Tag Archive | Iowa

Going Home Again

Author Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” But Thomas Wolfe didn’t grow up in Northwest Iowa.

Earlier this week, I traveled back to Sioux Center, Iowa for an author panel and book signing. It’s a place I know well. I grew up on a farm outside of Sioux Center and Hull, and if you’ve read my trilogy, The Dusty Chronicles, these places will probably sound familiar. The main character, Dusty Vermeer, begins to experience supernatural phenomena as she tries to balance out her feelings for her boyfriend and a spirit she’s never met. She goes to Boyden-Hull High School, attends a Reformed Church in town, checks out books at the local libraries, and goes on dates to the local Pizza Ranch and movie theater. The characters all call Northwest Iowa home: Dusty, Mark, Sadie, Kris, Sadie…to them it’s an amazing place to exist.

There are many locations I could have based my series, but Stephen King says one should write what you know. So, there’s a reason I chose to set my first book series in my hometown.

The people.

While I was only in town for a day and a half, I’d never felt more welcome anywhere in my life. I haven’t lived there in 30 years, but the folks are still as warm and friendly as ever. Everywhere I went, I was met with a smile and a “So happy to meet you!” People I had never met were friendly and welcoming. And, many members of my extended family still live there as well as quite a few of my childhood friends. They came out in droves to see me and support my career on Tuesday night.

 

While the whole reason I went back was to be a part of the Dessert with the Authors event at the public library in town, I was also determined to make the most of the short time I had there. I wanted to check out the areas that had influenced me when I was young – the same places that influenced many of the locations in my books. The first place I went was Casey’s Bakery at the mall just off of Main Street. Uncles, aunts, and cousins showed up to see me. As we all had coffee and breakfast together, I heard, “We’re so glad you’re here!” and “You’re far too skinny!” Both comments were good for my ego.

If you’ve read Imprint, you’ll remember a scene between Dusty and Sadie that takes place at Casey’s Bakery. Not only can you get cakes and donuts from there, but they also have traditional Dutch items such as almond patties and windmill cookies. After all, in a community that is primarily Dutch, it just wouldn’t be right without the Dutch baked goods. They also have an area where they serve hot breakfast items and have possibly the best coffee I’ve ever had…and as an author, I’ve had lots of coffee in my lifetime.

20160412_070100-1.jpg

Casey’s Bakery in Sioux Center, Iowa

Later, I went back to the old homestead…the place that inspired Dusty’s farm and where she met Jack, her soulmate.

20160412_090353.jpg

Remember that scene with  Dusty and Jack in the hay mow? Well, there you go.

My house still looks pretty much the same. The window in the upper left was my room (the same as Dusty’s) and the upper right was my brother’s growing up. And the doorway and stairwell that leads from the kitchen to the bedrooms upstairs hasn’t changed at all: the same door, the same wood paneling, and the same carpet on the stairs. It brought back a lot of memories of sneaking downstairs as a kid and trying to listen in on conversations between my parents and older brother. As the current owner walked me through the old house, I pointed out corners and rooms where major plots took place throughout the series. It was surreal to be back, walking through a home that had given me so many memories.

Later that day, I had lunch at the Pizza Ranch in Sioux Center. That restaurant and the mall in town all played a part in my trilogy. I didn’t manage to make it to Hull’s Pizza Ranch where Dusty and Mark had their first date, but I’m hoping to make it there during my next visit.

20160412_113142-1

Mark and Dusty had a date night here. It’s also the same place that Dusty and all of her friends ate after a night at the indoor pool.

20160412_123237

The parking lot where it all went down in book 3. Mark – 1, Austin – 0.

In the early afternoon, a reporter from the Hull Index came to interview me at the Pizza Ranch. To be interviewed by my hometown newspaper was exciting and a bit frightening. The reporter, June, was wonderful and easy to talk to. I just kept telling myself not to let my “awkward” show too much because…well…I’m awkward.

The time finally came for the signing at the Sioux Center Public Library.

It wasn’t the same library where I’d spent hours upon hours as a child. Sadly, the building is long gone due to a fire. But upon walking inside this new library, the feeling was the same. And seeing my book on display as you walk through the front doors…it was a moment I will never forget. After all, the Sioux Center Library was where it all began for me. It’s truly where I discovered my love of books, and for that I will be eternally grateful.

During the event that night, I talked about my publishing journey, my books, and why I write young adult. I even talked about my #beceaseless campaign and how it came about. Friends and family showed up to support me as well as the other authors in attendance. I’m hoping to come back later this year and give a creative writing workshop to local teens. I may need to lure them in with pizza, but then who can say no to pizza?

IMG_20160413_104848It was wonderful being home again. In fact, it even got me wondering if I should move back there one day. Only time will. But I learned something this week. I discovered that you can go home again. Especially if your hometown is anything like mine.

Life is a Choice

41 years ago today, I was born in a small hospital in Northwest Iowa. 12 days later, I was adopted by a farming couple who already had a 7-year-old son of their own. I grew up in a wide open place full of fresh air, amazing people and incredible friends. I had a pony, a horse and a barn full of cats. Life was good.

BJ Sheldon, March 1972

BJ Sheldon, March 1972

As a young child, it never occurred to me that being adopted was a big deal. I always grew up knowing I was adopted. My parents never sat me down to give me the shocking news like you see on television. It was something that was just matter-of-fact in my house. It wasn’t a big deal. But that was about to change.

I was about 12-years-old when I attended a large slumber party at a friend’s house. At one point during the night, me being adopted came up and the girls all began asking me questions…questions I just couldn’t answer because I just didn’t know. When my mom picked me up the next morning, I asked her something I’m certain she’d been dreading for years.

“Do you know anything about my birth mother?”

Mom got very quiet and didn’t have a lot to say on the way home. About an hour later, there was a knock on my bedroom door. There she stood with a faded yellow envelope in her hand. She explained how after the adoption was finalized, the agency sent them some documentation they could share with me one day if they felt it was appropriate. Handing me the envelope, she turned and left.

Inside was a small booklet which gave me basic information regarding my birth mother and the birth father. Ages, heights, religion, hobbies, etc were all outlined for me to absorb. The initial shock of that moment took weeks to wear off. My mother had been a young, 16-year-old girl with blond hair and green eyes. I could only imagine how frightened she must have been, and I felt sorry for her.

Years later, I toyed with the idea of locating and meeting her. So, I wrote to the agency, and they sent me a large packet full of information that contained notes and reports from the people who’d worked on my case. The information that I’d been given as a 12-year-old girl had been a complete lie. Without going into detail, all I can say is that everything I’d believed about my birth mother had been wrong.

For years after that, I had deep seeded resentment toward someone I’d never even met. Each year as my birthday approached, I became withdrawn and sullen. I felt completely alone. The more I learned about whom my birth mother was and the circumstances surrounding where I’d come from, the more I resented her.

I had no hair back then, but it appears I didn't mind.

I had no hair back then, but it appears I didn’t mind.

For a while, I stopped celebrating my birthday altogether and instead celebrated the day my parents picked me up from the adoption agency…since that was the day my life truly began. A sweet sentiment to be sure, but it didn’t solve the real issue. To be honest, I hated that 16-year-old girl who ruined my life.

Then, a few years ago, I had an epiphany of sorts. I realized that through the actions of that young girl, good or bad…right or wrong, my life is what it is today. Growing up on that farm in Iowa, in turn, became the inspiration behind my upcoming debut novel, “Haunting”. My childhood friends and family still live in that rural community and are there for me and support me in my endeavors. My weekly visits to the Sioux Center Library as a child instilled a love of reading in me that lit a fire that’s never been extinguished. In the end, being adopted gave me a life I could only dream of in one of my books.

For far too long, I allowed circumstances that were completely beyond my control to affect who I was. I nearly let it destroy me from the inside out. Then I realized that it isn’t the circumstances surrounding your conception or birth that make you who you are…it’s the person you choose to become that matters.

And I choose to be a happier version of myself.

Life is a choice. Each and every moment you experience, whether you realize it or not, is guiding you through that impossible journey called life. How you decide to value the experiences handed to you will ultimately determine your failure or success in this world.

Today, I turn 41. And I’d just like to say this to the woman who reluctantly gave me life in that small, Sioux City, Iowa hospital so many years ago.

Thanks.