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Write it Out: Grandmother helped mold goals

Mon., April 29, 2013, midnight

When I was very young I’d visit my grandmother in Minnesota every summer. She was a small woman who took naps every afternoon of her life. 

After she died, I learned she’d survived the influenza epidemic of 1918, reportedly telling my mother the illness had changed her life forever.

By the time she died at 85, she’d lived many years beyond what the family thought she would. The flu that killed as many as 50 million had spared her to raise children and see her grandchildren.

Perhaps it’s that lingering familial shadow that set me on the course of writing about a modern-day bird flu pandemic. In my mid-40s, I’d read about great strides being made in deciphering what touched off the greatest pandemic in human history, how the virus’s DNA was being extracted from Alaskan permafrost, and its code slowly coming into view.

I remembered my grandmother and her near miss with an early death, and decided I wanted to write about it.

With little experience outside of basic college English, a novel-writing course from Writer’s Digest, and a few insightful months with a creative writing teacher in Spokane named Virginia White, I began a novel and finished it about five years later.

I was also a mother and full-time medical transcriptionist. I worked by day and wrote by night. By then, I knew the premise of my second novel would be a great pandemic, very much like the 1918 flu, that would overtake mankind.

It wouldn’t be without a savior, however. I chose an “extinct” bird that once filled the skies of North America: the passenger pigeon. In the novel “Quick Fall of Light,” the bird becomes a source for the anti-virus.

The book led to endorsements and support by environmentalists and naturalists worldwide. It also won two awards.

The unlikelihood of all this happening doesn’t escape me. At 63, I’m your average boomer, who’s worked hard, met challenges and lost more than one. I’ve found the long way home in writing, and I hope this is the legacy I leave to my children and grandchildren.

It all began with a survivor: my very own grandmother.

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