Devon St. Claire

Have you ever started a writing project and wondered if you would have enough to say about the topic? From the first word, I knew that would not be a problem in composing this article. In fact, I guessed correctly that I would have too much to say.

Dr. Veronica Esagui, who you met in the previous post, introduced me to Devon St. Claire, although I had the pleasure of reading her three books of fiction before meeting her in person. I'll talk more about her books shortly, but first I want to talk about the woman herself.

Prior to her career in fiction writing, started when she was 80, (that is not a typo) Devon was an educator, published editorialist, guest columnist, and a serialized radio scriptwriter/broadcaster. Her love of language began when she won a citywide essay contest at age eleven and that early success resulted in a master's degree in the humanities and a teaching career. While in academia, she began writing editorial comments to the Minneapolis Star, putting into practice writing tips she was currently teaching in class. Her students poured over the morning edition, thrilled when they found her byline and recognized the technique she used. She called it "the best teaching tool ever", and I'm guessing they are still thanking her for the skills they learned.

After her retirement from teaching and a sojourn in Hawaii, Devon began writing radio scripts for a philosophical series. She called them "inspirational narratives" in which she "tried to tell the very best story possible within the confines of the radio show, and let the listeners decide on the meaning for their individual life." The stories ran three times a day, sometimes in the wee hours, in Portland, Honolulu, and Christchurch, New Zealand. The script writing helped her hone her dialogue skills and "practice powered description which did not depend upon the crutch of adjectives, but on the verb energy." I'm sure there was a large share of 'Devon' energy as well. Throughout this project, her newspaper connection continued with essays in The Oregonian, The Columbian, and The San Francisco Examiner. However, it was in 2005, when she stood in the grotto on the island of Patmos thinking about St. John and Revelations that she considered writing a longer narrative drawing upon 80 years of experiences and observations of humanity in action. She went on to write Memoir of the House, He Came Crying, and Shadow Women, Emerging into Light.

Devon's Books
Memoir of the House
It challenges my gray matter to think of all the houses and apartments I've inhabited throughout my life, but the ones memorable enough to recall often made me wonder what stories they would tell if they could speak. In spite of my own questions, it surprised me to discover that the protagonist of Memoir of the House was a log home in the remote Colorado Rockies. After spending its early years filled with the love of a happy family, the main character tells of its tragic abandonment and subsequent sordid inhabitants. The spirit of the house, moving from naive innocence to the brink of its own 'dark night of the soul', propelled me through the story, introducing me to its residents while it struggled to understand them and their differences from the first family. I am not an avid science fiction or fantasy reader and even shudder a little when animals talk in stories, but the voice of the house from the pen of Devon St. Claire spoke to me with an eloquence and feeling I won't soon forget.

He Came Crying
The idea for He Came Crying, according to Devon, simmered in the back of her mind since she lived in Hawaii in the mid 70s. Articles in the Honolulu Advertiser exposed serious abuses of students brought from the Pacific Islands by the Mormon Church to work at the Polynesian Cultural Center while attending college. Those reports became the foundation for the journey of Dahn Rishi Singh, an Indian youth raised in Fiji and schooled in New Zealand who went on to do graduate studies in Hawaii. Dan, his western name, is a gentle soul who struggles to do right by himself, his family, and those who say they want to help him. Poetry and love allow him to find and understand his true beliefs. Of this character, Devon wrote, "With the Bible's David as a model, I could let Dan try and fail, but never lose the base in his thinking, the relationship with a God vastly different from the harsh, controlling 'god' of the Mormons." Once again, the character driven story captivated me, but in this story, instead of a house, it was a young man from India the author wanted readers to know and understand. By the time I finished He Came Crying, I knew him well.

Shadow Women, Emerging into Light
A group of intelligent and sensitive women caught in a variety of bad situations, find a guide in a teacher who shows them how to move toward freedom one step at a time. The stories and poems reflect their struggle for empowerment, and Escape, the final narrative shows their transformation as they journey toward a once unthinkable independence. It also introduces a group of men from the Canadian Rockies who through a series of 'mystical accidents' become first fans and then friends with the fictitious teacher and the author herself. Since the publication of her books, Devon has kindled a number of cyber connections with people who after reading her stories, found the strength and courage to change their own bad situations. What greater reward is there for a writer?

Devon's Thoughts
"I have to duck my head over such a title as 'a wise woman'. For a long time I have practiced being still and listening, and then acting if I had something worthy to contribute. Some persons might call it inspiration.

"In my novel-writing career of only five years, I cannot point to adversity. It has been, instead, a splendid ride. I had not imagined that these wonderful lovers of a good story would share their enthusiasm for the ideas woven in, buying copies for others, writing often to discuss crossroads in their lives, indicating how they have been empowered to be pro-active and change their lives. Several thought they recognized their own struggles in a chapter. To me that meant the 'facts' I used to achieve reality for my imagined story had been well chosen.

"No adversity here. There is only this feeling that it would have been a crime not to answer that small call to write a novel about the human condition. The rest has to be tasting of humility and deciding that for some beautiful reason I became a kind of conduit through which insights for troubled persons could flow. What an honor.

"It is mind-expanding, spirit warming, heart filling. I highly recommend probing the mind for ideas to share, devising themes to capture the reader's imagination, interacting with readers, and being crowned in the most unusual way in the second half of a full life. Never, did I ever consider how a story could be parable-like and be a great source of help for individuals.

"Rather than a wise woman who has risen above times of great testing to success, I am a blessed woman wanting nothing more than to keep contact with the readers who are on their way in life and to add new readers who find similar inspiration and feed my spirit."

This brief summary can scarcely express the power of St. Claire's writing, or the inspiration she has given to many, including myself. She is indeed what every writer should strive to be—an author in touch with her readers.

Dr. Veronica Esagui

I first encountered Dr. Veronica Esagui at a meeting of the Northwest Association of Book Publishers. She was announcing a number of upcoming opportunities for authors and publishers in the Pacific Northwest, many of which she had organized. One in particular was a chance to appear on her television show 'The Authors Forum'. Before my brain remembered that I was a shy, rather reclusive person, I gave Veronica a card and asked if she would consider interviewing me about my historical fiction, 'The Woman in the Wing'. A few weeks later, I received an email to be on the show. YIKES! The interview was a wonderful adventure, but I'm not sure how it would have gone were it not for Veronica's talent at making a person feel completely comfortable. I have since learned that it is only one of her many gifts.

VerĂ³nica Leah Toledano Esaguy Wartenberg came to the United States in 1962 from Lisbon, Portugal for a prearranged marriage to her cousin. Her name, she explained, was shortened to a more Americanized version, Veronica Esagui, and to her chagrin, her husband insisted on calling her Ronnie. In her memoirs, a series of four books written in first person, she presents a refreshingly open account of her life. Two have been published so far, and the first, Veronica's Diary, the Journey of Innocence tells of her first eighteen years. It ends as she steps onto the shores of the United States.
In The Journey of Innocence we learn that Veronica grew up 'with a silver spoon in her mouth'. Her father owned a German delicatessen in Lisbon and her mother had been a concert pianist awarded a silver medal by the King of Spain. Unfortunately, their financial situation changed as did their lives. Veronica recalled watching the furniture leave the house a piece at a time to help them survive and learned painful lessons about prejudice. They were German Jews in a Catholic country after WWII. She also learned that she had no freedom in her personal choices. Her mother and aunt arranged her marriage.

The second book, Braving a New World, is more than a story about the struggles of a new wife and mother in a strange country. It is a glimpse into a creative, loving, understanding, sometimes frightened, but always gentle, human being, overcoming challenges that would have knocked many of us out of the game. I found her attitudes about life and its many challenges empowering and her thoughtful, honest storytelling style uplifting and often amusing.

But, she is not 'just' an author. Dr. Esagui is a woman of action with one part of her brain tirelessly seeking new ideas, and another part finding ways to bring those creations to fruition. Those ideas usually involve one or more of her passions as a writer (playwright, author, and journalist), musician (classical guitarist and teacher), director, (theater and television) to name a few. And, she accomplishes these feats in off hours from her work as a chiropractic physician at Gentle Care Chiropractic. That career came literally by accident when she was told she needed back surgery following a lifting injury. After learning first hand that she didn't need drugs or surgery to accomplish her personal miracle, she decided to go back to school and help others in the same way she had been helped. Her experiences treating young patients with scoliosis, led to the development of The Esagui Scoliosis Protocol (TESP), a very specific group of exercises which, along with chiropractic adjustments, proved to help reverse scoliosis. This experience led her to write and publish The Scoliosis Self-Help Resource Book.

That is an impressive list of accomplishments on its own, but what I find most remarkable about Veronica is her selfless approach to life. I have since attended a number of events with her, and watched her continual counsel and support of those involved—her success is based on the success of the entire group—a rare attitude these days.

I asked Veronica about writing:
To me writing is a free ticket to travel anywhere in the world, anywhere in the universe, and I’m willing to go as far as it will take me. Be it fiction or non-fiction we are obligated to share…we are the purveyors of the real past with the written word.

I asked about some of the more graphic descriptions in her memoirs. She does not recommend her books for children.
At my age, I’m not worried about that. I wanted to keep the stories exactly the way they happened. When you are over 50 you become fearless, not afraid of the truth. Memories are the essence of existence and the gift of yesterday’s choices.

It has been a privilege and an inspiration for me to meet and learn more about Veronica. I recently became president of the Northwest Association of Book Publishers, a challenge I'm not sure I would have taken on if it hadn't been for her support. I am thankful to be among the many whose lives she touched.

See Veronica on her own show interviewed by the shows producer, Karen Sorbel.