Elaine Marie Carnegie: "Please welcome Lisa H. Owens to the Writer's Journey Blog this week!"
Books have always held a special place in my heart, beginning in elementary school, when my Aunt Joyce and Uncle WT gave me an illustrated book by Richard Scarry for Christmas. I immediately ignored the other gifts I had received from family members and even Santa Claus, as I found myself mesmerized by the witty cartoon creations and quips. I even cast aside the number one choice on my wish list, Sammy Cement, the name I ended up giving to the Charlie McCarthy ventriloquist doll I had been so adamant about needing from Santa Claus.
Weird facts about Sammy Cement:
1. My parents could never figure out why I chose the name “Sammy Cement,” because “em” sounds are by far the most difficult to say without moving your lips.
[Try keeping your lips still while saying "Sammy Cement." You’ll see what I mean.]
2. Sammy is kept in a large shopping bag in my closet, though he is now missing one hand and his mouth string doesn’t work so well anymore. He is utterly terrifying.
[Imagine Billy, the dummy in the movie “Dead Silence.”]
After reading most of the Richard Scarry creations, I continued to read, getting engrossed in many of the classics (Little Women, Mark Twain, Oliver Twist, The Call of the Wild, Don Quixote, Treasure Island, The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Gulliver's Travels to name a few) when my Daddy would drop me at my hometown public library in Graham North Carolina most weekends, where I would curl up on a cozy rug in the Children’s Section and read for hours.
When I got older, on occasion, I would fall asleep while reading, not realizing I was asleep and continued “to read” while dreaming and concocting a whole new scenario. It was strange to awaken and find my finger placed on a drooly passage where I had left off.
My introduction into really writing occurred when I was 56 years old. I had taken melatonin to help me sleep and had a dream so emotional and vivid, that I had to write it down. Upon waking, I grabbed my phone and opened a Google doc, and typed it out in one fell swoop without even taking a breath. The story had elements of some special people in my life. My son, now 31 years old, my daughter, now 33, and my younger sister. Somehow, this little story called, Star of the Show, brought my creativity to the foreground and my next story was longer and based on a true event. It was titled, The Laundry Room, and described my near abduction by Ted Bundy in Pensacola Florida in 1978.
A local newspaper picked it up and thus my two-year stint as a monthly humorist columnist was born. It was kind of a “right place at the right time” stroke of luck since the timing of the story coincided with the capture of the Golden State Killer in 2018. I was told I had free reign in style and genre, as long as the stories were kept to about 500 words.
I struggled with the concept of what I wanted to write. After a few false starts with poetic thoughts of birds chirping and flowers growing, I decided that wasn’t me and I needed to stick to what I knew. I knew a lot about hardship and moving and always being the “new kid” at school, since growing up, my family moved around—a lot.
I attended a total of nine schools in six cities in four states before my first year of college in 1980. I decided to run with that. Write what I knew and not try to get all fancy and contemplative. My column turned into a humorous series of short stories inspired by the antics involved in making those numerous moves—from north to south and east to west—with my oddball family. My editor loved the concept; and I loved the experience of revisiting those times, sometimes evoking tears, but mostly laughter, and sharing with the local subscribers.
That ended in 2020, just after the pandemic started when my editor was laid off…permanently… due to budget cutbacks within the company and really the entire newspaper industry, a fact since the same thing happened to other acquaintances of mine. Fortunately, I had a day job and didn’t rely on writing for my income.
“By day,” I am an environmental compliance manager. The creation of job-specific Excel spreadsheets and GAEA Winlog Soil Borings, something I approach with gusto, has earned me the coveted title of nerd among my office peers. I was one of the lucky ones who was allowed to work remotely and kept my job.
Working remotely certainly had its perks, so I had time each morning to work on my debut book, a humorous epistolary memoir describing my first year as a flight attendant for Delta Airlines back in 1984. I was shocked at how quickly the words flowed as I described head-shaking scenes detailing my naivety in moving from a small town to a big city, Boston Massachusetts. I called it the accidental book since my initial reason for writing the very first letter to my sister-in-law, Melinda, was to explain how my relationship with my in-laws didn’t have to change because her brother, my husband for 34 years, and I had recently separated.
As I began to write, I wondered if she had ever heard the entire story of the reason behind my move to Boston and the fated series of events that led to her brother and I meeting in the first place. And that is how an entire book was born. It was a 55K-word fun ride to relive those memories and prompted me to call my former roommates from that period of my life. We had lost touch and now try to touch base every so often.
I think the most pertinent piece of advice I could give to a new writer; is to write what you know or the things that interest you the most. When approaching it that way, the words will usually flow, and if they don’t, put it away for a while and revisit the story another time with fresh eyes. I find myself looking at things in a different light with writer’s eyes.
Everything can become a magical story if you look hard enough.
Lisa H. Owens
The Writer's Journey Blog Guest Author
August 5, 2021