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PHOTO CREDIT: Crystal Hall Aurnhammer

The emotional transition—from “wannabe” writer with all of the doubts and insecurities to actually embracing the role of “writer”—is not an easy one. I remember one writing coach who urged us to spend time each day in front of a mirror repeating the mantra, “I am a writer.”

Other writers have no doubt achieved their “author-hood” in ways too numerous to list. My own transition involved a harrowing run to Rhode Island.

My husband said, “You want to do what?”

“While we’re in New York on vacation I want to run up to Rhode Island.”

After all, Louis L’Amour visited the locations where he set his stories. Why not me?
According to the map, it would be no problem to take a day of our vacation and go to Rhode Island for some on-site research.

Of course, in Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping and all that, an inch on a map is dependable. Sixty miles of distance equates to an hour of driving. In Connecticut and Rhode Island with on-going road construction, heavy non-stop traffic and twisting roads, not so much.

Four hours after we’d left our New York City hotel in our Hertz rental, we still weren’t there yet. With theatre tickets for that night that cost a good percentage of the national debt, our run to Rhode Island was not going well. When we finally rolled into Little Compton, RI, my window for authorly research had dwindled to about an hour in which to absorb ambiance, grab photos for visuals, gather any information I could get my hands on and generally get an internal sense of the area.

My husband asked in a tense voice, “How do you want to do this?”

My hero had to swim to land from a boat out on the ocean so we drove to a park on the tip of the peninsula near the Sakonnet Light. The Atlantic restlessly tested the rocks. I shot photos of the rocks and the lighthouse. The clock ticked.

In a nearby antique shop I bought a history of Little Compton for background. More ticking.

Moving at strobe speed, I blinked into the tiny Brownell Library, and scribbled down the names of the very few books about Little Compton for future reference while my husband and daughter stayed in the car with the motor running. No time to browse the newspapers.

We ate a fast lunch in a small cafe that served the locals. Grinders, a kind of sandwich and quohog, a kind of seafood pie were both on the menu, exotic fare for Okies. A large clock with a Rhode Island Red rooster on its face mocked us as we inhaled our food.

Then we were out the door of the little café racing to our car.

By now time or rather the lack of it was an elephant smack dab in the middle of the front seat. From the passenger side of our fishtailing car, I snapped photos of anything I could frame—colorful sailboats, the Congregational Church steeple, gravestones of Revolutionary War heroes. I noted how close to the road some of the houses were and wondered what other important information I’d missed.

We raced as fast as traffic and twisting roads would allow back to New York City. Yes, we did make our show, but just barely.

Back home in Oklahoma, I pondered that day. Why had I put my family through that? What had I gained from that tense and much too brief run to Rhode Island?

Then one morning as I drank my first cup of coffee and turned on my computer, I knew the answer—I was a writer. Of course, Louis L’Amour probably planned his research outings more effectively.

So life returned to normal. Well, almost normal. And would have remained that way had we not learned about my husband’s great grandfather’s Civil War diary.

Again my husband jerked his head up from his newspaper, abruptly aware of my intense and speculative scrutiny. After a moment, he registered what I’d just said.

“You want to do what?”

You can find the answer and the “rest of the story,” in GOING TO SEE THE ELEPHANT, A CIVIL WAR MEMOIR, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and several other online vendors of E-books. Unfortunately I still haven’t finished the story about the man swimming to the rocky shore of Rhode Island. Maybe next year.

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