I was born into a family of literati.
No one recognized that I had a talent with language because everyone did. The best evidence of this? At nine months old, I hollered out in the night. Mother rushed to my bedroom and flipped on the light. I said clearly, “Mommy, let’s visit.” Instead of realizing how remarkable this utterance was coming from a nine-month-old, she closed her eyes and said, “Dear God, why, oh why did you give me such an annoying child?” She flipped off the light and went back to bed.
The first person to acknowledge and encourage my skill as a wordsmith was my private music teacher and junior high band director, Maestro Wilson.
He would catch the subtlest of quips I would tender during our lessons and laugh out loud. He would twist them and flip them back at me. I would toss him a pun and he would toss one back. By ninth grade, band kids would fill his office on Friday afternoons to watch our official pun wars. We were fierce and worthy opponents.
I adored him and began to think of him as a second father, one who made time for me, while he began to think of me as his daughter. We became anam cara: soul friends.
Almost as exciting as word playing with Maestro Wilson was that when I was excited about a book, I would give it to him, and he would read it. I gave him O Ye Jigs and Juleps and he laughed and talked about it with me for days.
He stayed up all night reading the terrifying Rosemary’s Baby after I gave it to him. We talked about it for weeks like a father and daughter would. I began to see myself through his eyes, and that made me feel like I could be a writer.
I declared English as my major in college. But my mom’s friend, a first-grade teacher who was like a second mother to me, said, “Millie, only six people in America can make a living as a writer at any one time, and honey, you ain’t one of ‘em. I’m not going to look across the street when you’re thirty and see you living at home with your parents supporting you because you got a degree in something that you can’t make a living at. You have to change your major to Elementary Education.”
We argued, and argued, and argued, but she refused to go home until I promised I’d change my major to elementary education.
That ended my dream of becoming a writer. I became a teacher, and although that wasn’t what I’d wanted to do with my life, I was a great teacher, won awards, was highly valued by my administration, and was adored by most of my students.
Over the years, I sold a few small articles and stories, but teaching is so demanding that I had little energy to devote to writing.
However, after I finished a doctorate degree at age 40, an academic publisher offered me a contract based on my dissertation. That first book was followed over the next twenty years by four others for parents and teachers.
But I was yet to write what I was aching to: a picture book for the children of LGBT parents. I wanted it to be lyrical with a beguiling cadence, filled with metaphor and subtlety, and based on the Hero’s Journey. A book as much for parents as for children. And I wanted a co-author to share the journey with me.
Only one name came to mind: the teacher who had made words such fun for me. My second father. Maestro Wilson.
Recently widowed, he agreed that we would talk one hour every night, seven nights a week, until the book was complete.
Over the next months, I taught him about the Hero’s Journey and about same-sex families. I taught him about character development and how plot grows out of characters rather than characters being forced to fit a plot. I taught him about dialogue and beats, eliminating adverbs and using strong verbs.
Then we began creating our characters, King Phillip and Don Carlos. We developed the men’s back stories, knew their strengths and vulnerabilities, their triumphs and defeats, how they met and fell in love.
Maestro Wilson is Hispanic at heart, having grown up in downtown Santa Fe where his brothers of affinity had names like José or Carlos. He was called Felipe (the Spanish form of Phillip) even by his father, and when he’s tired, lapses into a gentle Spanish accent. So Don Carlos grew from Maestro Wilson’s soul.
We began creating the Blue Star and baby Milliflora, and although that process was different from creating the men, their essence emerged from my soul.
Every day I’d write based upon what we’d talked about the night before. Then I would email the maestro what I’d written, and that night, he’d read the draft to me and we’d re-work it. Because he was a musician, his ear for the rhythm of language was magical.
The next day I would write a new draft based upon our discussion. We continued writing every night for five months until we had created our perfect 1000-word story, All is Assuredly Well.
We have six more books to go in this series. We’ll have the second book, Most Assuredly Well, ready for our illustrator on January 1.
The first person ever to recognize my literary skill was my teacher, my soul friend, my second father: Maestro Wilson. I was eleven, and he a grown man with three children and four more to come. Now, more than a half century later, we’re having the time of our lives writing together. Each book will be one of our legacies to children and families. Our message? The only ingredient necessary to be a family is love. Shared DNA not required.
Professor M. C. Gore holds the doctorate in education from the University of Arkansas. She taught first grade through graduate school for 36 years in New Mexico, Missouri, and Texas. She was a professional horse wrangler and wilderness guide and continues to play clarinet in two community bands. She is Professor Emeritus from Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas where she held two distinguished professorships. Her books for teachers and parents are shelved in over a thousand libraries throughout the world. She is retired and lives in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas.