Role Models?

cover-1Kate Flora here, watching the snow come down. For lunch today, I was eating a bowl of lentil soup and reading about Diana Nyad in the New Yorker. When I was growing up on a farm in Union, Maine, I used to think that being an adult meant you had your own subscriptions to The National Geographic, the New Yorker, The Atlantic, and a weekly news magazine. Over the years, I’ve had them all. Now, all that remains is the New Yorker. Somehow, reading about Diana Nyad, and her decision to start long-distance swimming again at sixty, after a hiatus of thirty years, while eating healthy soup made me think about my mother, A. Carman Clark.

On a day like this, she would have been sitting in her book-lined office, in her farmhouse on a hilltop in Union, stuffing logs into the woodstove. Probably cooking up a spicy West Indian beef stew or a casserole with grains from Bert Greene’s The Grains Cookbook, and writing her brilliant, closely-observed pieces about country living and the natural world. She would have been surrounded by reference books about whatever topic she was exploring. She would have been surrounded by sticky notes and pages taped to the walls, reminders of how she wanted to live her life. Messages like: Better a Creative Mess than Tidy Idleness or Just Say No right above the phone.

I may be thinking about my mother because of Nyad’s age—sixty. At sixty, my mother looked at her life and decided that it was time to take stock and develop a new vision for her remaining years. She didn’t just think about that vision. She recorded it. She wrote a memoir, Fourth Quarter Dividends, about the decision to live her life affirmatively and pursue the things she’d dreamed about. To assess what mattered and find a way to set goals and achieve them so that she wasn’t sitting around at eighty in a puddle of regret.

I’m thinking about my mother’s memoir in part because of some recent events that occurred while I was on a trip to San Francisco. San Francisco in January is really hard to take. It’s the rainy season. It’s supposed to be cool and damp and gray. This year’s weather was persistent sunshine, temperatures in the sixties and seventies. Heavenly weather for walking around, sniffing eucalyptus, and strolling through parks and along the water. For those of us who winter in New England, it seemed odd to be surrounded by glum Californians staring at the sky and wishing it would rain. But as mom would remind me, we all live by the seasons.

One evening in San Francisco, we had dinner with our friend Paulette, and she introduced us to a friend of hers, Peggy Northrop, who is a partner in an exciting new e-publishing venture, Shebooks, which will publish stories, novellas, memoir, and essays, by women, for women. Over a crisp and lovely Chardonnay, I pitched Peggy my mother’s memoir and Peggy thought it would be a great piece to include in those they’re assembling for Shebooks’ launch. If all goes well, that will be happening soon.

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Me on the left, my brother John, and my sister Sara. All of Mrs. Clark’s children wanted to be writers.

I’m also thinking about my mother because she was a steadfast mentor and supporter of other writers. I still go places in Maine to speak and hear stories of how much her encouragement meant, of writers who wouldn’t have persisted to publication without her support. Writing is a solitary act, but the writing community—particularly the mystery community, which I inhabit—is a generous and supportive one. Last night, I went to a meeting of our local chapter of Mystery Writers of America, where the speakers were three people I’ve known for several years as aspiring writers, all of whom have now sold their first books: Vaughn Hardacker, James Shannon, and Julie Hennrikus. (You met Vaughn here earlier this week.) It’s hard to describe the pleasure of seeing these writers achieve their dream. And good to be reminded that I was lucky to have such a strong role model myself. I should try to celebrate that gift by being a role model myself.

So readers, do tell me: Who were/are your role models?


p.s. The Maine Mulch Murder should be available on kindle today, unless something goes very wrong!

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6 Responses to Role Models?

  1. Gram says:

    I have read The Maine Mulch Murder and enjoyed it. I was hoping it was a series. I also read Notes From the Orange Mailbox and discovered what a bundle of energy your Mother was. I look forward to Fourth Quarter Dividends.

  2. I’ve told you before, Kate, that your mom was definitely one of my mentors. I was lucky enough to be a part of her writing group when I was in my 20’s, and she was an inspiration.

  3. John Clark says:

    Mom would have also been writing or about to write a letter to Aunty Marilis or Jane Gilliat Frye. Role models, eh? I wanted to be Stan Musial until the first time a line drive sizzled by my head at 90+ mph. I guess Edgar Rice Burroughs was my first role model. I loved reading the non-Tarzan books. Who even remembers The Mad King, Tanar of Pellucidar, The Mucker and The Bandit of Hells Bend. I read and re-read them all.

  4. Jule Dupre says:

    A great piece – and a circle unbroken with you getting your mother’s book published…truly a sweet ending and a sweet beginning.
    My role model was my father….he spent hours telling me imaginary stories from the day I was born. To me, imagination was always just as real as reality. And, when I was eleven years old and my father died, I learned that the imaginary world could very often provide much more comfort than the real world. I don’t need to be published but I have no choice but to write and/or paint. My survival is dependent upon it. So, good authors, add another notch into your belt of reasons to create and share your imaginary worlds!

  5. Karla Whitney says:

    You’re all on my writer role model list – MC Writers, MWA-NE and SINC communities virtual and real. Generous and supportive indeed. Sharing inspiration, success, set-backs, not giving up, telling it like it is, encouraging hard work. And on top of that, the stories you write and publish. It means tons, especially for someone starting out. Attending meetings and events (and reading your blogs) is the best education a writer could find. Thank you.
    It’s a great question. Thoughts of Muir, Emerson, Jimmy & Roslyn Carter, Charles Schultz, Roz Chast, my family (and more) will influence my work today as I consider who are my life heros and why. Thanks for the reminder Kate.

  6. sandy gardner says:

    Hi Kate,
    That’s an easy one for me: You and Hank Phillipi Ryan! Both of you have been so inspiring and helpful in my mystery writing pursuit. And all because of N.E. Crimebake!
    A big thanks to you, Hank, and the people who make Crimebake happen!
    Sandy Gardner

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