Three Arizona Writers Speak; I Listen
Yesterday I went to the heart of downtown, for my first time since moving to Phoenix. Invited to hear three women speak as part of Arizona’s Centennial Celebration, I donned my tennis shoes and walking clothes and headed toward town. Driving and parking became an emergent issue as I reached Jefferson and First Avenue. A bike race was underway with speeding cyclists swooshing through the streets forcing me to park seventeen blocks from my destination. Grateful for my choice in clothing and shoes, I began my walk toward the big event arriving fifteen minutes late.
Martha Beck, known as “Oprah’s coach” had already begun her story telling. I arrived to hear her recount dreams she had of Africa when she was pregnant with her son, Adam. “Remember your dreams, if only a little part of them,” she encourages us. Dreams led her to finding her Soul, finding her work, and finding herself. Hundreds of Arizonans sat on the edge of their seats.
She spoke of times when she felt at crossroads. Her head calling her to do what the society would encourage while her Soul beckoned for expression. She realized if she followed the feeling in her Soul, she could never regret it, as she would be taking an adventure. Her closing remarks — “pay attention to compelling dreams.”
Decades after her African dream, she traveled to the country and discovered parts of herself alivening which required the culture to bring them forward. Almost physically dying from a confrontation with a rhino, she spiritually awoke. She spoke of a light she sees. The light being a form of guidance and assurance that all is well. “Once you’ve seen it,” she tell us, “you aren’t afraid in the same way any longer.”
Stella Pope Duarte, Pulitzer Prize nominee for her book If I Die in Juarez began her writing at age 45 after her father came to her in a dream when she was feeling lost and led her up a spiral staircase. In this dream he told her she was to become a writer. “Had anyone told me I would be writing about living in the barrio when I was a child, I wouldn’t have believed them” she says. Wearing her mother’s apron, her most precious heirloom” she spoke of the day her mother saw Jesus Christ in the alley.
“No one needed to watch to tv when we had the alley.” The alley is where the neighborhood, good, bad, and ugly hung out. One evening after dinner her mother stepped out in the alley to witness Jesus Christ, his crucifix, the lamp post. With a golden radiance which surrounded him, peace entered her mother’s heart. She had a direct connection with Jesus. Seeing the throned savor with his hands nailed and bloody, in a white vibrant loin clothe, her mother decided her father must see Jesus, too. Running into the house and grabbing her husband, they return to a darkened alley. Stella said “I knew my mom was special from that moment forward, she saw Christ.” Two sentences she said I wrote on a wrinkled menu found in my handbag. “Whatever is priceless in your life tells you who you really are.” And handed down from her mother, “Don’t let anyone tell you who you are, you tell people who you are by how you show up.”
The afternoon concluded with J.A. Jance sharing stories of her life in Arizona. Her first series of books took place in Seattle, when I was living there. Location based mystery novels were new when her books arrived in bookstores and immediately became popular amongst the residence, including me. She now splits her time between Arizona and Seattle and so any book I pick up by her is guaranteed to welcome me into a context I know.
Jance shares a story of coming two days away from being a victim of a notorious Tucson serial killer. Newly married, young, and living far out of town off a dirt road, her first husband took a ride home from a stranger who turned out to kill on the 22nd of every month at 2 pm. When he dropped her husband off, she met this man and the Jance and husband were later questioned about him by police. When caught, this serial killer was plotting to kill Jance at 2 pm on the 22nd of that month. He was caught on the 20th.
J.A. Jance is a mystery writer. Her books are fiction with relatable characters, akin to a sparkling water with a twist of lemon peel. I have read all of J.A. Jance’s books and she has written forty five. I have also read all of Martha Beck’s books and Stella Pope Duarte’s. Each woman has a different style. Martha’s writing aligns with my life experience and how I see the world. Reading her is like breathing in an affirmation while having a fresh glass of herbal ice tea. Stella’s work is gritty. It is historical, ethnic, sensual and dense, like drinking a cup of bold coffee with a dark rich bite of chocolate truffle.
Something magical happens within me when I’m in the presence of authentic individuals who are actively expressing their gifts and talents. I returned to my car with my cell phone glued to my ear recounting the afternoon with my sister. There is nothing like sharing a good story.