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.
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?
"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.