Saturday, September 08, 2012

Life's Ups and Downs with Lois Barrett

Yesterday it was my privilege to introduce a fellow Southern Illinois Writers Guild member, who was speaking at the Marion Woman’s Club. I had looked forward to hearing my friend Lois Barrett, and I was not disappointed. She kept our group laughing even though I think she has had one of the most challenging lives I’ve ever known with many heart-breaking events along the way.

Lois has never been held down long despite those challenges. When she returned to Southern Illinois from her foray and a failed marriage in Texas, she listened to a presentation at the Guild by Violet Toler on self publishing. Within 30 days Lois had set up Brick Hill Publishing and quickly had her first earthquake novel available to the public. (I heard Violet’s presentation those many years ago, and I still would not have the gumption to do this.)

Lois’ first book When the Earthquakes Spoke was one that she had thought about and outlined as an 18-year-old. She explained to us that at 18 she only dreamed of someday writing a novel, for she lacked the experience to understand people and how they talked. Only as a senior citizen needing a new start in life, did she get down that box of notes from the closet shelf and complete the novel set here on the Ohio River in Shawneetown at the time of the 1812 earthquake. As a reporter, she had researched and written about that earthquake.

I was amused to find out that in high school for a quarter, Lois would write love stories for fellow students changing the names of the main characters in order to hide the indenity of their current crush. Several club members besides Lois were members of the 1952 Marion High School graduating class, and I had to wonder if any of them had paid her a quarter (worth five cokes or ice cream cones in those days). No one confessed.

Prior to becoming a novelist, Lois had raised four children, worked at a variety of jobs, studied in several fields, and traveled broadly here and overseas. Although she did not dwell on her journalism career in her talk yesterday, she has fascinated me with accounts of investigating reporting that she did for our area newspapers—work that often put her life in danger by people who did not want to be investigated. Those years of nonfiction writing were to do her in good stead when she began writing poetry and fiction in the latter part of her life.

Health problems and personal tragedies have devastated her life but never have destroyed her. In a state of deep depression from the death of a daughter, her second husband, and three other family members within a few short months, she withdrew to Texas thinking she was old enough to die only to realize that as she told us, “Wrong. God was not through with me yet.”

With that third Texas marriage that repeated itself three times—if I understood that complicated story right--after the final divorce, she moved home to Illinois only to return to be at the death bed of this third husband. Since then in Harrisburg, she has lived through the tornado and continued health problems with eye floaters that are keeping her from night driving. Nevertheless, I will not be surprised to have the opportunity to buy her sixth novel. She may not be working on it yet. I don’t know, but I suspect God is not through with her yet. I know her family and many friends and her colleagues in the all the organizations she supports hope not.

Her novels can be bought at as well as on Amazon. Her second earthquake novel was Preacher’s Son & Henry Brown. Then came There Oughta Be a Law, Gulf Coast Love Affair, and A Love Story: Shuugh God and Lulu.

No comments: