Autumn always makes me thankful. Maybe it's because of Thanksgiving. Maybe it's because of a memory of a remote cabin in the middle exploding fall colors. Maybe it's the reminder that I have more to be thankful for than most. I'm thankful for books. Because one saved my life.
When people ask me why I began writing, I lie. I tell them that I had an idea that wouldn’t let me go. And that’s true, as far as it goes. But the reason it wouldn’t let me go is the real story. See, I write about my own demons. I think on some level, we all do, don’t we?
I’m not going to bore you with all the backstory, but suffice it to say that my decisions ended me at nineteen, with a guy I’d known a total of ten days before I said ‘I do’, living in a log cabin in the Back of Beyond, Michigan. We had one car, which he took to work each day. I wasn’t allowed to work; a woman's job was in the home. The mailbox was a mile walk away, and town was ten. We didn’t have a phone.
There were other cabins within a mile of ours, but they were summer homes; there were no neighbors in autumn. We had electricity, but no money for propane. No worries. We cut wood to keep us warm for the coming winter. But no propane meant no gas for the stove, range, or washer and dryer. So I learned to cook everything in an electric Dutch oven. I washed our filthy blue jeans with a floor brush on the boards of the porch.
Don’t get me wrong, it was beautiful. The cabin was beside a river, and the trees were bursting with color. I fished, and picked wild huckleberries for pies. Fires at night were warm and romantic.
But then he started hitting me.
I thought it was my fault. After all, I knew almost nothing domestic. He even had to teach me to cook. I made mistakes, I screwed up. I learned as fast as I could, trying to make him happy, and proud. It didn’t work. He still got mad. No, furious. And I’d end up with bruises. But he was so sorry afterward that I believed him, that it wouldn’t happen again. I believed it because he believed it.
But as time went on, and I got better at that life, he didn’t change. The home I grew up in was falling apart, and I didn’t want to admit I’d made a mistake, so I never told them. I had nothing to do all day but clean and think. Believe me; you could have eaten off any surface in that cabin. But my thoughts just cycled in an endless loop.
Most of the time, things were fine. I was even happy. The anger wasn’t always there. But the potential always was, hanging like static electricity in the air. I stayed alert, always. I lost weight.
The highlight of my week was going to town on the weekend to do laundry, because I could go to the library. I was always a reader, and now it sustained me – I could go away in my mind. They'd only allow me to check out seven books at a time, so I’d choose the heftiest tomes I could find, so I’d have lots to read during the week.
That’s how I came upon Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged gave me the answer that I had missed, in all those hours of thinking. It never occurred to me that I was the answer. It was a beginning.
People who know me now can’t picture me in this past. That’s because that naïve powerless girl wasn’t me. The more years I live, the more I uncover who ‘me’ is.
I never forgot the power that book opened in me.
That’s the real reason I started writing. If something in one of my stories gives one person a glimmer of an answer they seek, I’ll have paid forward what Ayn Rand gave me, all those years ago.
Your turn, WITS readers. What book has touched your life? Will you share it with us?
* * * * * *
Laura Drake is a city girl who never grew out of her tomboy ways, or a serious cowboy crush. She writes both Women's Fiction and Romance.
She sold her Sweet on a Cowboy series, romances set in the world of professional bull riding, to Grand Central. The Sweet Spot won the 2014 Romance Writers of America® RITA® award in the Best First Book category.
She also published a four book, small town series to Harlequin's Superromance line.
Laura’s first women’s fiction, Days Made of Glass, released January, 2016.
In 2014, Laura realized a lifelong dream of becoming a Texan and is currently working on her accent. She gave up the corporate CFO gig to write full time. She's a wife, grandmother, and motorcycle chick in the remaining waking hours.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Thank you so much Laura, from the deepest of my heart ❤
Thank you, Serena, for reading.
Wow, Laura. Thanks for sharing your story. One book that change touched my life was Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood. I read it as a teen and am still haunted by the story.
Suzanne, I've read a lot of Atwood (A Maiden's Tale stuck with me, too), but not that one. Off to check it out now. Thanks.
Atwood is such a genius. A Handmaid's Tale haunted me for years.
Who knew the three of us read the same book?
Thanks for telling us your story, Laura. The telling and the living took courage. A series of Quaker novels by Daisy Newman painted a picture of the centered life I wanted to live and gave me hope I could come out of my roller-coaster emotions. (I didn't become a Quaker. I did find a centered life) One scene from her books stays with me forty years later as I start my mornings. I aim for that impact every time I write.
Ah, a centered life. Not easy. You were lucky to find it so young, Kathy! I'm glad you did.
So young! Thank you! I'm going to have each of my fourteen grandchildren send you a thank-you card 🙂
One of the magic things about reading is that we take from it what we need. I suspect Ayn Rand never thought about your specific circumstances when she wrote, but that doesn't change the impact of her writing.
When I was growing up, I immersed myself in the 'Rick Brant Science Adventure' series -- a set of 23 books written in the '50s and '60s, which portrayed a team of scientists solving mysteries around the world. Those books are one of the reasons I became a scientist--and it was only when I went back to them as an adult that I realized that there were no women scientists--zero-- anywhere in those books. I pulled from my reading what I needed.
Thanks for such a personal and meaningful post. It was great to meet you at WFWA!
Wow, the same books set you on your career, and you learned another lesson from them the second time around! I hope that second lesson gets you to encourage young girls to become scientists!
Live the world we want to see! Thanks for reading, Rebecca.
Thank you for sharing this Laura. It's the best use of our writing: to illuminate perspectives we might otherwise dismiss. Many think that those who have suffered abuse should just leave but it's not that easy. But wow--consciously or not, that guy really knew what he was doing by sequestering you within the glory of nature. Chilling.
Thanks, Kathryn. It's almost impossible to explain to anyone with self-esteem, why you didn't leave. One survivor to another (though yours was different) - cheers.
The black dot program interests me, but seems to be at cross purposes with itself. If the black dot is how people reach out for help, why does putting a black dot on your hand "to show support" actually help? Wouldn't it muddy the waters?
I wondered the exact same thing, Kathryn. Thanks for asking that question!
I thought of that too, Kathryn. I think it's a wonderful idea for victims, but I'd never do it to raise awareness - how would people know the difference?
Laura, I am forever reminded that God gives beauty for ashes. Thanks for sharing your pearls. You wear them well!
Beautifully said, Patricia. I've come to the point in my life that I wouldn't give anything for that experience. It shaped who I am now in so many ways.
Thank you for sharing your story. I needed this post today. Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt is the first book I read that was a mirror. All other books I had read were windows into other worlds, families I did not know. Voigt created a dysfunctional family and a mentally-ill mom that I recognized immediately. For the first time, I felt the inklings that I wasn't alone. This post, too, makes me feel that way,. Thanks again. ♥
The older I get, Von, the more I realize that there are no unique experiences. Just how we perceive them, and act on them. Thanks for reading.
I love what Rebecca wrote above - "One of the magic things about reading is that we take from it what we need."
Your story always leaves me in chills, Laura. Thank you for the reminder that the answer comes from within us.
Yes, Orly! Answers to questions it sometimes takes us a long time to ask.
p.s. I gave Margie your hug last night. 🙂
Inspiring story, Laura. You must be proud of how far you've come! And yes, thank god for books?
Thanks, M.L. I'm am proud, because I've worked with so many battered women ordered to classes by the courts who aren't ready to leave. This experience I put myself through (because it was a choice, if unconscious) became the foundation I've built myself on.
I love you, Laura, and now more than ever. Thank you. The Fountainhead resonated with me as a teen. Books kept me sane, less alone, less frightened by aloneness in a world that hadn't yet discovered faith. May the words from our lips and our fingertips touch the heart that needs them.
Love you too, Normandie. I think books kept a lot of us sane, through brutal times in our lives. Love this: 'May the words from our lips and our fingertips touch the heart that needs them.'
I told my husband your story after I came back from our WFWA retreat. Told him about this strong woman finding her younger self in a vulnerable situation and realizing (through the help of a book) that nobody could change her life but her. I loved talking with you at the retreat. Love this post!
Thank you, Jill. Loved getting to know you a bit, too. Write on!
I'm sitting here supposed to be ruthlessly editing my first novel (which I'm doing) and my brain is fried. And, I must write a new chapter of my second novel (already at 50,000 word count - two different genres). I can't wait to read WITS every time there's a new blog piece. I have to drop everything. The writers on this site are so outstanding, I learn something new every single time.
I read your heartbreaking, candid and riveting story and I couldn't stop. Read it twice. Such a brave and revealing piece. We all have our own personal stories to tell and that we've lived. They're all part of our writer's arsenal. I believe they're what make each of us so unique as writers. No experience, good or bad is ever wasted.
You have experienced a depth and level of suffering that many others have too. Only they're not as brave as you are to share it. Thank you!
I'm so glad you're living your dream/destiny and reaping the rewards and joy of life now.
Oh my goodness, Wendy....thank you for the compliments to WITS. We have so much fun and learn so much with this blog. It's delightful to hear that you do too.
I agree with Jenny, Wendy - it's funny - we started the blog to give back, and have received more in return than we ever gave!
Chiming in with a big thank-you, too, Wendy. I never imagined what Writers in the Storm would become. I'm so happy we give you something to look forward to.
Incredibly powerful... Thank you for sharing.
A powerful testament to resilience, strength of spirit, and the immense potential to transform lives through the written word. I appreciate the courage it takes to be vulnerable in this manner. Great writers, and great stories, are forged by fire. I was transformed, as a young woman, by Ann Kiemel (_I'm Out to Change My World_ and _I Love the Word Impossible_).
I'm going to check those two out now, Diana. I see my experience way differently than you do - just how naive I was, and how many misconceptions I had about myself and the world . . .
That's what I like to write about.
Laura, I've heard you talk about your marriage before, here and in other places, but it makes me weep every single time--you are so incredibly brave to have broken free of that. And I, too, found Ayn Rand at a young age--16! I was riveted by her writing, though I didn't come to understand her politics until much, much later. For me, the book that had the biggest impact on me early on was probably A Wrinkle in Time--my sister had just died when I read it the first time, and I was a geeky science nerd who really wanted to believe in the concepts presented in this book, and in the courage of a girl like the main character. That book really helped me through a tough family crisis because it allowed me to disappear into a completely different reality and taught me that it's okay to mourn a lost one, even if your parents refuse to talk about it with you because they can't deal with it themselves. Thanks for such a thoughtful post.
Oh wow, Holly! A whole other deeply personal tragedy. And the family behavior you described is "normal" I think. I've seen other parents grieve the loss of a child and understandably, can barely function... yet their other children are hurting as well. Such a tragedy for all involved.
Holly, thank you so much for sharing - your experience touched me, too. I can see your family, each locked in your own four walls of grief, unable to see outside your own, to another's.
I'll bet you're very sensitive to other's emotions now because of that experience.
Sending you hugs.
Laura, you inspire. You enlighten. You illuminate. Thanks for letting us be part of your journey.
Thank you, Chris.
Wow. Wow. Wow. Thank you for the insightful and inspiring story. The confusion, pain, self-doubt, heartache, betrayal, loneliness, stifled anger, and ultimate grasp towards self-realization shows your are a woman with a strengthened soul and heart of hope. Kudos from someone who gets it. Yay you!!
Thanks Val. We women are all forged in fire, no?
Laura...Thanks for sharing your story. It speaks a lot about your resilience and strength. I have never withstood physical abuse. But my first husband was a master of emotional abuse and I was a very young, sheltered 21 years old. My mother commented one time that I would've been better off not marrying him. And I disagreed. I told her because I was married to him, I 'grew up', learned how determined I was to find a better life and it taught me a lot about people. I am a firm believer that we are given circumstances in life because we have something we have to learn. Even though I have always been an 'old soul', I had lessons to learn from that first marriage. Hats off to you for finding yourself in yours.
I'm sorry you had to learn by doing, Beverly. But I sure understand the need. And don't discount emotional abuse. Of the two, I always thought the emotional abuse was worse. Bruises heal. Emotional brainwashing doesn't.
Laura,thank you for sharing your story so honestly. I grew up a voracious reader, am still seeking Narnia, but writing saved my life too. For very different reasons. After a nervous breakdown, and the continual battle to overcome anxiety and depression, my therapist said, "Find what it is you want to do and give yourself permission to do it.' That changed everything. When are sales are down and the writing business seems overwhelming, I need to remember why I began this journey. Thank you so much for the reminder.
Your story gave me shivers, Beth. Thank you so much for sharing. The biggest lesson - 'give yourself permission' - YES!
Thanks Laura. Yes it is, and an ongoing one.
I know you are an amazing woman and I look up to you but telling your story as you have has only deepened my respect for you. I wouldn't have believed that you went through such a terrible time. You are remarkable and I am proud that I have gotten to know you and become linked with your writing advice. You are a wonder and a survivor!
Thank you, Cyn. But I did choose to put myself through this (not consciously). I think some beliefs are SO entrenched that it takes a brutal lesson to dislodge them. So great getting to see you last month!
Thanks for sharing your story, Laura...one that's all too common. Glad you triumphed!
Thanks, Linda. Many are still fighting...
You are so courageous, Laura, and continue to amaze me! No one book saved me. It was the entire collection of children's stories at my local library - horse stories, fairy tales, animal tales, like the Beatrix Potter books, and later, romances. Worlds away from mine.
You're right, Barb. I see all us readers as the odd, shy or awkward children who haunted the aisles of libraries. I don't imagine kids do that much anymore. They probably escape to the internet. Our haven was safer, I think.
Laura, thank you for sharing your story. I grew up in a very abusive home. I am grateful that I had the courage and knowledge that someday it would be better. I'm so very blessed to have married better than my mother. To have created a better life for my daughters.
In the same way, people can't understand why you didn't leave sooner, I still have to answer to those who can't understand why I had to leave my parents behind. No one understands without living it and each of our stories are different. Thank you for being brave. And thank you for writing.
Oddly enough, it was writing that saved me. I wrote every night. It was my escape until my journal was found. I was told that I shouldn't write anymore. And I didn't for a long time. Too long.
But I have found my way back and with the love and support of our amazing group, my writing is no longer my escape. It is me. Pure and simple.
Beautifully said, Aly. Your story hurts my heart - at least I was of an age to supposed to be responsible. The damage done that early is harder to get past. And you should be very proud, because you not only survived it, you made yourself a sweet, loving, beautiful woman.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. You're proof of that saying that, looking at the outside, you can never guess another's story.
Right back at you, Beautiful! 🙂
Beautiful post, Laura, and what a great story of personal triumph. Thanks for sharing! I feel that way about books, too, and I'm sure most writers do—they have power. So glad you found the one you needed when you needed it.
Thank you, Colleen. You're proof to me that you can make valued, lasting relationships on the internet! Thanks for all your support and cheerleading. It means a lot to me.
Go spread your power - write!
Gordon Dickson's Tactics of Mistake helped me years ago when I was having yet another difficult time with my half-sister. I read it and thought, this is brilliant. He's given me a way to deal with her. Yes, it's science fiction, so if you're looking for a self-help book, it's similar to the The Art of War.
That's proof that we find lessons when we need them, Fae - ever if not where we expect them! I'm so glad that you continue to undo the damage...
Thank you for sharing this.
I can't say that a book started me on my writing journey but the Anne of Green Gables books did help understand a difficult time in my life. I was raped when I was eight but Anne's view that everything happens for a reason helped me to see it in a different context.
Oh my God, Littlemissw. Your story makes me cry. Hurting the innocent deserves a special kind of hell for the perpetrators. But I'm so glad a book saved you too. You're proof that a bad childhood doesn't have to be the path forever. I bow to your wisdom and courage.
Not a bad childhood by any means, just a bad period in an otherwise wonderful childhood. But thank you.
Impressed with your stamina, and accomplishments after a difficult start as an adult. Life is tough, but you are winning!!
Thank you, Carol. This was the crucible that set me on the road to believing in myself. Much later, marrying a man who believed in me taught me to be fearless. Well, almost! I've been very lucky in my life.
Reading was always my escape. Especially during times I was lonely or withdrawing from troubled times at home. Thank you, Laura.
And yet, you grew up such a gracious, sensitive adult, Deb. Give yourself credit for that. You're an amazing woman.
(your only fault is following the wrong football team, but I try to look past that).
Laura, I am so glad you made it to the other side! Thank you so much for sharing your very personal story with us.
Fo me, books have been both powerful eye-openers and a comfort/escape. I soothed myself with re-reading Nancy Drews when my parents screamed at each other in another room, read through new-to-me Anne Perrys after miscarrying my first child, was uplifted by Precious Bane and intrigued by The Moonstone...so many books. I've taught them, discussed them, re-read them, dreamed about them. Surprisingly, it took me until the age of 46 before I started writing them. Maybe not so surprising. It has felt like the most daring thing I've ever done.
Love your comment, K.B. 'soothing' - yes, that's just right, isn't it? And 'daring' - I feel that too! Thanks for sharing your perspective and your wisdom.
Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Lisa.
You're right, friend. Those of us who know you now have trouble imagining that girl in the cabin. Thank God you got out alive.
Wow. Let me say again: wow. Thank you for sharing. Books matter. Your story will be with me for a long, long time. I have nothing in my background to compare, but one experience is in the ballpark. In the late 70's a group of us went to Europe. It was a great trip, saw Stratford-on-Avon, until I got pneumonia. That was bad, but I turned out to be allergic to the Ampicillin prescribed. I got worse, lots worse, (I learned the joys of Anaphylactic shock) and we were on the road so there was no help. I found British editions of Murphy & Sapir's Destroyer books and they kept me going. They're interesting, with a large dash of humor. I've read Atlas Shrugged and can see how it wold speak to you. Thank you again, Laura. Books matter.
Thanks, James, for sharing your story. Young and horribly sick in a foreign country... what a nightmare!
Thank you for this.
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I love this -- that you grew beyond your past, became a strong woman and a writer, and books were a pathway.
As for a book that made a difference in my life, this is going to sound crazy, but... I was raised with books all over my house, read everything I could, and have a hard time saying that a single one changed my life. However, one story from my childhood stuck in my head and my heart: Gerald McBoing-Boing by Theo Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss). Because Gerald didn't fit in, at all, and yet he discovered his value in the world. I spent most of my growing up feeling like I didn't fin in, at all, and yet I looked for my value -- believing deeply it had to be there. Even the seemingly lighthearted books can convey important messages that we absorb and that can carry us through.
Now I want to find Gerald McBoing-Boing, Julie! I will bring it home to my Little Bean and let her celebrate uniqueness in a world that is trying to make everyone conform.
I'm finally catching up on my reading and I'm commenting so late you probably won't see this, but THANK YOU for sharing that. It is such an encouragement to write. To offer something to a person out there who has nothing else, who has lost hope.
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