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Blockbuster remains unfinished after lifetime of writing

Surely everyone who has ever attempted to write stories has at one time dreamed of writing an unparalleled blockbuster, another “Gone With the Wind,” the book that no one could put down. Once that was my dream too.

It was in the fourth grade that I first set my sights on a writing career. Reading a variety of books became a treasured pastime. In high school English and literature became favorite classes. At junior college I was chosen editor of the student literary magazine. As an English major at Northwestern I was assigned to Dr. Bergen Evans’ prestigious writing class. Some of his more brilliant students would one day be published in The New Yorker. With such a promising background my dream of becoming a famous writer would surely materialize.

But something happened on the way to the bank. Marriage and child raising intervened and my notion of a writing career was put on hold. The flame, however weak, persisted. Through the ensuing years a few scattered articles published in newspapers and little-known magazines kept me plugging away at the typewriter.

When, at the advanced age of 50, I decided to go to work, I was able to land a couple of good jobs thanks to my writing skills. As editor of a weekly health newsletter, then public relations director at a 300-bed hospital, I garnered passable salaries. Oh, I was getting published all right, if I counted those endless newsletters, reports and presentations, but that’s not what I’d had in mind in the fourth grade.

The children left home, married. Retirement time arrived for my husband and I. We settled in a small town on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. At last I could devote unlimited time to that early dream. I joined writing classes, contributed articles to the local paper, sent off a number of children’s stories to various publishers ... and collected stacks of rejection slips. Children’s stories were not my forte, it seems. Switching genres, I began reading stacks of ever-popular romance novels, my next endeavor.

Pat, an energetic woman friend and would-be writer, suggested gathering together a small group of aspiring writers to meet weekly in each other’s homes. That was the beginning of my most productive and enjoyable years in the writing field. The first gathering included Carl, a successful Japanese-American businessman whose family had been interned during WWII; Etta, a Presbyterian missionary wife who had lived years in India; and Les, a long-haired broken-down hippy whose writing style reflected the hard bitten work of Northwest writers. Pat, we later learned, had a secret cross to bear — struggling as a Catholic to understand a lesbian daughter.

We were a motley crew, indeed. Strangely, the combination worked for most of us. Once a week we would each provide copies of the story we were working on to the others as we took turns reading aloud. After each reading comments and suggestions were welcomed, sometimes written on the copies before being returned to the writer.

I had launched into my first attempt at writing a romance. I will never forget the evening a phone call interrupted the dinner party I was hosting for neighbors in our small condo. In a state of euphoria I returned to the table to announce that a New York editor had accepted my manuscript.

In 1992, Avalon Books published “No Blueprint for Love.” The plot centered on a young woman architect and fit the category of career romances that the company was marketing. The cover design was a disappointment, far from the bodice-ripping scenes of so many romance novels, but I had no choice in the matter. Nor did I get to read the proofs. I discovered some of my wording had been modified, the “sexy” scenes sanitized. It was no “Gone With the Wind,” but none of that mattered, really. I was published at last. Who could stop me now? I set my sights on bigger game.

My blockbuster would be a modern version of “Gone With the Wind.” My heroine would long for a World War II naval officer who was, alas, in love with her beautiful sister. She would disdain the affections of her loyal high school sweetheart. The super story was begun. Week after week I plodded along, adding pages of heartbreak as my “Scarlett” moved through the war years.

In the end, my own life story intervened. Now I’m living in a continuing care facility, contented to write memoirs of a long life. I left my unhappy heroine on page 350, still yearning for the man she idolized but whose love she never gained.

Frankly, Scarlett, I just don’t give a damn.

Audrey McConachie-Byers is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.




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