into a commercial art career, I was pushed into writing by a promise--a
promise made to my mother several months before her death.
During my early teen years, Mom, an ardent Native American historian,
labored over a novel set in 1836 Oklahoma. We didn't own a typewriter and,
as a twelve-year-old, I often wrote on lined yellow tablets while she dictated
the struggles of a half breed Seminole to find a home among the Creek nation.
The story and the characters were imprinted upon my psyche, and when she
failed to find a publisher, I was as devastated as Mom.
Though my education had been in journalism and art, I was thoroughly
unprepared to keep the one thing my mother asked of me--don't let the story
die. When the time came, I took the manuscript she entrusted to me and stored
it under the bed. Keeping the promise was just too painful, besides I had two
daughters and a career to keep me busy.
Hidden and gathering a layer of dust, the manuscript haunted me. Finally after
fifteen years, I couldn't keep the promise pushed to the back of my head any
longer. Unfortunately Mom's writing style was too passive for today's reading
audience. So, I embarked upon what has become a passion for me--I became
It didn't happen overnight. I took writing and Creek language/history classes,
entered contests, attended conferences, and joined a weekly critique group
whose members pointed out my errors and encouraged my efforts. I wrote and
rewrote Mom's novel, garnering a number of awards. I like to think the
skeleton of the story is Mom's and I just put meat on the bones. To date it is
unpublished, but, someday maybe…..
An unintended consequence of trying to keep a promise was the awakening of
the writer in me. Steeped from childhood in Civil War history and Indian lore,
my genre has been historical. This complements a hobby my husband and I
share--genealogy. Perhaps I am just comfortable with ghosts, but I've crafted
two Civil War novels and a number of short stories from family legends.
Combining my knowledge of storytelling and genealogy, I often speak to
groups on the need to record family legends. These front porch or fireside
stories survived through generations of telling before the distraction of television
and high energy movies replaced after dinner or Sunday afternoon gatherings.
This belief in the need to remember the lives of our ancestors led to the recent
creation of the book, Preserving Family Legends for Future Generations.
Filled with writing tips and examples of crafting ancestor stories, it is my hope
that readers will be inspired to look back in time and dust off the bones of
family members who reside only in memory or as names on a genealogy chart.
M. Carolyn Steele
A promise to Melba Kent Kalkins
spurred a daughter's love of writing.
have friends who always knew they wanted to write, often penning stories
while still in elementary school. That wasn't me. Long after I was settled
fter all, who lives to be forgotten? Not me, and certainly not our
grandparents or those who came before them.