After finishing my Masters degree in child clinical psychology (Drake University in Des Moines, 1974) I went to work in the field of what today is called developmental disabilities. In a relatively short period of time I worked as the Director of Professional Services at the Glacial Ridge Training Center in Willmar, Mn., the Director of Winnebago Handicapped Services in Forrest City Iowa, and the Director of the Greenbrier Center in Lewisburg, W.Va. All were residential services facilities providing 24 hour a day care for people who were moderately to severely impaired.
I took with me from each of these organizations a great deal of respect and admiration for one woman. Their real life stories of abuse, suppression, and survival have remained with me. I often thought about their lives and circumstances and I believed that someday, I would write a book about them. At first I thought it would be one book with three stories, I have notes from a long time ago to this effect. Now however, it is clear to me that each woman’s story deserves its own treatment, its own book. It is a fact I am not a good enough writer to be able to tell the story of whole sections of a person’s life without using a lot of words.
The decades rolled by since I knew these ladies but I kept thinking about them. With my insurance career at an end and my health stabilized, I believed the time had come to finally get started writing. With the encouragement of my friend Ric and Cheryl’s support, I started to write a fictionalized story of Anna Olson, the first of the three ladies I met. All the scenarios about her life that I had considered for all those years served as a starting point. But the story itself is simply flowing out of my head as I type, and it has been truly amazing for me to experience characters and events simply appearing on the screen. The story soon blossomed in many directions, hopefully, making it richer and more complete.
After writing for just a few weeks, I realized that it would likely take me years to write the story of Anna Olson. First of all, I am limited in my writing time by two things, my ability to concentrate for very long, and my desire to enjoy life with Cheryl and our family. Additionally, I knew I had to learn more about the subject matter and this involved research. Online research and good old-fashioned book reading about the diverse subject matters now takes more of my time than the actual writing. I don’t want to write a formal history book about Anna and her life, but I do want the story to come with an authentic background.
I have discovered that to tell a story that spreads out over nearly a century, and in several places, things get complicated. Maintaining consistency and readability in regard to the various characters, dates, and environments is hard. All of this has resulted in pages an pages of notes, a story outline, a timeline, and a bibliography, all of which takes time to construct and maintain. Having no training or even extensive practice in writing is also a problem. Sentence structure, tenses, and how to describe things clearly are each challenging for me. Sentences and paragraphs have to be done and re-done, sometimes three or four times, or more if needed when the actual editing takes place. I understand now how it can take so long for a book to be finished. It is less creative thinking and more hard work than I imagined.
I am still not quite complete with the first draft of what I believe will be the first third of Anna’s story. I thought that perhaps, for those of you who know I am doing this and have been asking to see a sample, or read the first draft, and for those of you with whom I would like to share my work, I would post samples of what the story is like on my blog from time to time. These will just be slices of life so to speak, and I will try to supply some context to go with each post. These excerpts may not make it into the finished product, or they may be significantly re-written, so take what I post with a grain of salt.
I would appreciate very much your reaction to these snippets, especially any critical comments, observations, or questions you may have. I will send you an e-mail from time to time with a link to each new posting. If this is of no interest to you, that is fine, I realize this is not a story that will tweak the interest of very many people. Let me know and I will stop sending you the links.
Finally, I have no great illusions about any of this writing business. I am doing it because I like to do it, because I think there is a story to tell, and because it is my “work”, it makes me structure my time more carefully and hopefully, helps keep me mentally alert. In other words, I am not planning on being the next great American novelist nor on any of this getting published. If it does, it will be icing on the cake. I will be happy just ending up with a good story about a woman (or women if time were to allow) who would otherwise have been long forgotten.
NEXT POST-Before we begin, a little bit about the real lives of the three women.