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Louis L’Amour Saved My Life

by Olive Balla

Olive Balla245Just to dispel any misunderstanding up front, I never actually met Louis L’Amour. He never reached out his hand to pluck my struggling body from a rain swollen river. He never yanked me out of the path of a careering city bus. But what he did do was just as vital to my survival—he wrote fiction.

When I was twenty-one, married with three children and trying to survive a spiritual, emotional, mental, and financial train wreck, I discovered Louis L’Amour’s Sitka. That phenomenal piece of literature bore me on a magic carpet of woven words, away from the turmoil that was my life, and into flights of escape. The harsh expanse of Alaska, the tough men and often tougher women, the struggle to not only survive, but thrive against overwhelming odds, those all spoke to my depressed, lonely, fearful spirit.

After that, I haunted the local public library in search of more L’Amour titles. I grew to crave the sensation of being ferried into the past while watching from the safe distance of the present. I thrilled in the knowledge that everything would turn out okay for the men and women with whom I found myself identifying. I read everything Louis L’Amour wrote, and his words comforted me. They gave me hope.

Over the next few years I branched out into other areas of fiction. I reveled in the excitement of spy novels written by Helen MacInnes, feasted on the haunted offerings of Stephen King, and devoured the cerebral musings of Isaac Asimov.

My world changed and expanded. Eventually, the idea that I myself could change took root. At the age of twenty-nine I went to college, where I learned how to teach others to read and write.

Thirty years later, I still look forward to those quiet times when I can burrow into my pile of pillows, a cup of hot tea at my elbow and a compelling story in my hands. I still thrill at being escorted into other realms, other dimensions, other realities.

Some people believe that every person has a unique niche in this world, a slot molded in her image and into which she alone will fit. I don’t know if that’s so. But I do know that writers hold a special place in the human experience, some even to the point of sparking world change.

So, thanks to those of you who answer the call to write in whatever genre beckons. Thanks for meeting deadlines, for struggling with agents, for doing hours of research, for rewriting innumerable times and not giving up. Thanks for following the tugging of your muse. And thank you Louis L’Amour, for saving my life.

AnArmAndALeg72Olive Balla, author of suspense novel An Arm and a Leg, is mother of 3, grandmother to 13, great-grandmother of 4, a retired educator, and part-time professional musician. Having been everything from secretary at a used car dealership, a university student, and a high school Spanish teacher, Balla states her characters are, in part, amalgamations of people she’s met. Living with her husband Victor in the Albuquerque area, she spends her spare time in a small woodworking shop designing and building everything from breadboxes and wine racks, to a porch bench. Visit her website at

This article was originally published in the October 2011 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

On Finding a Reason to Join the Crowd

by Bentley Clark

Out of Ones Head1

I attended my first SouthWest Writers Saturday meeting a couple of months ago. By the time I got there, all the seats were taken, so I stood in a back corner of the room. I began meet-and-greet by circling the room, smiling at people and idling near interesting conversations. When I gathered the nerve, I made a beeline for the most densely populated part of the room with every intention of adding my perspective to some rousing debate. But by the time I made my way into the hub, my heart was racing, my palms were sweating and I felt as though my expression had gone wild eyed and maniacal. I beat a retreat to the food table, grabbed coffee and a cookie, and tucked myself back into the corner from whence I came.

Standing there terrified and praying that the crowd wouldn’t turn on me like an angry mob of rabid zombies—have I mentioned that my anxiety is both wildly irrational and excessively creative?—I wondered why I seemed to be the only writer completely paralyzed by her own introverted nature. Goodness knows, I can’t have been the only introvert in the room. And yet, if there were others, they were so graceful in maneuvering their way around that particular obstacle that no one was the wiser.

Dusting cookie crumbs from my shirt, I wondered what motivates introverted writers to behave so against the grain of their nature in situations such as this. Myself, I am hard-pressed to think of more than two things that I value enough artistically to push through the hyperventilation and flop sweat to have a discussion with complete strangers. Then I remembered a lovely encounter my husband and I had on a recent weekend in Santa Fe.

We were having a quiet breakfast at Bishop’s Lodge. The restaurant was empty, but for ourselves and a well-dressed older woman contentedly dining alone. At the end of our meal, as we rose from the table and moved to push in our seats, the woman politely motioned us over to her table. My husband and I were taken aback and a bit incredulous. She just wanted to thank us, she said, for our genteelness and consideration. She appreciated that we didn’t talk on our cell phones during the meal or make her an unwilling participant in our conversation by talking too loudly. She told us it was refreshing to have a peaceful breakfast out and to be able to hear herself think. Or, more accurately, to have a peaceful breakfast out and to be able to concentrate on editing.

As it turned out, she had been editing the galley of her novel while dining. When I asked her about the progress of her editing, she smiled courteously and mildly cursed the “find and replace” function of her editor’s word processing program. But when I asked her about her novel, she transformed from a quiet, unassuming diner to a passionate artist and enthusiastic salesperson. While she maintained her impeccable decorum in discussing her novel, her eyes lit up, her vocabulary became peppered with hyperbole and she leaned in so close to us that she nearly put her elbow in her eggs. The novel she was editing was the first in a series that married theology, spirituality and history. And while this combination isn’t my usual fare, her exuberance made me want to run out and buy the first copy to hit the bookshelves.

I clutched my Styrofoam coffee cup to my chest and willed myself to breathe deeply, and thought about the impetus for her transformation from mild-mannered Lone Diner, valuing quiet and solitude, to enthralling Intense Writer, discussing theology with strangers. Quite simply, I had asked her about a piece of work that she believed in, that she had worked on for years and that she now wanted to share with others. Discussing and promoting her book were so important to her that there was nothing else she could have done in that moment but passionately broach taboo subjects with two random fellow diners.

If this level of enthusiasm and passion for writing is at the heart of the conversation and buzz at our Saturday meetings, I am simply awestruck. Awestruck and humbled. Awestruck, humbled, and determined to find that piece of work that will propel me into the throng with wild abandon, leaving my introversion in the corner with a cookie.

BentleyClark125Though it has virtually nothing to do with this article, Bentley Clark wonders if zombies can get rabies. Opine and give her a piece of your mind in the comments below.

This article was originally published in the April 2012 issue of SouthWest Sage, and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Image “Out Of One\’s Head, Relax The Brain” courtesy of thaikrit /

One Writer’s Journey: To Not Write Crap

by A.R. Aeby

fantastic-landscapeI’ve never aimed to write the great American novel or an award-winning new classic or, dare I even say, a New York Times bestseller. My goal as an author has always been to not write crap.

Don’t get me wrong. I would love that kind of recognition. I would love to suddenly find myself sought after and interviewed as the newest talent with a long and prestigious career ahead of me. To have those in my life want to link themselves to me as a pseudo-celebrity and share I-remember-when-stories and other anecdotes. To finally put my obsessive need to read to great use and pretend this was the plan all along. But here is the reality. I, along with massive numbers of other people, have deluded myself into writing a book.

Now this was not my first attempt at writing a book over my lifetime. I have deluded myself countless times, with varying results. The beginnings of chapters, character sketches and possible plot lines litter my old computer and notebooks. But, I had a problem—I was not a finisher. My interest would quickly wane; the enthusiasm and seemingly boundless amount of energy I wished to put into my latest project would disappear. Some might chalk it up to writer’s block or lack of inspiration or another such thing, but the truth was the material wasn’t the problem. I was the problem.

I have heard from others attempting to cross over the line to being a writer, that they spent their whole life writing with almost a compulsive need to express themselves in this medium. At first I was completely distraught, because I don’t remember that compulsion. My expression was a bit different; my mother says I lived my stories. I would compose just enough of a story line to act out my favorite parts, occasionally aided by my little brother. A costume was always necessary, and an audience, when I struck a particularly brilliant idea. To me, my imaginary characters in some ways were more real than the reality around me. Like my heroine, Anne Shirley, I found the interactions with them quite a bit more satisfying than those in my mundane surroundings.

As I transitioned from child to adult I never gave up the fantastical worlds I lived in. Sure, as an adult I pursued them in secret with a certain amount of shame, but I could never really let them go. My imaginary worlds could go on for years morphing into different things, based on where I was in life and what was interesting to me right then. They fed me and nurtured me—along with the books I read—in a way I could find nowhere else.

As a child, I thought being an author a very grand thing, but even then I had a problem with limiting myself in the real world. I always told myself that I wasn’t capable of being a writer. I allowed my grammar issues and my poor self-esteem to stop me. I gave in to the fear of failure with barely a token resistance. Because when you write, you are putting yourself out there in a way you can never take back. You leave yourself open to all the opinions and criticism of the reader. You offer up something very precious and commit yourself in completely binding ways. I didn’t think I could take that chance. Until about four years ago.

It finally came to me as I fed my baby an orange substance vaguely called food, when I was taking yet another foray into a more pleasant place than the one my body occupied, that maybe I should take another stab at writing. Maybe this time I could make sure things were different. And to my complete and utter astonishment, I did. I threw off the shackles of my fear long enough to actually complete my goal.

Now I can say I’m a finisher. I wrote a book, and maybe it will never get published, and maybe, occasionally I feel like my efforts were wasted. But at times I wrote the perfect combination of words to express exactly what I wanted to, and it felt almost like they were singing to me. Now, granted, not everything I wrote carries the perfect tune, but no matter what anyone else might think, to me it’s not crap.

AR Aeby2A.R. Aeby received a Bachelor of Arts in history almost solely from the love of stories, even nonfiction ones. She is the author of the book review blog Whymsy Likes Books, where her goal is simply to share her passion for books. But she is a book author with the eternal hope of becoming a published book author. She lives in the deserts of New Mexico with her two young daughters and her husband of ten years.

This article was originally published in the January 2013 issue of SouthWest Sage and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

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