Thursday, September 30, 2010

Finding our Fire

What is our fire, and how do we go about finding it?

I spent over 20 years as an interior designer. Most days I loved it—the fabulous furniture, gorgeous fabrics, wallpapers and artwork delighted me—it was a glamorous career with not-so glamorous hours. And the stress? Oh, the stress! People can be so demanding and unreasonable; didn’t I know the world would stop spinning if the powder room window treatments weren’t installed before the neighborhood BBQ!

Often I would fantasize about leaving my career and going after my secret dream of writing novel, yet I never had the courage to take such a serious leap. But several years ago I nearly died of septicemia, and that’s when everything changed.

And I do mean everything.

I woke up in intensive care surrounded my machines and tubes. My body felt foreign and it was an effort to form a sentence. I was terrified. After spending weeks in the hospital, I was finally released with instructions that I was not to return to work until my doctor gave me the go-ahead. I remember being sprawled out my bed having myself a full-blown pity party. Questions ranging from why me? all the way to what did I ever do to deserve this? banged around in my head. I wept into a wad of soggy tissues and watched my hair fall out from the massive antibiotics that had been pumped into my veins. I was a sobbing, sniveling, basket case of wrecked humanity.

It was later that same day that I discovered a box filled with short stories and character sketches that went back to my pre-teen years. They were silly and unpolished, but the more I read them, the more I knew my fire could no longer be ignored—it was time to let it burn, even if it scorched me in the process.

In my novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Aunt Tootie looks into CeeCee’s eyes and says, “Far too many people die with a heart that’s gone flat with indifference, and it surely must be a terrible way to go. If there’s one thing I’d like most for you, it’s that you’ll find your calling in life. That’s where true happiness and purpose lies. Whether it’s taking care of abandoned animals, saving old houses from the wreckin’ ball, or reading to the blind, you’ve got to find your fire, sugar. You’ll never be fulfilled if you don’t.”

I believe Tootie’s words to be true. Each of us has a fire, a dream, or whatever we want to call it, and it’s so important that we acknowledge our fire and go after it with gusto. Granted, the acceptance of Tootie’s philosophy didn’t come to me overnight, but when I finally realized that life was too wondrous to spend worrying about fabric delays and broken lamps when the one thing I really wanted to do was write, I sold my business and took the first steps to fan my flame.

It’s the gutsiest thing I’ve ever done, and as it turns out, it was also the wisest.

So how did you discover your fire?

About me: My debut novel is a New York Times bestseller; foreign rights have sold to Italy, France, Germany, Israel, Poland, and Korea. The paperback will be released on October 26, 2010. For a list of all my upcoming author events please visit my website. You can also find me on Twitter (@wordrunner) and Facebook.

I live in a quaint historical town in Kentucky with my husband and several furry, four-legged children. I love animals, feeding the birds, reading, gardening, and laughing with girlfriends. Oh, and I’m a nut for handbags.


  1. I love Beth's story! I'm not sure I've discovered my fire yet.

  2. Beth, sometimes our epiphanies come in strange forms. Eight years ago, at the age of 42, I drove my husband to the airport for a 3 week business trip to Israel. After kissing him goodbye he asked me what I planned to do with myself for 3 weeks without him. *snort* (At the time we had 3 school age children, so only a man would ask this question). I told him I was going to organize all the closets in our house. On the way home I was stuck with how assinine that goal seemed. I came home, fired up the computer and started writing:)

    Congratulations on your success!

  3. What an inspiring post, Beth! And I love Tootie's words of wisdom.

    When I was thirty, a five-dollar palm reader in New Orleans told me that whatever my job was, I was on the wrong side. I were an actress, I should be a director; if I were a teacher, I should be a student. So I told him I was an editor and wasn't meant to be a writer, so forget that. But I couldn't stop thinking about what he said and what it meant to me. In my hotel room that night, I took out my trusty notebook and wrote a fictionalized account of the experience, just a couple of paragraphs. That fortune ended up changing my life in a "power of positive thinking" kind of way.

    P.S. Anyone who hasn't read Saving CeeCee Honeycutt--it's one of the best books I've read this year. LOVE.

  4. How amazing that one of the worst experiences in your life triggered one of the best.... the world is a happier place since you decided to change careers, Beth!

  5. Oh, I just love reading about how y'all found your fire. This is the stuff great stories are made of!

  6. Heartfelt post, Beth. If I didn't already write, I'd want to :)

    That is such a bizarre incident, Melissa! I love stories where people change their lives in midstream.

  7. What a great story, Beth! It's so important that we wake up and do something everyday that makes us happy and fulfills us. Sometimes it takes a major crisis to really search deep down and find it, as in your case. So glad you pulled through your scary time and ended up doing something you love! Congrats on all your success (and your book has one of the prettiest covers I've ever seen, btw!).

    Maria, yay for the epiphany that made you fire up your computer instead of cleaning closets! (Although you just made me realize I need to clean closets this fall...sometime!).

    Melissa, that was one wise palm reader!!!

  8. Your post gave me goosbumps--I've got to read your novel! My fire was lit in fourth grade when my teacher read my story to the class. I had a physical reaction to hearing my words read aloud. I wrote a novel in 5th grade, another in 6th grade, plays for sibs and cousins on summer vacations. I went in a different direction through college, pursuing an MBA, working in a bank, having children. But during that entire time writing came out sideways. I wasn't writing in any formal sense but I took every opportunity to write...for the church bulletin, school newsletter, any little project that used printed words. My husband encouraged me to stop all the writing around and start a novel.

  9. What an inspirational post!!

    I was always a writer, and that's the reason I became a lawyer-- to try to marry my passion for writing with a profession and a steady paycheck. But I was miserable practicing law (brief writing just isn't the same as novel writing, it turns out....), and after a while, I started writing more and more. Eventually, I took a writing class and began a novel and then, as they say, the rest is history!

  10. The more I read what you gals have to say, the more clear it becomes how we all have such fascinating stories about our journeys into print. Can you imagine all of us on an author panel together? That would be something!

  11. Thank goodness for our fires! This was so inspiring.

  12. What an inspiring story. I love the idea of 'finding your fire'. And I loved the stories in the comments.
    I think I've only recently found my fire, the trouble lately is figuring out exactly how to wreak more havoc with it. Peaceful havoc of course! :-)

  13. Wow, Beth, what a terrible thing to have gone through. So glad you emerged not only healthy and whole, but inspired to change your life.

  14. I love this post!! Very inspiring, thanks so much for sharing your story! Life certainly is different when you are focused on your purpose. Better, scarier, happier, crazier...etc...etc...etc...

  15. Oh Beth, Your personal story is indeed inspiring. You were given a second chance at life, and you grasped it strongly. Empowering you to pursue your dream of writing, and I am just one (of many) who is thrilled that your dream came to fruition. You are a star my dear friend.

  16. Hi, Beth! I don't know if you remember me from our e-mails about your precious cat, but I wanted to tell you that I got the CD version of your book for my husband to listen to next week when he has to fly overseas. It's a 15 hour flight! I think he'll love it as much as I do. Also, I couldn't believe it when I read in this blog that you're a nut for handbags. My family has teased me all my life about my love of handbags. I used to threaten my son when he was little that I was going to take him "pocketbook shopping." Gosh, another thing we have in common.