In the spring of 2005, I was finishing RIGHT TO VOTE for Facts On File and recovering from surgery. One ordinary day, I answered the phone and recognized the distinctive voice that greeted me. It was Dr. George Blue Spruce, the first American Indian dentist. I had written about him in HEALERS, another Facts On File book and interviewed him by phone several times. That day became special when Dr. Blue Spruce asked me to write his life-story.
A few weeks later, he brought me his scrapbooks and began telling me his story. I was spellbound by the accomplishments of this man. A full-blood Pueblo, he grew up in Santa Fe, living on the Santa Fe Indian School campus where his father taught woodworking and his mother worked in the cafeteria. His mother was from the San Juan pueblo and his father from the Laguna pueblo. They were taken from their families and forced to attend boarding school. When they met at the Albuquerque Indian School they did not share the same native language but learned English together. I felt privileged as Dr. Blue Spruce told me his story and trusted me to write the chapters of his life — from the pueblos to the halls of Washington, and then donning the uniform of a Rear Admiral in Public Health Service, he became an Assistant Surgeon General and head of the Phoenix Area Indian Health Service. What a treat to listen to this man and write his story.
About mid-way through the first draft of SEARCHING FOR MY DESTINY, I answered the phone and recognized another voice of a person I’d written about in the past. Helen Blanchard, DTM, the first woman president of Toastmasters International, wanted me to write her story.
A few months later, I had Ms. Blanchard’s scrapbooks and began listening to her life story and writing the chapters of her life. We named her book BREAKING THE ICE since the Ice Breaker is part of every Toastmaster meeting and Helen Blanchard broke the ice as one of the first women in Toastmasters and the first woman president. Her life journey took her from a farm in Nebraska, to the Navy Research Lab in San Diego, and to the leadership of the international organization… originally for men only.
Walking in the shadow of these two distinguished, accomplished people as I wrote their memoirs offered a challenge and a delightful experience for me as a writer and a person. These books were nonfiction, but different from the twenty-some others I’d written before… This time, the material for the book came from a person reliving their past. I was privy to the passions of their youth, their dreams, follies, heartaches, goals, and disappointments… and sworn to keep secret those things not intended for print. As each life-story unfolded before me, I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. It was an extraordinary experience.
When the manuscripts were finished, I stood at the threshold of a bridge over the wide chasm between nonfiction and fiction. Characters that had been pushed to the back-burner while I wrote nonfiction shouted from the shadows of my mind. “I have a story.” “Listen to me!” “I’ve been waiting too long.” These characters had been in my mind so long, they were old friends. I had to listen to them… so I crossed the bridge to the fiction world. I’m listening to Becca McGee’s story. Joe Chandler is next. Someday soon, I hope you’ll let me share them with you in a novel.