The Fictional Memoir: Not An Autobiography

The Truth about Renee 

Readers of the novel When Horses Had Wings have asked how much of my life resembles my protagonist’s, Renee Goodchild. The answer to that question is somewhat complicated.

Renee and I have shared many challenges: teen pregnancy, high school disruption, poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, and, yes, even child custody battles. However, I have not personally been subjected to all of the physical and emotional blows depicted in my book. A good deal of fictional storytelling was required to complete the novel…because real life rarely provides a structured, or even an interesting, plot. 

Just as Renee’s spouse Kenny does, my first husband, the one I married at age 16, worked as a garbage collector. We lived in a shotgun-style duplex that had no insulation, no air conditioning, and practically no heat. I borrowed the book’s setting straight from my actual life. 

Diana&Son

Diana and son, 1975

I have a son from my early marriage, and today he is a policeman. Thus, the Seventies references to TV shows about law enforcement. I thought it humorous when I discovered the car, a Plymouth Fury, I’d assigned to the character Kenny was a model widely used in Texas police departments during the 1970s. Prior to completing the book, I had been unaware of this fact. Sometimes The Muse guides us in odd ways. 

Like Renee, the first automobile I ever owned was a used Ford Mustang. I can still recall how empowered I felt, the first time I drove to work.  

You might find this hard to believe, but I know what it feels like to be substituted for a horse and hitched to a plow. I also have first-hand experience at being shoved, when six months pregnant, to the ground. 

Neither of those experiences did much for my self-esteem. 

But the point of writing When Horses Had Wings wasn’t to enumerate my earlier life’s hardships. In fact, there are no perpetrators in this story. The wounded characters in the book are struggling to meet their essential human needs, and in the process they nearly destroy one another. These individuals suffer, grow, learn, and emotionally evolve—or they don’t. Yet, in one way or another, most wind up better off than they were at the book’s beginning. 

By writing this novel, I’d initially hoped to make sense of the challenges I’d overcome, to reflect upon what I’d learned the hard way and, more importantly, to consider why I’d chosen that difficult education route. But as I worked on the manuscript, I realized the story might have greater value. Maybe it would provide insight for others, whether battered brides, teen moms, social services workers, or family court practitioners. I had experienced something far too common, though poorly understood. Writing about these issues, I decided, might help thousands of other women. 

Before any of that would be possible, though, I knew I’d need to develop my fiction writing skills, court an agent, and land a publisher. That was a pretty tall order for a woman who’d just begun penning newspaper op/eds for $75 per column. Nonetheless, that voice, the one always urging me forward, refused to let me focus on failure. 

I struggled through several drafts of this book before I found sufficient distance between my own experiences and Renee’s. My goal was to tell Renee’s story (not mine) as truthfully as possible, without sympathizing so much with her viewpoint that I failed to address the other character’s issues, needs, and desires. All these individuals shared the same internal craving. 

So did I achieve my writing objectives? I can’t say. Readers will have to decide for themselves. I simply wrote what I knew and what I’d gradually come to understand over time and after further contemplation. 

In many ways, Renee Goodchild’s life mirrors mine. Unfortunately, her story reflects thousands of other women’s lives too. I’d like to think this book might help to reduce those numbers by at least a few. 

Note:  When Horses Had Wings has sold more than 1,000 copies in four months! Thank you to everyone who has purchased this book, provided a review, or shared this story with a friend.

 

THANK YOU, DAILY CHEAP READS, FOR FEATURING WHEN HORSES HAD WINGS TODAY!

 

 

 

EReader News Today Features When Horses Had Wings

Please check out EReader News Today, where When Horses Had Wings is featured as their “Book of the Day.” Here’s a link: http://ereadernewstoday.com/book-of-the-day-when-horses-had-wings/6711544/

I’ll be back in a few days to tell you more about the history and development of this novel, so please check back. And if you’re finding this blog for the first time, allow me to say “welcome.” 

Also, you might want to check out a few contests that are ongoing. Red Adept Publishing is giving away several Amazon gift certificates and other cool swag, and Kindle Fire Department is giving away a free Kindle Fire.

Along with several other Indie authors, I am participating in both of these contests and you can obtain points by “liking” the authors’ social sites, and by purchasing and/or reviewing their books. So discover great books during “Read an Ebook Week” (look for more contests on their site) and enter these contests to have a chance at winning some awesome prizes!

Happy reading!

Diana

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Choice to Write

Nothing will draw an individual to religion faster than a personal crisis. After I’d quit my job and my husband subsequently lost his, we headed straight for church. That wasn’t our first time to enter through those doors. However, we hadn’t been too diligent about prior attendance. 

A few months earlier, I had made a prayerful deal with God. “I’ll write, as long as you handle the bills,” I’d offered. Until that moment, He’d been upholding His end of the bargain…and I had complied with mine. Now I viewed my spouse’s job loss as a sign that it was time for me to do something different. 

On our way through the church foyer, we passed by the on-site bookstore. Pointing to a display window where an author’s books were featured, my husband stopped and asked, “Ever read this guy?”

I noted the name. “No, I haven’t.” 

“Might be good.” 

“I don’t need another self-help book to tell me how to live my life,” I snapped. 

Hubby gave me a polite smile. “Mind if I step inside for a bit, just to take a quick look?” 

I nodded. “I’ll wait out here,” I said, indicating the hallway. At a minimum, I hoped to avoid spending our grocery dollars on something we couldn’t eat. 

My spouse, though, had other ideas. He returned with a bagful of books written by the late Og Mandino, aka “Mr. Success.” It seemed my cohort had already done the damage. So there was nothing left for me to do but read. 

Among the paperbacks my man had purchased, I found a scant-size book with a purple-colored cover, titled The Choice. Well, given my current predicament, the name certainly seemed appropriate. 

A few pages into the book, I realized The Choice fell under the inspirational fiction category, a genre I seldom read. And I soon discovered this work concerned the life of a writer as much as it addressed metaphysical questions. 

On page twenty-seven, I read the following: 

 “Writing, I am convinced, is the least appreciated of all the creative arts. Only a miniscule portion of the population engages in sculpting or painting or composing but everyone writes—whether letters, invitations, shopping lists, or even just a signature on a check. It is not farfetched, therefore, for anyone with a smattering of self-esteem to believe that if he or she had the time, and the desire, an acceptable book or article could be produced.” 

I digested that paragraph. (So, in a metaphorical way, maybe I did eat it.) 

What in the world had I been thinking when I’d quit my job to become an author? I must have been every bit as delusional as the next grandiose-thinking, wannabe writer. 

As it turned out, I’d been operating from a place where logic had no value, where faith trumped statistics, where dreams held the power to transmute reality, in much the same manner as had Mandino’s protagonist, Mark Christopher. A highly successful regional manager of the fictional Treasury Insurance Company, Mark resigned from his position to write a book titled A Better Way to Live

As exuberant readers often do, I had little more than finished the book before I’d fired off a four-page letter to Og Mandino. In that correspondence, I told him all about my vacation experience and The Voice I’d heard, confessed that I’d quit my job, and asked if he would read my manuscript when it was completed! 

IMPORTANT NOTE:   DO NOT DO THIS UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE DISDAINFULLY IGNORED, REGARDED AS ARROGANT, OR QUITE POSSIBLY GOVERNED BY A RESTRAINING ORDER. 

Yes, I now realize how selfish and foolish my request must have appeared, and I am eternally embarrassed to have made it. Nonetheless, Mr. Mandino, being the outstanding man that he was, took the time to write a personal reply. His letter, pecked out on a typewriter, concluded with a simple question, one that has drummed through my brain ever since I read it; “How can you ignore that voice?” 

Truth be told, I couldn’t disregard the message I’d been given. But I’ve been known to be extremely slow at following orders. 

I filed away Mr. Mandino’s letter…yet, every once in a while, when anxiety crept in and doubts hung over me, I looked back at his words for inspiration. 

“How can you ignore that voice?”

Og Mandino passed away in 1996. His many best-selling books remain available today, and I have read and heartily recommend them all.* To learn more about Og Mandino, his life and his work, please visit www.ogmandino.com. Dave Blanchard, the CEO of The Og Mandino Group, just released his new book, Today I Begin a New Life. It is time to learn how to create in spite of the firestorms of life.          

 * I received no compensation of any kind (other than joy) for sharing information about the great author Og Mandino. His letter to me and the book quotes in this blog post have been reprinted with permission.

How Long Does It Take To Complete A Novel?

Why did it take me fourteen years to write and publish When Horses Had Wings? In my earlier blog post, I promised to answer that question.

I hope you’ll return to read this full story, as I’ll be posting my response in small segments. Along the way, I’ll reveal which famous author I reached out to—and what he did to encourage me at a time when I doubted myself and my maker.

Previously, I confessed to hearing voices. Well, actually, it was just one voice that spoke to me long before I ever wrote the opening sentence of When Horses Had Wings. After hearing that command, I took an action that most novice writers are cautioned to avoid.

I quit my job.

No, I didn’t leave some detested form of underemployment. In 1992, I gave up approximately $50,000 in annual salary, a management title, and several professional licenses I’d worked hard to achieve. With flair, I announced I was going to write a book.

Perhaps others snickered, maybe even guffawed, behind my back when I admitted my intentions. My coworkers should have advised me to reconsider. Aside from losing half my household income, another significant problem awaited; I had no plan for how I would accomplish my goal.   

Though I’d produced many technical reports and board presentations, none of those experiences had prepared me to land an agent or write a novel. In terms of a platform, I had only the floor I was then standing upon—and it was fully mortgaged. 

Two years into a new marriage, I had three children in school and one in college. This was not the time to take major risks. Yet when would be the right moment? Hadn’t The Voice scolded me for not pursuing what I was supposed to be doing now

When I confessed to a woman who holds an M.F.A. from Iowa Writers’ Workshop that I’d left my employer, she casually remarked, “It takes ten years for a writer to develop into a good novelist.” 

TEN YEARS?   

I had less than ten months’ savings. 

Clearly, I would need to become a speed learner. 

Immediately, I laid out a roadmap for my new career. I would commence writing my novel and use my nonfiction skills for freelance opportunities: magazine articles, newspaper columns, corporate reports, and advertorial pieces. I’d write whatever I could, to generate income while I worked on my novel. Maybe I’d become a syndicated columnist. How could there be a limit to my success? The Universe was on my side. Right?

From local universities, I purchased several journalism books. Then I scanned through my private journals, in search of interesting topics. The best year of my life was about to begin. I’d be home with my children, available to my family, and working toward a purpose I’d been destined to fulfill since childhood. I feared my heart might explode from too much elation. But then, a few months later, I received disheartening news.

My husband announced he’d been laid off. 

If this was how The Universe planned to support me, I had no confidence in my future. Maybe it had all been a silly dream, nothing remotely realistic. Maybe I’d made the worst decision of my adult life, and now I’d have to face severe consequences. I was distraught and ashamed of my impulsive choices. 

A few days later, by chance, I happened across a book that must have been meant for me to find. In my next post, I’ll reveal the title of that book and disclose its author. His name is synonymous with “success!”

 

The Voice I Couldn’t Ignore

 

By age 5, I’d begun readying myself to be a writer. I’d sit at an imaginary desk and play like I was scrawling something. No one in my family wrote anything other than thank you cards. So I don’t know what I thought I was writing or why I was more enamored with pencils and paper than toys and television. But such was the case. 

When I won a junior high school essay contest, Me in 8th grade, the year I won the essay contestit occurred to me that I might have a knack for writing. If so, I directed most of that talent into penning love letters. My classmates would tell me what they wanted to say to their sweethearts, and I’d spiff it up a bit and give them a draft that they could copy in their own handwriting. 

When it came to romances, mine was the only one I didn’t manage well. A teen pregnancy shortchanged my education, causing me to all but give up on the idea of ever becoming a writer. But I kept writing in journals, chronicling my thoughts, hoping these musings might one day show me how and why I’d strayed off course. 

After not one, but two failed marriages, I finished college and decided to concentrate on the love I’d abandoned in high school: writing for others. That decision sent me back to college, this time to take fiction writing classes.

All went well until I was kicked out of my third course. 

My instructor said he didn’t want to see my face again. “Why are you STILL here?” He huffed. “Get out there and publish what you’ve already written.”

I left that professor’s instruction…and moved to a different university.

Meanwhile, I married my current husband of 22 years. As newlyweds, we vacationed in a tranquil, tropical destination. And it was there, in the village of Akumal, Mexico, that I received a command I couldn’t ignore. 

I dozed off, one night, to the sounds of ocean waves lapping just beyond our condo door. Though I don’t remember what I was dreaming at the time, my subconscious world was interrupted by a loud beckoning. 

“Diana,” a male voice called out to me. 

Intuitively, I knew that vocalization could have come from only one source. I was frightened, but I answered, “Yes?” 

“You’re supposed to be writing a book,” The Voice said. 

Now, I don’t think He meant I was supposed to be writing, right then, during my sleep. I understood this to mean I wasn’t writing as I’d been previously directed.   

I looked around and saw no one, yet I sensed this entity remained present. 

Like a misbehaving child, I argued, “Yes, I know. But you haven’t told me what the book is supposed to be about.” I mean, good grief, He’d given Moses the Ten Commandments. I was waiting for something equivalent. 

There was no sound of irritation when The Voice (and no, I’m not talking about the TV show by the same name) next spoke. “You’re supposed to write about your younger years. Go back to when you were a teenager,” He said. 

I needed specifics. “What about when I was a teenager?”

 “Go back and revisit all that you’ve experienced. You’ll find your answers there,” said The Voice.

 And then I woke up.

 I was angry at the sunlight filtering into the bedroom. How dare it lure me into consciousness before I’d received full direction!

The year was 1992, and that dream haunted me every day thereafter, until, finally, in 1998, I began writing the first draft of what would later become When Horses Had Wings.

 So why did it take me fourteen years to complete the book? Ah, well, that’s another blog post! But I promise to answer that question.

Diana

When Horses Had Wings: New Blog

Welcome to my blog! This is the place where I’ll talk about all things novel related, especially those that pertain to my book, When Horses Had Wings (Corncob Press).

 When Horses Had Wings is a story about Renee, a young girl who struggles to find love and acceptance in a remote Texas town. She marries young, drops out of school, and has a baby at age 17.  From there, times only get harder as her garbage collector husband turns violent. Renee attempts to navigate a course to a better future, with no one to lead the way except an elderly neighbor and a mother who hasn’t yet fully defined her own life.

 You’ve likely heard the adage, “Write what you know.”  Though this story mirrors much of my earlier challenges as a teen parent, When Horses Had Wings is a fictional tale. I guess you could say it was inspired by my experiences and those of others I’ve known or read about. Within the next several blog posts, I’ll expand more on that thought.

 Here are some of the questions I’ll be addressing in future posts:

 What prompted my switch from humor to novel writing?

 What are some of Renee’s and my life similarities?

 What is the significance of the book’s title?

 Does the town of Lolaville, Texas, really exist? (I can’t wait to explain that!)

 What surprises occurred during the process of writing and editing When Horses Had Wings?

 What is my favorite part of the book?

 How did the idea for this book originate?

 Where can you learn more about some of the nostalgic items mentioned in the book?

 If you have other questions you’d like answered, please post them in the comments section and I’ll do my best to provide a response. Also, as I post the answers to the above questions, I’ll link back to them from this post.

 I’m excited to share my passion for this story with you!

 First up, I’ll tell you how and when the story idea for When Horses Had Wings originated. When I do, you’ll likely think I’m either well-connected…or schizophrenic!

 

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