut something else so you can fit that into your 60-word pitch. It makes a difference!

      I enjoyed the meeting last night, and it was nice to meet you!

      • Cathe says:

        I am sorry to sound so pushy! If I were an agent, that history would make me more interested in reading the book.

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