The other day I got an email with the name, “Cora Frear,” in the subject heading. This is the title of an early chapter book in my Brave Kids series, named after a young Iowan girl caught in a raging prairie fire with her father at the end of the 19th century. I opened the note to discover that its writer, Tracy, had just discovered this book published in 2002. My heart skipped a beat when I read the line, “Cora Frear Hawkins was my grandmother.”
You know that dream in which you find yourself taking a test you had never studied for? That classic anxiety that you are going to be caught for being sloppy or wrong or less than? I’m long past taking finals, but, in many ways, publishing nonfiction books is like an exam.
Did I get it right this time? In a flash, I went through the check list: I got my information about the event straight from Cora’s published memoir, Buggies, Blizzards, and Babies. I researched the period details so I could describe the family’s possessions accurately and use the right vocabulary. I spoke to a historian, a botanist and looked at photographs of tallgrass prairies so I could picture the setting and stock it with the appropriate flora and fauna.
After this defensive reflex, I went on to read the rest of the sentence…“and I thought I would write to you and let you know I am glad for your interest in her story.” Phew. I kept reading. “The publication of Buggies, Blizzards, and Babies was a vivid part of my childhood, since my Granny was so proud of publishing her first book in her 80’s. Having a published author in our farm family was a big deal!”
The rest of the email was a delight. Tracy (mother of Cora’s 3-year-old great-granddaughter) is currently publishing a book of her own and reflected on “what different worlds each generation of young females has occupied, and the implications for writing and sharing one’s written words.” She also wondered why and how I had ended up writing about her grandma.
Dodged the bullet again. With relief and pleasure, I too reflected on the implications of sharing one's written words. I also answered Tracy’s email and put an inscribed copy of Cora Frear in the mail.