Monday, June 6, 2011

“I still don’t want to think my words will live forever—”

By Janet Fogg and Shannon Baker

Two of my friends learned earlier this year that long-forgotten projects, in one case a magazine article and the other a short-story, were unexpectedly scheduled for publication. I asked both to share their thoughts about these primal submittals, and while we hope to celebrate publication of the short-story in the near future, today it’s my pleasure to share Shannon Baker’s story about a magazine article that unexpectedly found new life.

From Shannon:

“Recently I received an odd looking envelope in my mailbox. One glance at the handwritten address made it even odder since it was from my ex-husband. Though I doubted it was a death threat, we aren’t exactly pen pals.

“Inside I found an opened envelope from Range Magazine. In my previous life, my husband and I owned a feed store in rural Nebraska, a business he still owns. Without paying too much attention, he’d opened the envelope, supposing it was a business matter. Inside was a check and a letter addressed to Shannon Dyer, a name I’d used for nearly half my life. What the letter said was that an article I’d published some fifteen years ago had been selected for an anthology, “Best of The Red Meat Survivors,” to be released later that month. (Yes, it was nice of my ex to send it. But that’s another story for another day.)

“What a shock. As in those old movies where the calendar pages fly off the spindle, I was whisked back fifteen years to a summer I’d spent driving 94-year old Albert around the Nebraska Sandhills he’d loved so much. His family wanted me to capture his stories and we discovered his best prompts were seeing his old haunts. I ended up publishing about a dozen of his stories in a series for a regional weekly paper and sent this profile off the Range.

“I’m not a great strategic thinker. I’m sort of a short term planner. Get in, get out, stay light on my feet. I never really think that the words I send out into the world might have staying power. For me, they are like potato chips. You crunch them down, enjoy the salty goodness and move on. They aren’t particularly memorable or full of nutritional value.

“So much of what I write--maybe it’s this way for all writers—is from the here and now. What I’m feeling and how that colors my world today. My frame of mind while I was in Nebraska was not always rosy. I was scared to death what that article would sound like tempered through the lens of time.

“When the book arrived I was full of trepidation. I located my story with a pounding heart. I opened it and read…about Albert. The story wasn’t about my words. I didn’t recognize them. Perhaps a kind editor had cleaned them up. What that story did, however, was bring that fine man back to life for me. I could hear his low, slow voice, see the ‘hills though his eyes again.

“It’s always a bit of a jolt when I discover everything is not about me. In this case, it was a rewarding surprise. I still don’t want to think my words will live forever—that’s too much pressure. But if something I wrote is going to last, I am honored they give memory and life to the kind and gentle soul of Albert Hebbert.”

Shannon Baker is the author of Ashes of the Red Heifer, has contributed to numerous anthologies, magazines, and newspapers, and has a new thriller scheduled for publication in 2012 by Midnight Ink. Set in Flagstaff, AZ, where Shannon works for the Grand Canyon Trust, her new book involves man-made snow on sacred peaks, uranium mining in the Grand Canyon, kachinas, murder, and a woman determined to make some sense of it all.

You can find Shannon at the Sisters of the Quill blog or at her website.


Mario said...

Great story, Shannon. Your work is better than potato chips--though maybe not BBQ chips ;-)

Margaret Yang said...

Awesome! We just never know who will be touched by our words.

Karen Duvall said...

Shannon, what an awesome story! I love hearing about how words can survive the test of time and not lose their power, as you have obviously proven. This is so exciting! Congrats!

Jeanne Stein said...

Very nice story, Shannon.


Patricia Stoltey said...

What a wonderful story. And what a great opportunity you had, Shannon, to write down this gentleman's stories.

Shannon said...

Thanks Margaret, Jeannie, Karen and Pat. Albert was a treasure and well-loved by many. Once a friend of mine was power walking along a dirt road and he happened by. He said, "If you aren't in a hurry, I'll give you a ride." He, himself, was never in a hurry. Mario--not much beats BBQ chips!

Anonymous said...

It's your rich and diverse life that makes writing about the here and now so intriguing and universal. Sister! Karen Lin