2012 Non-Fiction Winner! The Unexpected by Jim Applegate

Writing has its own mysteries. I often wonder what it is that makes me feel so good when I write. Maybe it was the girl in my high school English class who stopped me in the hall to say, “I liked your poem.” Maybe it was my junior English teacher who read my essay about A Tale of Two Cities aloud to the class. Or maybe it was the young lady whose heart I won with love letters. Writing is a joy to me, but the effect it has had on other people was unexpected.

Once retired, my wife and I began writing a fictional account of her courageous ancestor. An unexpected meeting with a newly published author in Michigan caused us to set that novel aside and begin another shorter one. In the fall before we published that novel, we made what had become an annual journey to St. Thomas, VI, expecting to have a relaxing vacation. At the time we never imagined what could happen. A visit to one of our favorite restaurants, the Bannana Tree Grill, was always a must, for there we had met and had become friends with Ed. Since we needed our picture on the back cover of our novel, in 2005 we asked our island friend to photograph us on the patio overlooking Charlotte AmalieHarbor. As we discussed the book’s content, Ed said, “You won’t believe this, but your book sounds like the story of my life. I want to buy a copy as soon as it’s published.” 

As a pilot Ed had been flying a young lady, Amoi, and an older woman from St. Thomas to the Dominican Republic to visit the young woman’s mother on a Caribe Indian reservation. After several trips, he grew fond of the young lady, and Amoi’s older companion encouraged them to talk and laugh as they shared experiences during the flights. Soon Ed discovered the older woman had adopted the infant, who had become this beautiful young lady. To ease Amoi’s mother’s suffering, the older woman had agreed to bring Amoi back for periodic visits. Amoi’s mother allowed the adoption because life on the reservation was deplorable. As a result of her mother’s sacrifice, Amoi went to school in St. Thomas and grew up enjoying the best of the island’s culture, including a fine education.

The relationship between the young couple grew until Ed asked Amoi out on a date. Then the adoptive mother locked the young woman in the house and refused to let her see Ed, who couldn’t figure out why he was so suddenly rejected. When Ed tried to call Amoi, her adoptive mother always answered the phone and refused to let them talk. He realized she was keeping Amoi as her personal servant.

Ed was not easily defeated. After reading our story of a Delaware Indian grandfather who rescued his daughter and granddaughter from slavery in the hands of Gamek, a cruel Susquahanna Indian, Ed decided to be as clever as the grandfather. To communicate with Amoi, Ed smuggled a cell phone to her. Then he sent her a copy of our book. Reading the novel gave her the courage to escape and run away with Ed. Soon they were married and began a life together in St.   Thomas.

After we published our second novel, we received our first email from Amoi. She was so excited because she had discovered our new book on Amazon.com. We enjoyed her enthusiasm and loved the affection she sent us with her email. She wrote to us about their first child, Quin, as if we were family members. A couple of years later she shared a new joy with us. She and Ed had adopted a little girl, Tia, from the same Caribe Indian reservation where she was born. I never believed our book could have made a couple so happy.

One summer my wife and I experienced another unexpected response to our writing. We had spent $30.00 and hours of preparation hoping to sell copies of our books at a local craft fair. During the day whenever I tried to sell our novels to those who passed our booth, they would reply, “Are you kidding? I don’t read books.” One lady, however, did stop, listened to my pitch, and bought our second novel. A year later we received an email from her thanking us. She confessed that she had made some poor choices in her life, causing her much pain. When she read the storm episode from our novel where three runaway slaves became terrified as they huddled below deck, she had a religious awakening. She quoted the words of Nana who reminded her sisters that they had faced the auction block and survived. “Now make God proud,” said Nana. “Show Him your courage.” Those words caused our reader to say, “I’m going to make God proud of me.” My eyes watered when I read her words.

Now I realize writing can change peoples’ lives in unexpected ways. When I began writing, I thought the most important aspect was telling the story. I had to develop characters. Blending action with setting was a must. I needed to show action not tell what happened. I was writing to please myself. That is what I thought was most important. I forgot the effect it had on other people. Realizing my stories touched the souls of others is an unexpected bonus.