In the episode, “The Literary Man,” in the first season of The Waltons, a traveling author, A. J. Covington, comes to the mountain and John-boy Walton, the eldest son who plays the life of Earl Hamner, Jr., is captivated by his tales of travel and meeting well-known writers along the way.
Later in the show, A. J. Covington reveals to John-boy that he has told all his stories to whoever would listen over the years, but when he sat down to write, he was drained. Nothing came. He had talked it all away and couldn’t write. “But my story has a moral,” he tells John-boy. “Don’t search for the one big story you were born to write. Write the little stories. Who knows? The sum total of them might be the big one.”
He tells John-boy to write about the things he knows, the things he has been writing about all along: what it was like to be young and poor, having parents who love him, and brothers and sisters who pester and irritate him, but care about him. “Try to capture that in words. It’s as big a challenge as the Klondike or the White Whale or flying the Atlantic alone. It was too big for me, but I think you just might be up to it.”
When I first started writing my memoir, “Hills of Home,” about growing up in Appalachia, in the hills of West Virginia, it seemed like a monumental task to get years of family history down on paper, but I knew if I didn’t preserve these stories, they would be lost forever. I found it was important to write the little stories, and for me, the little stories became the sum total of “Hills of Home.”
Getting my memoir published was a challenge in the market today. I had received several rejection letters, yet couldn’t give up on my dream. I remember John-boy had said in one of The Waltons episodes that he had received enough rejection letters he could paper his wall. That always brings a chuckle now for I can remember exactly how that felt and could relate. After receipt of one such rejection letter, I wrote to Earl Hamner, Jr. and told him I “sort of felt like John-boy.” His response to me was, “Don’t feel like old John-boy. BE like him and keep trying.” This gave me the courage to do just that. Now five years after its humble beginnings, “Hills of Home” is a reality, and a dream come true.
Debbie Richard is a member of South Carolina Writers’ Workshop and West Virginia Writers, Inc. She is the recipient of an Honorable Mention in the 2010 Joyful! Poetry Contest, and her poems have appeared in Grab-a-Nickel (Alderson-Broaddus College), Holler (Princeton Poetry Project), Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine, The Shine Journal, WestWard Quarterly, and The Storyteller.
Debbie’s first book, a chapbook of poetry entitled “Resiliency,” was published in November 2012 by Finishing Line Press of Georgetown, Kentucky. Her recent book, a memoir entitled “Hills of Home” about growing up in Appalachia, was published May 2014 by eLectio Publishing of Little Elm, TX. A “Hills of Home” Book Trailer, synopsis, and scrolling photo album can be found on her website at www.debbierichard.com.