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Saturday, November 7, 2015

Happy Birthday Margaret Mitchell

Margaret Mitchell, author of one of the most beloved novels ever written, Gone With the Wind, was born on this day in 1900. I first saw the movie of Gone With the Wind in high school and I wasn't impressed. Being perhaps fourteen or fifteen, the protagonists were "old people" to me. When I saw the movie again, years later, I was old enough to appreciate the appeal of the handsome Rhett Butler ... and I was hooked. I heartily embraced the story of love, loss, loyalty, and determination.

Her novel made her wealthy and famous the world over ... and I find it fascinating that if it hadn't been for what I would consider a "frenemy", her novel would have remained hidden, unknown, and unpublished.

In April of 1935 an editor for the Macmillan publishing company, Harold Latham, was touring the South looking for new manuscripts. Latham heard that Mitchell had been working on a manuscript. When he asked her if he could see it, she denied having one. When a "friend" commented that Mitchell was not serious enough to write a novel, Mitchell gathered up many of the envelopes she used to store the seventy chapters she had written, and took them to Latham at his hotel. He had only read a small part of the manuscript before sending it straight to New York. By July, Macmillan had offered her a contract.

Although Margaret Mitchell died long before I was born, I have strangely found confirmation from her death that I was put on this earth to write ... because she died on what would become my birthday. Coincidence? Yes, but I took it as validation.

I used to be a huge Nicholas Sparks fan, devouring his books the day they were released and binge-reading the ones he wrote before I discovered him. I loved "The Notebook", "Message in a Bottle", and "A Walk to Remember", but he began losing me with "The Last Song". I literally rolled my eyes reading a lot of that. His next book, "Safe Haven", was even worse. And he lost me as a fan completely after I read "The Best of Me". I haven't read any of his subsequent books, so I can't say this is the worst book he's ever written, I can only hope his later novels weren't worse. He's a master storyteller, and even though I didn't enjoy his last several novels, I cannot deny his talent as an author.

One of his books introduced me to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which led me to vacation there and discover one of my favorite places on earth ... Ocracoke Island. This tiny, isolated, mostly unheard of island became the inspiration for my second novel, A Summer in Ocracoke.

On one of my many trips to Ocracoke, I passed a street sign that "told" me I was put on this earth to write. The street name was my birth date. My favorite author (at that time), had led me to this tiny strip of sand ... where there was a street named for the date of my birth. The sign was visible from the only road that runs the length of these narrow, fragile, barrier islands. I stopped just long enough to take a few photographs.

Was it merely coincidence that Margaret Mitchell died on my birthday and Nicholas Sparks' novels led me to a street named for my birthday? Probably ... but doesn't everyone wonder "What is my purpose in life?", "Why was I born?", and "What am I supposed to accomplish in my time on earth?". I took these "coincidences" to confirm what my heart has been telling me since I was a little girl ... whether or not I am ever a best-selling author, whether or not I ever make "The New York Times" list, whether or not I become wealthy, and whether or not my books ever fly off the shelves ... I was put on this earth to write stories that entertain and touch the hearts of those who read them.

My writing has been sidetracked by my daughter's wedding, my son's accident, selling my old home, and buying and moving into my new one, but I'm back on track now. I'm writing again, and I'm planning on releasing my third novel in 2016. It does my heart good to be writing again. I feel most alive when I'm writing. When I'm writing, my senses are heightened. The sun shines brighter and the leaves dance in the shadows more poetically. The leaves crunch beneath my feet in a way that demands I describe the sound. The colors of spring are more vivid, and the dreary gray of winter looms more ominous. The characters I've created become part of me that. When writing A Summer in Ocracoke, I was out shopping one day and was proud of myself for remembering I needed to buy a new coffee carafe ... and then I remembered that I didn't need one. Tara, the protagonist in A Summer in Ocracoke, had dropped and broken hers. She needed one ... not me.

One day I'll be gone. All that will remain of me will be my children and grandchildren ... and my books. But my life will not have been lived in vain. My existence will have had meaning. I will have accomplished what I was born to do. To write. In my novels, I'll leave a piece of myself behind. I will have fulfilled my destiny ... and that is a very comforting thought.

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