Writing is Messy: Guest blogging for Southern Writers Magazine’s Suite T

Posted June 29, 2015

Many thanks to the editors of Southern Writers Magazine for the invitation to write about my messy process on the magazine’s blog, Suite T. Click here to read the complete essay.

Writing is Messy from Kathleenmrodgers' powerpoint presentation at Houston Writers Guiild conference

“A Good Story” by Joseph Durepos

 Joseph Durepos, executive editor/trade acquisitions at Loyola Press, has penned a moving essay about his dad. I’m delighted to spotlight Joe on this week’s blog. As an aside, Joe and I both graduated from Clovis High School, Clovis,  New Mexico. 

Joe and his dad
Joe and his dad

A Good Story

by Joseph Durepos

My dad read to me a lot when I was young. We always had a storybook going before bed. Later, I asked him why he read to me so much. He said that if you can find your way into a story, you can often find your way out. That sounded pretty Zen-like coming from Dad. I’m not sure I understood it at the time.

Several years later, I listened to poet Robert Bly talk about fairy tales and why they’re so enduring. He said something very much like my father had. He made his point by talking about certain doctors in Europe who worked with patients in psychiatric wings of hospitals—many of them troubled by bad dreams and feelings of inescapable panic.

Frustrated by their inability to reach these patients, the doctors began reading fairy tales to them before bed. Startlingly, many of the patients reported finding doors in nightmares where there were only walls before. Others saw light where there had been only darkness. Some patients showed marked improvement in moods and a lessening of agitation.

If I’m honest with myself, I didn’t always appreciate my father’s gifts, but I did always love him. He was an orphan, and his childhood had been tough. He lived in a foster home with lots of children moving in and out. The woman who ran the home liked my dad and raised him as her own. But there was nothing easy about growing up as a foster child in an orphanage in rural Maine during the Depression.

When he turned 17, he graduated from high school and immediately joined the military. It was a perfect marriage for him; it offered him structure, a way to find himself in the world, and a good job for almost 30 years.

My dad was a military man. A stoic. He rarely complained, certainly not about personal pain. In his world, unless you were down for the count, you just kept on keeping on.

Late on September 10, 2001, I got a call that my dad wasn’t doing well; I needed to come home right away. I flew to Albuquerque that night, met my two sisters, and drove to Lubbock, Texas, where my father had been taken to the hospital.

We arrived at the Texas Tech University Medical Center early on the morning of September 11. All eyes were on a small TV in the corner. Within five minutes I learned that my father was dying, probably had been for some time but hadn’t sought medical attention until he collapsed under the pain. I learned that all flights had been grounded. I learned about the hijackings, the attacks, and the estimated death counts. It was all too much to process at once. But I realized we were living in a story within a story: my dad’s story and our family story, but also the larger story of that day’s horrible events. This is how my father would have wanted me to make sense of the craziness.

We lost Dad less than four months after that terrible Tuesday. My father wasn’t a religious man, but he believed. As he drew closer to death, he spent quiet moments praying with his prayer book from childhood and reading novels. He told me that stories can make transitions, even difficult ones, possible. Then he winked and said he was simply finding his way out of the story. When he died, he was serene.

My dad never had a chance to read my first published book. It was a book about Saint Paul. In the first chapter, I talk about being part of the larger story of the faith that we live as Christians. It’s a vast, enduring story of salvation and redemption. Each one of us plays our part in the unfolding. It’s a concept I know intimately because of my father.

I’m in publishing today largely because of the love of stories my father nurtured in me. My dad loved that I became an editor and a writer. He would ask about my work and smile proudly. I still see that smile in my dreams, and I wake up happy. It’s a good story.

Bio:Joe Durepos 2013

Joseph Durepos is the executive editor for trade book acquisitions at Loyola Press, where he has worked since 2002. He’s published over 300 books, including New York Times Best Selling authors Fr. James Martin (My Life with the Saints) and Joan Wester Anderson (In the Arms of Angels).

Durepos has also worked as an independent literary agent specializing in religion and spirituality titles.  Titles sold include No Greater Love by Mother Teresa and The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer both with worldwide sales of over 500,000 copies.

As both an agent and editor, his books have been New York Times Best Sellers (The Rhythm of Life by Matthew Kelly) and Publishers Weekly Best Sellers (The Invitation by Oriah Mountain Dreamer and I Like Being Catholic by Michael Leach & Theresa Borchard); they have also won Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Books of the Year awards (Prayer is A Place by Phyllis Tickle and My Life with the Saints by James Martin, S.J.).

Durepos lives in Woodridge, IL with his 18-year-old American Eskimo, Sasha.



The First Story I Sold To Air Force Times

The first story I sold to Air Force Times…

The first story I sold to Air Force Times, England Air Force Base, Louisiana.
I wrote this while living at England Air Force Base, Louisiana, 1989.. The base served as the setting for my first novel, The Final Salute. The fictional base is named  Beauregard AFB.

This essay first appeared in Air Force Times, 2/19/89. After the story ran, I became a frequent contributor to Military Times. This opened the door for my future work at Family Circle Magazine.

On The Home Front: It’s a sign That Daddy’s in charge

I fear some generals would scoff and full-bird colonels balk if they knew the truth – that Daddy is running their Air Force. At least that’s how it looks in the Tactical Air Command, from the perspective of two Air Force brats.

According to these experts on insignia, my 2-and 4-year-old sons, the blue, red and yellow TAC patch seen everywhere on our base belongs to a Very Important Person: D-A-D-D-Y!  They don’t mind that others are wearing it, but they know that any man or woman in uniform bears “Daddy’s patch.”

Tactical Air Command Patch
Tactical Air Command Patch

Living on base, we cannot walk to a corner without the 2-year-old freezing in his tracks, pointing up to the street sign and firing off a round of  “Daddy’s! Daddy’s!” He continues his verbal strafing until I’m forced to agree that, “Yes, honey, it’s Daddy’s patch.”

Frankly, I never noticed the TAC emblem displayed on every street sign on base until the baby started talking. Before then, I thought he was just pointing up at the birds and clouds and the usual airplanes. Daddy flies them. Every airplane within range is Daddy’s, according to the 2-year-old. The 4-year-old is smarter now. “That isn’t Daddy up there, silly goose! Daddy is fishing,” or home in bed sleeping. On rare occasions, he’s even at the office. By the way, wing headquarters belongs to Daddy, as does any building with a TAC patch displayed on the premises.

My sons playing fighter pilots, circa 1988.
My sons playing fighter pilots, circa 1989.

One day while the boys and I were driving down a street on base, both of them broke out in unison, craning their necks upward and pointing, saying, “Daddy, Daddy!” I was looking out the windows, attempting to keep the car on the road, searching the wild blue yonder for Daddy. The only planes I could see were the ones grounded on the ramp. Then I caught a glimpse of “Daddy’s patch” high up on the water tower. I started realizing then how much that emblem really meant to the boys.

Another example was recently when I rushed our youngest to the emergency room after he tried unsuccessfully to tackle a rose bush. He was distraught, but not from the injury to his eye. He hasn’t been too keen on hospitals and doctors lately because of repeated visits to the emergency room (he has one speed – Mach 1 – and he’s always banging and bumping into something).

England Air Force Base, Louisiana, early sixties
England Air Force Base, Louisiana, early sixties

I tried calming him, rocking him, only to hear him scream at the top of his lungs, “Home! Me go home, Mom.”

I decided then, out of respect for the other patients, to walk him up and down the corridor. “Home, Mom,” he was saying and pointing to the nearest exit when suddenly he changed gears and shrieked, “Daddy’s patch!” referring to a tiny TAC sticker on the hospital wall. That little sticker was my saving grace and his, because from then on, he tried to be a big boy, like brother, braving it out while a med-tech flushed the injured eye with two bags of saline solution.

My respect for the patch rose even higher after that. It makes my boys feel happy and secure – like a small shield of armor in a world built for grown-ups. If Daddy wears that patch every day, then seeing it elsewhere is a good sign that Daddy can’t be too far away.

Tom and Kathy, fighter pilot days, circa 1988, Eielson, AK, on our way to Tom's final assignment, England AFB, La.
Tom and Kathy, fighter pilot days, circa 1988, Eielson, AK, on our way to Tom’s final assignment, England AFB, La.

~  Kathleen M. Rodgers is the author of the award-winning novel, The Final Salute , featured in USA Today and ranked # 1 on Amazon’s Top Rated War Fiction in 2012. The novel has been reissued by Deer Hawk Publications in e-book and print September 2014.  The story takes place at a fictionalized England AFB, La. The base closed in 1992 and was part of Tactical Air Command. Her new novel, Johnnie Come Lately is forthcoming from Camel Press February 1, 2015.

Please visit the author’s website: www.kathleenmrodgers.com