By Angel Smits
There’s a place in the sandhills of Nebraska that has always been special to me. The North Loup river winds through the prairie, cutting paths through the pastures and over the thick grasslands. A bridge spans the water, creating sandbars here and there and making swimming an adventure. My grandparents lived there, so of course it was a place filled with fun and love.
|The North Loup River|
My uncle, the last of my father’s siblings living there, recently passed away, and we all made the trek back to say our final goodbyes. And while it was goodbye to him, it was also a bittersweet goodbye to the place. As my aunt prepares to move into town, and the land will soon go up for sale, I realize there’s no reason for me to go back—even to visit. There’s no reason to visit, no one to go see. So, while I was there, I took the opportunity to visit all the places I might never see again.
You see, that’s where I learned to tell stories, and more importantly, to write them. As a kid, I loved to sit and listen to my grandfather talk about growing up there. Reminiscing was something the grownups did around the dining room table. It was as if they had to one up each other to prove who could remember the funniest or strangest events. And there I sat, listening. And as I discovered writing, I sat there with a notebook and a pen, writing in my journal, capturing so many of those stories. Basically, taking dictation of some of the best stories.
Not surprisingly, my first novel-length fiction was largely written there, a story that won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart award. It is a story of returning home, of going back to a special place. It’s about good Midwestern values and the life I’d been documenting for years. While that story has never sold, it set the tone for the Super Romances I’m writing now. Hearth, home and family.
Wandering around the small country cemetery, visiting the graves of so many of those other family members, I swear I could hear their voices still telling those stories. There’s a new voice in their ranks now.
One of the best memories I have of my uncle--that farmer/rancher who definitely fit in with the rural mindset of country living--read my books. He read my romance novels. I know the image romances have, especially to a generation of men who pride themselves on being tough and unemotional. Not that other people haven't read my books. I wouldn’t have expected him--or my father for that matter--to read my books. But they have, and it’s not just lip service. They actually know my plots and have talked about specific parts with me. Shocked at first, there was no ignoring that thrill when I realized they really had read my words.
|Not your typical romance reader...|
What a gift they’ve given me. What validation. I feel like the kid who’s finally been allowed to sit at the adult table and share in the storytelling. And though I’ve come back to the city, and left the country behind, I can still hear their voices--laughing, telling stories and sharing the past with me. I won’t ever forget the roots they’ve given me.
To celebrate the memory of that life, I’m giving away of a copy of A FAMILY FOR TYLER, the book that began my Hawkins Family series. Leave a comment to be entered and if someone’s supported your dreams, toot their horn here. Give them their due! Life's to short not to appreciate the people who support you.