Sunday, April 16, 2017

THE EVER CHANGING MUSE

by Chris Goff

View from my childhood home in Evergreen

The Dog Days of Summer

The summer I turned eight, I discovered the library, in a small stone house perched on the rocky hillside above the Episcopal Church, right at the bottom of our hill.

Some History

The original town library was founded in a storefront on Main Street, in 1917, by Miss Julia Brewster Douglas, a Newark librarian who had moved to Evergreen to be nearer her brother. In 1921, Josh Spence, a local contractor, built Miss Julia a stone building to house her 4,000 books, and by 1935, Miss Julia had amassed over 12,000 volumes. She and the nuns from St. Mary's ran the library until 1943, when Mrs. Olive King bought the library building as her home.

Evergreen Circa 1925
Everyone knew that was the end of the library—except for Mrs. King. To the town's surprise, she kept it open for years.

Here's where I come in.

I am an only child, and we lived in a small gray house, off a dirt road, about halfway up Independence Mountain. It was nearly a mile to town, and well over a mile to any of my friend's houses. Mr. and Mrs. Angevine lived at the top of the hill. Mr. and Mrs. Fooks lived in the house just below us. And Mr. and Mrs. Kintner lived in the white house on the steep part of our road.  They were all old, which left me to play alone. Hence, I wandered.

Our mountain was a safe place for a kid. Sure, we had the occasional mountain lions and bears, but I had my faithful companion—a blond, collie-husky mix named Blueberry. One day in our travels down the hill to the river, I encountered Mrs. King. She was also old, a little dusty and a lot crabby. She asked me what I was doing taking a short cut through her property. When I told her I was bored and looking for something to do, she kindly invited me to come in.

Blind Trust

Being long before the days of "stranger danger," and not smart enough to equate her invitation to that of the hag in Hansel and Gretel, I cheerfully followed her through the door. She offered me a glass of lemonade, which I happily drank, then led me through another door into the bowels of her house.

In that room was Miss Julia's library. It was there, on the little window seat, tucked into the back by the children's section that I fell in love with reading. My dad had read me Pinocchio when I was six, a chapter at bedtime, every night. Then Wind in the Willows and Silver Pennies. But, here were books written just for me. I met Honey Bunch and the Boxcar Children, the Bobbsey Twins, Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. As my reading skills improved, I graduated writers like Emily Loring and Agatha Christie and Helen MacInnes.

The Evolution of a Writer

It was in the winter of my eighth year that I first tried my hand at writing. The book was entitled The Haunted Mansion, and it was a great story about these kids who discover a haunted mansion occupied by a witch. One night, after waiting for the witch to go out flying, they snuck inside to mess around with her Eye of Newt. Of course, the witch returned early and chaos ensued.

That book never sold. Though, I think it did find a spot in my mother's scrapbook.

After that first attempt, I moved on to writing short stories, essays, and poetry. I studied journalism in college, and it was years before I tried writing another book. When I did, I went back to my. We were still living in a small town and there were no other writers, so I enrolled in an Institute of Children's Literature Novel Writing Course and wrote The Mystery of Phantom Ranch. It was a great book about these two kids who venture down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and discover the ghost of Bert Loper.

That book never sold.

My next attempt was a Harlequin Intrigue. This time I found a mentor, and I wrote this great book entitled Frozen Assets. It was about this woman who lived in a ski town, who stumbled upon a counterfeiting operation and fell in love.

That book never sold.

Do you see a pattern forming? It took me two more false starts before I sold my first mystery. Then it took five mystery novels before I worked up the courage to try my hand at a thriller. DARK WATERS was the debut and the book has done well. It sold to book clubs and overseas, it garnered some great buzz and praise, and was nominated for several awards, including the Anthony for Best Crime Fiction Audiobook and the Colorado Book Award. Its sequel, RED SKY¸ comes out in June. (One quick note of BSP—for anyone who hasn't read DARK WATERS, to promote RED SKY the publisher is down-pricing the eBook for the whole month of May.)

And so I persevere

Mrs. King and the little stone library are long gone. So are my mother, my first publisher and biggest cheerleader; my grandmother, with whom I traded books; and my father, who thought my mystery series trivial and didn't live long enough to see me publish a "real" book. But what they left behind is a legacy of education and encouragement, and thus inspired me to find my voice.

12 comments:

  1. What a lovely story! Mrs. King the librarian and the neighbor sound wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Jamie. I have to admit, Mrs. King could be intimidating, but she is forever a part of my fabric.

      Delete
  2. You are such a real writer, Chris. I love the way you detailed your series of misses, and that you never gave up. It's something people don't realize - how long it takes us and how much work goes into it even before we write a novel worthy of publication. You're inspiring! And I love the road on which you grew up. What a view!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. One of the first writer conferences I attended was in Glenwood Springs, and Lawrence Block was one of the presenters. It was during his affirmations phase, and we were taught to repeat "I am a writer, I am a writer, I am a writer," over and over with more and more conviction. I thought it funny at the time, but what sticks with me know is that such a great writer, the infamous Larry Block, felt the need to convince himself that HE was a writer. Sort of puts it all in perspective.

      Delete
  3. Oh, Chris, I too love that gorgeous view of Evergreen - what a magical place to grow up! Also magical is the relationship you formed that turned you into a lover of reading as a child. As for your writing and rejections, many of us have heard the story told by the former President of our International Writers Organization, Steve Berry, who says he had 85 rejections from various agents/editors before he sold his first book. And, like you, he persevered and, like you, is now an award winning author. Remember the old adage, "You never fail until you quit." And thank goodness, you never did!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Karna, I'd never heard that old adage, though I can still hear my father's voice ringing in my ears -- Don't be a quitter! I think the first time he said that was when I wanted to stop my piano lessons. $600 later, I could play a mean rendition of "Feed the Birds" from Mary Poppins. I can still play it.

      Delete
  4. I wish I'd had such encouragement!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Encouragement comes in many forms, and now you have Gayle as a mentor. Life is good.

      Delete
  5. Love the view of the lake, Chris--brings back fond memories of my own ten years in Evergreen. Your knowledge of it long ago is special.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Evergreen is so much different now than it was back then, yet there's still something magical about the town. I imagine as I grow older it will only become more so for me. Recently, I was back up on Independence Mountain and that's still the view from my childhood home, except for the addition of the Lake House on the west side of the lake. Funny how some things change and some things stay the same.

      Delete
  6. Christine, we would've been such good friends as children!! Thank you for sharing your lovely story.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Beautiful, beautiful story, and inspiring. Thank you for giving us a glimpse into a lovely world and your beginning as a writer. That picture is amazing.

    Georgie Nelson

    ReplyDelete