Charice looked out the window of the barn and remembered she’d hated her name when she was little, until she read a book about a French woman named Rosalie. The book came from her Mother’s bookshelf. This was where the books that were really too old for her rested when her Mother wasn’t reading them. Charice was not specifically forbidden from taking books from that shelf to read, it was just one of those things when you are seven that you feel rather than know. But the binding of the book was so lovely with its old leather and gilt pages it practically screamed at her to take it. Charice had been reading for two entire years and was by far the best reader in the second grade. She took the book and read it.
The story took place in France, a faraway, exotic place to a girl in Seattle, Washington, but that was where her name came from so she was eager to see what the place was about. The heroine of the story was the woman Rosalie. She was loved by many men because she was young, and beautiful, and a dancer. But the woman Rosalie was good to her parents, and kind to poor people like herself. Charice wanted to be beautiful and kind too. When she read she pretended to be the woman Rosalie who danced in Paris but was not just an ordinary dancer who wore less than she should have and flipped up her skirts at the men in the first row. No, the woman Rosalie was better than just a good dancer. She was an artist.
The story of the woman Rosalie was the first book that lit Charice’s imagination on fire with the idea that words sitting on a page were just waiting to take you to real places, true places, places you’d never been and might never visit. And the people there were real and true people you could love or hate as you felt you should. Charice kept the woman Rosalie with her when she walked to school, and on the playground during recess, and when she waded in the drainage ditches full of rainwater on her way home again. And Charice took more books from her Mother’s bookshelf. The more she read the more each story spilled a promise remembered onto the next book, and the next, and the stories became a waterfall of remembrance showering into an ever-deepening pool of delight.
Charice was seven and a half years old when she read for the first time The Hobbit and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. When Gandalf died she cried with Frodo and Sam and the rest of the Fellowship because she loved The Wizard, and now he was bravely and irretrievably gone. She delighted with the Fellowship when Gandalf returned, White, and ready to stand with Men against the Evil Sauron. Stories mattered.
The woman Rosalie and Gandalf the Wizard convinced Charice to become a writer. Not just a writer but a storyteller. “I will describe true places my readers have never been” she told herself when she was eight. “And they will cry, and laugh, and the stories will be real.” Years later when she read Ernest Hemingway’s admonition to write as true a sentence as she could she fell in love with him, too, and was sad that in the end he had despaired, and blown his brains out with a shotgun. Charice believed it was his writing that had driven him to do such a thing, and admired him for staying the course even when she was sure he had seen his own destruction at the end of it.
“Writers go places other people are afraid to go” she often said to herself when a story was so awful she had to throw it away just to be able to pick it up again and continue.
Charice smiled, not at the memory of Hemingway, but because the sun peering over the tops of the hills surrounding her home inaugurated a new day. She smiled too at the memory of her decision so many years before to be a storyteller.
“And so I have become” she said.
She took the first ten pages from the stack of paper that sat on her lap–the first draft of her newest novel–and threw them out the window. She leaned her head out the window and watched the pages flutter down to rest upon the pile of paper that already lay in a disintegrating pile next to the barn wall. She continued to throw pages out the window, a few at a time, until the entire novel, all four-hundred double-spaced pages lay in a heap.
She sat up straight, took a deep breath, climbed down the ladder to the first floor and walked across the yard to the house, humming cheerfully.
“I think I’ll make some tea” she said.