Saturday, September 24, 2011


Writing excites me. Always has. But it wasn't until my first heartbreak at seventeen when I realized how much writing impacted my life. How crucial it was to my well being. I filled ten pages with wrenching emotions when I was seventeen, positive I'd never recover. Yet, even then, having already filled nine diaries, I knew my connection to writing ran deeper.

Honestly, what does a seventeen-year-old know about suffering anyway?

Hormones aside, drama aside, at seventeen when I hurt, I wrote. When I didn't understand life, I wrote. When people confused me, I wrote. When I had tons of stuff to do, I wrote.

There were no computers, and the only place you could find a typewriter was in an office or a typing class at school. All I had was paper, pen, and Van Morrison's Brown Eyed Girl playing on the radio.

Hey where did we go,
Days when the rains came
Down in the hollow,
Playin' a new game,
Laughing and a running hey, hey
Skipping and a jumping
In the misty morning fog with
Our hearts a thumpin' and you
My brown eyed girl,
You my brown eyed girl.

Other times it may have been the Zombies's She's Not There.

I can't tell you how many times I agonized on the written word while listening to Roy Orbison's Crying. The version with kd lang is even more beautiful and still gives me goosebumps.

When I'm writing a difficult and painful scene today, Crying can still be heard. Or maybe something from Jann Arden, Sade, Dire Straits, Etta James ....

At seventeen I switched from a diary to a journal because I needed more space to express myself. Then in 1983, I lost my dad, he was only 56. A stack of journals nestled under my bed, I started my first novel. I thought I could write my dad's story so he would live forever.

It's interesting that at thirty I assumed I knew enough of him to do that. I didn't. But being stubborn and bullheaded, I wasn't about to quit. I wrote a fictional account of our relationship on an IBM typewriter, titled it Always Father's Child, and in 1987 bought my first computer.

Seven years later, when I was finished what turned out to be a coming-of-age story, I queried publishing houses and agents across North America. In 1991, in a hand-written response from a renown Canadian publisher, he advised me to keep writing. Even though the book was badly written, he got that I was hooked on the process.

I started writing because the pain of losing my dad was so great I had no recourse but to write. When I realized the book sucked, I did the next logical thing and began work on Dead Witness. Three months later, our eldest son Jack was killed in a car accident. I stopped writing

Months passed. Time blurred. So sure I'd never write again, I think I sat down at the computer one day in hopes that writing would drown out the noise in my head. I needed to preoccupy my brain. Dead Witness, the story I'd begun before Jack's death took on new meaning. I transposed my grief onto Valerie McCormick.

Nothing new in that; writers have been doing it for centuries. But one constant image kept running through my mind during the three years composing and the thirteen years waiting for Dead Witness to be publish. I saw Jack's name centered on the Dedication Page.

Blogging about this sweet soul is a huge step in my life. Until now, I couldn't blog about him because it hurt. And because the thought of his death mentioned or discussed online felt wrong. It still makes me uneasy. I'm not doing this for sympathy or discussion, but because I suspect I'm not alone. I know there are other writers who have suffered a great loss. And we struggle every day to come to grips with it.

As I continue in future posts to discuss my road to publication, I may mention Jack not because I need you to feel bad for us. I'm doing it because this is the story of my road to publication. It's not everybody's story. But perhaps it is for some.

What I hope is that this post brings back memories of the moment you knew you were destined to write. I hope it reminds you to accept who you are.

For me, I think of it as a new beginning. I am a published author who by sharing my past won't diminish the good or the bad, but accept it simply as part of the journey.



  1. Joylene, Thanks for being courageous enough to share this! It is so very inspiring. It has inspired me to think about the moment when I knew I was destined to write as well. I shall have to think on it, reflect, and then write it out and see how it feels.

  2. I'm glad you feel that way, Mama. Good luck. And thanks so much for visiting. Happy Weekend.

  3. Joylene,

    Thank you for sharing your story. I don`t remember the exact moment when I knew I was destined to write. It was part of my bones from an early age. But I think the loss of my dad, as terrible as it was, gave a new level of depth to my writing. I certainly wrote the most amazing poetry when he was sick and after he died. I think the loss helped me write my characters` suffering with more credibility. And sometimes losing someone else can remind us how fragile life is, and how important it is to go get our dreams while we still have time.

    Thanks again for sharing this,

  4. Thank you for your comment, Dianna. Your story is further evidence that we are all connected in some way. And yes, we must follow our dream.

  5. Oh Joylene, I'm very sorry to hear of your son, Jack's, tragic accident. I realise this post is not to garner sympathy, but I cannot help but feel terribly sad for you and your family.

    I'll chat about my writing dreams another time.

    RIP Jack.

  6. Sympathies graciously accepted, Wendy. October 12th is the 20th anniversary of his death. I feel very privileged to have loved him.

  7. Losing a child must be the worst pain anyone could experience and I cannot begin to imagine what you went through, and still have to endure. Like you, I started to write during an emotional time in my life when I had to keep smiling when inside I was screaming - it helped as if I had let out the pain I would be a basket case by now.

    The very best of luck with your new releases.

  8. Hi Joylene .. losing your father so young and then experiencing the loss of your son ... both totally devastating - the suddenness is what can throw us. It's 'funny' that we don't have support mechanisms in place for these kind of events - we are better now .. we are all more open - but twenty, thirty, forty etc years ago they were hushed up, or dealt with behind close doors - there was no empathy available from others in like/similar situations ..

    I can understand, and I can understand you coming out and wanting it to be a part of your life .. he was a major part of your life, and the circumstances of today can bring him back in within that part that is you - thank you so much for sharing ..

    I did start writing after my mother became ill - never realising that I could write .. but I know I can and think I have found the outlet beyond blogging .. but I'll be blogging for many a while yet ..

    With many thoughts - Hilary

  9. I began scribbling in journals around age eight...mostly because I had no other place to express feelings that were "forbidden" in our family.

    I carried this need to write down my feelings until I realized that I could write "stories" about other people and their feelings.

    I started a novel in journalism class in high school on the typewriter there.

    Many years later, I would combine many of my thoughts, feelings, and previous scribblings and really start a novel on my computer. The catalyst: a devastating loss.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

  10. @Thank you, Anita, for sharing this. Best of luck with your historical novel.

    @Hilary, I had no idea it was your mum's illness that set your writing in motion. Thank you for sharing that. Have a wonderful Sunday.

    @Thank you for sharing yours too, Laurel. I can relate to the "forbidden' thoughts. Have a safe and happy Sunday.

  11. Hi Joylene .. actually it was when she was first ill in the Acute Brain Injury Unit, next to Great Ormond street - the fantastic children's hospital .. there's a square and I used to wheel Mum out in her wheel chair so she could see the plants and flowers ..

    But when I wrote out to friends and family explaining what was going on .. I put 'stories' in about the sorts of things we'd been discussing a la my blog .. and I was asked not to stop .. hence Positive Letters was started .. they don't read the blog and I still write out! I never knew I could write and was delighted to have a positive response from friends and family .. and now bloggers .. that's life - funny the way things turned out ...

    Thanks for asking - I sort of put it in the "If I could be AnyOne, I'd be Mary Wollstonecraft" - because I had no idea who she was .. til I looked it up and told my other about it ..

    Cheers for now - Hilary

  12. I'm so glad you shared that, Hilary. You can't imagine how inspiring your story will be to many many wannabe writers. You had the courage to share and maybe now others will too.

  13. Hi Joylene .. thank you! Judy Croome said/told me! that many writers didn't have degrees etc .. but I never wrote stories, never wrote .. so it's perhaps even more of a surprise - I suspect it was latent - as I still have copies of my round-robin letters home from South Africa in 1979 ... just got to wait til the passion hits the surface! then begin and keep going.

    Cheers again! Hilary

  14. Joylene,

    As online acquaintances and friends, we don't know very much about the person behind the sites we visit or the group messages we read, or emails we share, but every now and then we get a closer look.

    While losing a parent can be devastating, especially at such a young age, I can't imagine how much worse losing a child is.

    As was already mentioned, I know the post isn't about sympathy, but it can't be helped - I am so sorry for your lose and you have my deepest sympathy.

    I'm so glad you are now able to write about it, hopefully it will help.

  15. Thanks, Karen. I know how you feel. When I hear of someone losing a child, it just doesn't feel good at all. And there aren't any words to adequately express the sorrow and sadness. So, I understand the need to say sorry. I say the same thing when I meet parents or loved one grieving. What else can one say.

  16. Dear Joylene,
    Painful, poignant, powerful. Your transparency and courage resonates and through the cleansing wonder of the written word, your journey moves ever onward.
    Bless you, Joylene.
    In kindness, Gary.

  17. Joylene, that was so touching. I'm so sorry about your son. It's all that hard earned passion in there that makes you such a great writer. Amazing story, really. And the way you thought you know enough about your dad at 30. I just want to hug you now.

  18. Joylene, we all are always here to support you.

  19. Oh...dear Joylene. I knew about your Dad but never knew about Jack. Thank you for sharing those feelings.

    And your post DID well up in me as well the memory of when I knew I had to write. I, too, had written when I was much younger. I was the darling of my literature classes in high school and just knew I was destined for greatness.

    But life started for real and writing got lost somewhere.

    A few years ago, though, I was watching the newer movie version of Peter Pan and something about all that adventure and daring triggered me and I just started writing on a blank screen. And never stopped.

    And YOU, Joylene Nowell Butler, were one of the very first to ever read my rambling which I called writing, and you encouraged me. For that, I'll always remember you and will always hold you in a special place in my heart.

    Thanks for sharing yourself today.

  20. @Laila, I love cyberhugs anytime anywhere. Have a great day.

    @Thanks for stopping by, Tame Lion. Nice webpage. For E verses P, I'd pick a little of both.

    @Carol, it's been a honour being your cyberpal. One day we gotta get together and drink wine. And eat. And giggle.

  21. Oh, Joylene, that was such a beautiful memorial to Jack. I'm so sorry that you had to experience the worst kind of pain imaginable to a person, especially to a mother. I could not imagine it myself. I could, however, see how it would stop you from living, from being the person you had been before that, from writing.

    I'm glad you came back to life and finished your book. Thirteen years is a long time and proves how dedicated you are as a writer. I hope I have an ounce of that in me somewhere.

    And thank you so very much for the kind words you left me on my post today. It's friends like you who help me get from day to day.

  22. Nancy, it's been a blessing getting to know you. Hope your week is fabulous!

  23. Fantastic history on your writing adventure. I also began at 17 with poetry and short stories for classroom assignments. It is a wonderful way for expressing all ome wishes to say - especially when a physical audience is lacking.

  24. Thank you, Royce. I'm going to continue one of these days, just as soon as I get organized. Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate your comment.

  25. I've read this post a number of times since Saturday. I know all too well how difficult it is to dredge up words to publicly explain how the loss of a child affects us. You're braver than I am! After fifteen years I'm still not ready. And you faced that loss not once, but twice.

    Life is comprised of a series of events. Every day there is a multitude of large and small ones -- both insignificant and overwhelming moments to face -- and during them time never stops moving forward. I know that when I allow myself to write from the heart my writing is richer because of all the experiences, good and bad. Thus, as long as I continue to live, I can expect my writing to keep changing. I hope that change will always be for the better, although if I can't acknowledge the painful times I suppose my writing may lack an element of honesty. Hmmm... so much to think about. You've poked my grey matter. ;)

  26. I thought of you when I wrote this, Carol. I know how difficult it is to put it out there. I still feel uneasy because there is the chance that my intention may be misconstrued.

    I followed Pat Bertram's blog after she lost her life partner last year. I remember thinking how brave she was. Now I understand better.

    It's coming on 20 years since Jack passed and it occurred to me that anytime I mention him, talk about him, tell others about him, I get the chance to show the world just how special he was.

  27. Jolene, Thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself in this short post. You are a wonderful lady. I'm sure each step of your journey as made you a strong woman. Blessings go out to you, your family, and your writing.


  28. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Cher. Blessings to you too.

  29. Thank you for sharing, Joylene. We are all on a different journey and often don't understand or even realize the pain that others may be going through. Sometimes, we might only see their success and think how easy it has been for them to achieve it. We should never make quick judgments about others. We all have our wounds.

    How fortunate that you have had writing to help you through these times. I can only imagine how proud you felt to be able to dedicate your book to Jack.

  30. Hey, Joylene! I couldn't be more sorry to hear about Jack. I can't imagine anything worse that living through the death of one's child.

    My father passed away in 2006, and like my husband said at the time, "At least you're already living the worst day of your life."

    On another note, thanks for commenting on my blog! I didn't realize that you had plans for a children's book, so let me know if I can offer any help when you're ready to start working on it.

    Take care!

  31. Hi Lauren. Thanks for the offer. I will definitely get back to you when I'm ready to write my children's book. I have two other books to finish first.

  32. Joylene, I was so pleased when I got your message that you started talking about your losses. It's not only a tribute to your son, but a tribute to your strength and how far you have come. Even if you occasionally get that stepping-off-the-curb feeling that perhaps you've gone too far in telling about your private life, know that you haven't. You need to talk about your father and your son, and we need to hear it.

  33. Thank you, Pat. "Stepping off the curb" that's it exactly.

  34. Thank you for sharing, Joylene. We are all on a different journey and often don't understand or even realize the pain that others may be going through. Sometimes, we might only see their success and think how easy it has been for them to achieve it. We should never make quick judgments about others. We all have our wounds.

    How fortunate that you have had writing to help you through these times. I can only imagine how proud you felt to be able to dedicate your book to Jack.

  35. Good point, Laura. I know I'm bad for assuming things about writers. Especially the successful ones. Look what Stephen King had to overcome. Goodness.

    Yes, dedicating my first book to our twins was a proud moment.


Thank you for visiting my blog. Please come in and sit for while. We will talk about writing. We will share our dreams. Then I will serve tea and cookies. Home made and Gluten Free.