“Tell me a story.”
I said those words hundreds of times when I was little and afraid.
I was small but my fears were great. Bigger than the room I shared with my sister.
The bed I slept in was small, too—a twin. But it seemed huge to me. At night, when the house was quiet, the place that should have been safe became an endless, menacing landscape of black and gray. I tried hard to hide myself in it. I’d pull my legs up as high and as tight as I could and hug myself through the long nights—like a terrified animal hiding from its hunter.
You never forget fear like that. And you never forget how important those stories were. Those imaginary tales that sometimes kept you company through the long nights—that kept you safe until those first slivers of morning light pushed the shadows back into hiding. The stories that my sister told me weren’t really stories at all. They were sounds, mostly. Strings and jumbles of disconnected words that rolled around and never really got anyplace. It didn’t matter. None of it mattered because I knew that as long as I lay there beside her and listened to that soft litany of vowels and consonants, I’d be all right. I’d be safe.
We never talked about those nighttime vigils—not to each other and never to anyone else. Part of that was because we understood that silence was the compact you kept with abuse. Another part of it was because those special watch nights we shared were more sacred to us than any of the church services we were forced to attend with the family on Sundays. We never found grace in those hollow spaces that reeked so much of varnish, mildew, and cheap cologne. We found it, instead, in the deepest parts of those dark nights when we’d lie awake and stack up words like Lincoln Logs. We believed those fantastic, nonsensical bastions of sound could protect us from the known world we feared.
Mostly, they did.
It was then I learned the power of words. I knew with my child’s mind that whispering them in the dark could keep me safe—but it would be decades before I understood that saying them aloud in the daylight would set me free.
It’s not hard to figure out why I became a writer.
Yes. I just said that, didn’t I?
I’m a writer. I. Am. A. Writer.
This admission is new for me. Something else I’ve learned—and something I must now say aloud.
In my brief tenure, I’ve published five novels and two collections of short stories. The books have fared well. Many would say very well. And even though I’ve had some wonderful experiences and checked a lot of the boxes that appear on most of the lists that define success, I’ve never really thought of myself as a writer. Not really. Not me.
But all of that changed for me on a Wednesday afternoon when I sat down in a chair, folded my hands together to keep them from fidgeting, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and listened to someone else tell me a story. Beautifully. Perfectly. And that story was my own story. One I wrote.
“And god divided the light from the darkness.” And it was good.
The audio book of Hoosier Daddy went live at audible.com on the day before Thanksgiving. Listening to it—hearing it—did something miraculous for me. Suddenly, magically, all of those disconnected words from my youth coalesced into phrases and sentences that did go someplace—that did speak truths that now might see someone else through their own long, dark night.
I am humbled. I am grateful.
I am a writer.
And I tell stories….