I don't know how I turned out the way I did. Raised in a deep south small town, traipsing the backwoods barefoot, riding my horse bareback, bringing home strays--including a fully-scented skunk--I should have dug-in and carved-out a homestead within a ten-mile bull's-eye of my birthplace. Instead, I was accepted into the Alabama School of Fine Arts at the age of fifteen. So I left my mama's skirt-tails to live in a dorm on a college campus with a bunch of artsy-fartsy high school kids. (Imagine my brain exploding here.) With a major in ballet, a minor in visual arts, and a desire to pursue creative writing as well, I built a firm foundation on the shifting sands of my need to learn everything, everything, everything, and do everything, everything, everything, right now.
I should have married my high-school sweetheart, joined the Junior League, and raised a passel of football-playing, biscuit-baking young'uns who'd give me a yard full of grandkids before my hair went gray. But ballet was my high-school sweetheart, while the visual arts and creative writing were among my best friends. I graduated from the University of Alabama with a degree in communication and a double-minor in photography and ballet. While looking for post-grad work, I was invited to teach ballet in my home town. By the age of twenty-three, I owned and operated a ballet studio where I taught ballet for ten years. During that time, I got married and then divorced. A single mother with a son to raise, I earned a master's degree in education so I could teach in the public school system. I loved teaching ballet, but the afternoons-and-evenings schedule of a ballet teacher wasn't going to work once my son reached school age.
I followed the job market to Houston, where I taught first grade and met my husband. When our daughter was born, we made the decision for me to be a full-time mom. With my son in school, I started writing a romance novel during my daughter's nap time, just to see if I could. When the novel was complete, I joined Romance Writers of America to help get it published. "Enter a contest," they said. So I did--and learned that my brilliant novel was really just a crappy first draft. But a contest judge gave me the encouragement I needed to keep going when she wrote: "It's clear that you're a beginner with a lot to learn about novel-writing. But you've crafted compelling characters that I cared about as a reader, and you have a strong writer's voice, something that can't be taught." With that small nugget of validation in my heart, I decided to learn how to write.
By the time our second daughter was born, I'd begun winning writing contests consistently. Fist place in the Maryland Romance Writers' Vixen contest for the best love scene. First place in the PASIC (Published Authors' Special Interest Chapter) Book of Your Heart Contest. First place in the Great Beginnings Writing Contest, and even first place in the San Francisco Writing Contest, in which my novel competed against hundreds of others in all fiction sub-genres. By now, I'd written five books, each of which made the final round in several contests. Each had won their fair share, even against multi-published authors. I even made the final round in the prestigious Golden Heart Contest. But a writer's life is one of rejection. At least, that's what I was told by other writers, and my experience hadn't yet proven that theory wrong.
My award-winning writing was rejected by editors and agents. Contest judges loved it. Critique partners and beta-readers loved it. Editors and agents, not so much. Some liked it well enough to call me and invite me to rewrite to their specifications. Others liked it well enough to pass along to a senior editor for review, but then the reviewing editor would move to a different publishing house, or the publisher would close its doors for good before I got the YES I'd been hoping for. Chosen/not chosen became a theme I felt I'd play out for the rest of my life. I decided that no matter what anyone else said or thought or did, it was time for ME to choose ME. I recognized the indisputable fact that I had to love and accept myself and my writing before anyone else would.
By this time, my kids were all in school. Except for the lack of enthusiasm from the traditional publishing industry, my writing was going well. I was winning contests, bursting with ideas, and writing like a fiend. But I had reached a turning point in my life. I wanted to be more than just a housewife who wrote little novels for fun. In my late thirties, I began to recreate myself. In search of something I couldn't yet define, I got a part-time job at a local pet store so I could cuddle critters, make my own money, and still be home for my kids. I spent my money on books and classes about animal communication and energy healing. Then, on an ordinary pet-store workday, something amazing happened.
You never know, when you wake up on the day that everything changes, that it will be different from any other day. That morning, I woke my kids, fed them breakfast, and hurried them through their routine so they wouldn't miss the school bus. At work, I cleaned kennels, fed critters, then unlocked the pet store door, ready for the day to begin. Playing around with the idea that I might be able to know what an animal was thinking, I had made a game of asking each animal that came into the store to tell me their name. We had dogs and puppies. We had cats and rats, birds and rabbits, tortoises and snakes. A lot of animals to give names to, and I hadn't yet met them all.
That Friday afternoon, the weekend rush started early. A double line of people stood at the kennel windows, waiting to meet the animal companion of their dreams. The store had several rooms especially designed for people to spend quality time with an animal, one-on-one, so they could really connect, and decide which animal was the right fit for them and their family. A lady asked to see a puppy I hadn't yet held. As I was carrying the puppy to the play room, I heard the puppy's voice in my head, saying, "My name is Millie." I responded (also in my head, so anyone listening nearby wouldn't think I was crazy), "You look like a Millie. Thank you for sharing."
When I handed the puppy over to the woman, Millie squirmed and scrabbled to get back to me. I knew I was missing something vital, but it was a busy day, nearing the time when I'd have to be home for my kids after school. I left Millie with the woman and came back later. When I asked the woman if she wanted to purchase the puppy, her reply made the hair on my arms stand up: "I'd love to take her home, but ever since my dog Millie died, I haven't had the heart to get another dog." The puppy had sent me an undeniable message: My name is Millie. The woman had volunteered the information that her recently-deceased dog was named Millie. The puppy's reaction had made it clear that I had received--but not acted appropriately to--legitimate telepathic communication from an animal who'd asked for my help.
Confronted with indisputable evidence that I had received telepathic communication from an animal, I began to rethink past events in which I may have communicated telepathically, but not understood what was happening. I remembered when my pet skunk sent me a message that my parents convinced me was just my overactive imagination. I remembered when an otter in the zoo had screamed for help, begging me to deliver him from the pit-like enclosure they'd put him in. I realized that all the times I'd "heard" animals talk to me weren't my imagination; they were real. With this nugget of validation in my heart, I set out to learn telepathic animal communication with the same determination I had devoted to learning how to write.
Funny how, when you're doing what you were put on this earth to do, everything else falls into place. Accepting my ability to communicate with animals, accepting my ability as a healer, also gave me the courage and the will to self-publish my first book, Angel Falls. I'm so glad I made that leap--and it was a big one! I've had to make friends with technology, with uncertainty, with being a beginner at something new and scary, every day. Every day, I have to "put on my big girl panties" and deal with new technology, glitchy software, and changes in the indie-publishing industry. And I love it! Someone once said, "Leap, and the net will appear." I did, and it did.
Angel Falls has won two Readers' Choice awards. Its Amazon reader-review average is five stars. It received a Featured Review in the Kirkus Reviews magazine--an honor, since less than ten percent of books reviewed by Kirkus are selected for inclusion in their magazine. My animal communication and healing business is booming, and I'm teaching others, because we need more animal communicators in this world. My how-to book on animal communication is complete and in-production. It will be out later this year. And the next book in the Angel Falls series is in the works, too. Life is good, because I learned to follow my intuition, even when I didn't know where it would lead me. Life is good, because I said YES to me.