Freelance Success Story By Linda Oatman High

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“When a man can observe himself suffering and is able, later, to describe what he’s gone through, it means he was born for literature.” A writer named Edouard Bourdet said that in 1927. Many years later, those words still speak to this writer’s soul.

1989 was a rough year. I was hit by a drunk driver in July. He left me by the roadside with injuries, a demolished car, and a shattered faith in mankind. He went to jail; I went home to heal. But maybe someday I’ll use this.

Two months later, my stepson’s biological mother deposited him on our doorstep. He was six years old, and all he had in the world was a trash bag stuffed with his earthly possessions. He awakened sobbing every night. With my own six-year-old son from a previous marriage, I couldn’t comprehend how a mother’s heart could be so cold. But maybe someday I’ll use this.

Two months after my stepson came to us, I unexpectedly became pregnant. I still had no car, and was undergoing treatment for persistent neck and back injuries incurred by the accident. We were poor. My stepson was aching and confused. So was I. But maybe someday I’ll use this.

In the middle of the pregnancy, I contracted Fifth Disease, a form of the measles. There was an outbreak in the elementary schools of our area, and the medical community was unsure as to the effects of the illness in pregnant women. I was sent for a level two ultrasound, and told by the doctors that I could be “cautiously optimistic” for a healthy baby. However, I’d need a weekly ultrasound. If the fetus contracted the disease or showed signs of anemia, it would be necessary to undergo a blood transfusion in utero. The risks, I was told, were stillbirth and miscarriage. But maybe someday I’ll use this.

On the day before our baby was due, my husband John came home from work, weeping. It was August of 1990, and the Gulf War and recession had resulted in a permanent lay-off from his longtime construction job. It was the first (and only) time I saw him cry. His heart was broken. But maybe someday I’ll use this.

Our son was born: a perfectly healthy and beautiful baby boy. We were ecstatic, despite the fact that John didn’t have a job and we were living in a cramped mobile home with three children: his, mine, and ours.

“Maybe I should get a real job,” I said. “Give up this crazy dream of writing books.” I was an established newspaper and magazine writer, but had been attempting futilely to break into the competitive world of children’s books.

“Keep at it,” John said. “Don’t give up.”

So I didn’t. I stayed home and wrote, raising our children and grasping tight to my hopes. I prayed for the strength to continue writing despite the obstacles and staggering odds.

Several weeks after our son Zach was born, John saw an ad in a local paper: “Old Barn: Free For The Taking-Down.”

John took the barn apart, piece-by-piece, and found that there was a market for the materials. The boards and beams, windows and doors and weather vanes were all sold. The barn would live on for another hundred years, in a hundred different places. It was the beginning of John’s own business, but we still didn’t have much money. One writer and one self-employed Barn Saver plus three children is an equation that doesn’t always equal promptly-paid bills. But maybe someday I’ll use this.

When Zach was two months old, I began writing a novel for pre-teen children. Working on an ancient and clattering typewriter, I used the kitchen table for my desk. I plugged away on the typewriter as Zach dozed contentedly in his swing. Through the window of our mobile home, I could see the green Welsh Mountain of Pennsylvania. This mountain would be the setting of the book. The main character, Maizie, was a girl who’d been abandoned by her mother. She was hurting. Maizie had lots of wishes, but life was rough. I knew: I’d used bits and pieces of my own. But still Maizie had hope. Someday, somehow, everything would be okay.

The book Maizie would be published five years later, in 1995. In the meanwhile, I wrote a picture book based on John’s work of dismantling and recycling old barns. The book, Barn Savers, was published in 1999 and has been honored by the American Library Association’s Booklist Journal by being named Top Of The List, Best Picture Book of 1999. It’s also been lauded as a Notable Book in the Language Arts by the National Council of Teachers of English, as well as short-listed for the Bill Martin Jr. Picture Book Award in Kansas and the Keystone State Reading award. A mention of the book appeared in the pages of People Magazine.

I’ve used this.

Our existence is easier. Our children have grown tall and strong, we bought a 100-year-old home. John’s business is booming, and I’ve published twelve books with more under contract. I’m writing. My dream has come true, and I know that I’m doing what I’m meant to do. I was born for this.

Life isn’t perfect; there are still hard times and frustrations. But I’ve learned an important lesson: blessings can follow hardships. Writers need to feel in order to write. We have to live life before putting the words on paper. It’s what writers do: we observe ourselves suffering, and sift the pain into sentences.

My main struggle nowadays is with raising teenagers. Two of the three boys are taller than John and I. We look up to lecture them. They look down and think that they know everything. We wear their hand-me-downs. They break our hearts every now and then, just as teenagers have done to parents since the beginning of time.

Maybe someday I’ll use this.

Linda Oatman High’s books include novels Maizie, Hound Heaven, The Summer of the Great Divide, & A Stone’s Throw From Paradise; picture books Barn Savers, Beekeepers, A Christmas Star, Under New York, Winter Shoes For Shadow Horse, The Last Chimney of Christmas Eve; poetry book A Humble Life: Plain Poems; and easy reader The President’s Puppy. Upcoming books are Horse Carvers, City Of Snow, Big Bopper’s Choppers, The Girl on the High-Diving Horse, & Roustabouts. She is currently working on a collection of short stories for adults: Ladies in Strange Places, as well as a novel. You can reach Linda via email at: lohigh@desupernet.net