Born in Southeastern Colorado but transported to California and better job opportunities while I was still a toddler, I didn't know the mid west. My parents moved frequently as part of their job so I seldom attended one school for more than three months until I started fifth grade. Up to that time, my brother, a little more than a year younger, and I were best friends and often the only companions in play we had. A new sister for us put Mom at home for awhile and a job change anchored Dad in one spot close to Pasadena for almost four years but the next move took us to Southern Oregon to stay put. I became an Oregonian as I finished high school, went on to college and began a family of my own.
As a child in elementary school I always arrived home with stories of adventures that happened on the way home, or could have happened. My mother, a practical person to the core, considered my imagined stories to be lies. Worse, lies without any point as I wasn't trying to cover up anything. I learned not to tell my stories to anyone.
My first attempt at writing fiction took place as a class assignment when I was in Junior High and wrote a story about the life of bugs living in a family home. My teacher was offended, my mother horrified and I was determined I'd never tell any more stories I'd made up. In high school I took journalism and then wrote for our local newspaper as well as the school paper but I stuck to event reporting for a long time, years.
My family grew and then grew up as I finished college and went into teaching, a career I loved. My writing was limited to what I used in my classroom, letters to parents, personal letters and occasional newsletters.
The desire to make up stories didn't quit because I quit sharing. Eventually I decided to go to our community college and take an evening class on writing fiction. I went to the first meeting and discovered I'd be expected to share what I wrote. I left in a sick panic that only disbursed when the class was canceled for lack of interest. In spite of the panic, the seed was planted.
After I left teaching and began looking for new direction in my life, I became interested in the real estate business. I enjoyed my fairly brief stint in that field, learning new things, constantly meeting new people, and writing ads for the houses on the market. We bought an old home to remodel in our time off. I got involved in the design process and the oversize yard leaving the real estate business behind. It was time for me to take a different road again.
The next writing class I tried was limited to women's interests rather than fiction or non fiction. Lacking belief in my own stories, I began with memoir but found I liked sharing my work and I had a voice people would read. A later class in short story opened new doors. I began to focus on what I needed to know about each of my characters to turn them into people. I took that class one evening a week for a year. By that time I'd learned enough to give each character a personality and tackled a novel. It is still buried, unseen by anyone else, in a desk drawer but I take it out to look at once in awhile.
Six other novels, Preserving Cleo, Cleo's Slow Dance, Finding Clarice, What Next Ms. Elliott? and Marge, Back on Track, Anne Marie's New Melody and La Femme, a collection of short stories have followed and are finding an audience. I have also continued working on essays, a memoir and I write a weekly column for a classy small newspaper, The Creswell Chronicle.
Now, ready to leave fiction behind, I have embarked on a new road, drawing on my interest in Oregon and its history. Under way is OREGON'S MAIN STREET: Highway 99.
When I'm not writing, thinking about writing, or talking about writing, I garden, keep a house, and spend time with my mother and friends. My husband Ken and I both like to travel and go when we can. We also combine activities with our grown children and their families as often as possible. School concerts, ball games, ultimate frisbee, picnics and camping are all part of our lives.
Jo is a former columnist for the Creswell Chronicle.
Jo is also a contributor to Groundwaters, a literary magazine growing up in the outskirts of Eugene, Oregon
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