About Gari Carter
Gari and her grandchildren
Photo credit: Garrity Photography
My earliest memories are of absorbing the telling of family stories. Some of them were connected with furniture, others with happenings. My fingers rubbed around the smooth edges of each of the hundred faces on the chair carved for my great grandfather, wondering what it could tell. It was fun to trace the lines of the intricate silk embroidery, stitched by some long ago forgotten ancestress in the mahogany fire screen. The screen had a screw knob on the back to adjust it up and down its pole, to keep the heat of a fire off one’s face. The needlework had been put into an ornate frame carved with my great grandmother’s initials, so people would think she did the work. I knew the secret that she really had not.
My great-great-grandfather’s Civil War campaign chest was used as an end table and I was warned to be careful not to put anything on its top which might make a stain. I was told not to lean back on the Carolinian dining chairs, made in London in the 1800’s, so as not to break the fragile carved chair backs. My lessons were to know the stories, honor, and care for the pieces my ancestors had treasured and to preserve them for the next generations. Slowly I became the current caretaker, though my 92-year-old mother still safe keeps an assortment of family possessions.
I vividly remember the magical moment when Miss Clarke, my first grade teacher at Baltimore’s Bryn Mawr School, helped me understand that the letters on the first page of Dick and Jane meant a word I knew. The hardness of the chair at my little desk as I leaned over the book; the sunlight shining in the window; Miss Clarke touching the word, “Dick,” as she pronounced it for me; and the other girls and desks faded into obscurity as I took in this important lesson. From then on, books were my best friends.
At my small private girls’ school, we also began French in first grade, with Colette et ses Freres, which was similar to Dick and Jane. Colette had two brothers – Jean and Jacques, a dog named Medor and a cat named Pouce. They had the same sorts of adventures as Dick and Jane and Sally. I went on to Roland Park Country School, and then continued in Connecticut – at Miss Thomas’ School and Low-Heywood. Any creative writing I did was never as good as the other girls in my class and my report card usually said, “Not living up to her potential.” I just wanted to read. My only award was for an essay on Patrick Henry’s quote, “I am not a Virginian, but an American,” for a military organization’s contest.
At Virginia’s Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, I expanded my love of reading into new subjects. I majored in Spanish literature and minored in Italian literature and psychology, and passed an exemption exam for a major in French literature. The summer after my junior year, I began my master’s degree in Spanish at Middlebury College. After graduating, I traveled in Europe - going to art and music festivals, to see and hear what I had learned in my courses.
Each time I happened upon something in Europe for the first time that I had studied, there was the same thrill of recognition as with Dick and Jane in first grade. One of the greatest moments was to attend the opera Aida in Rome’s Coliseum. We had read the opera in Italian class and studied the music in Music History. Sitting way up near the top of the seats with my opera glasses, I felt as if transported into the whirl of music and that the opera had been written just for me. This performance had real camels, elephants and all the pomp of Egypt, plus I knew each note and each word by heart and lived and breathed Aida as it happened. My education had come full circle.
When my funds ran out, I returned home, and worked for the Embassy of Bolivia in Washington. As the only multi-lingual person in the Chancery, I was asked to do all sorts of unusual jobs for the Bolivians. The Chancery was in a hotel, and I remember riding on an elevator with the tall voluptuous actress Jayne Mansfield, and the four and one half foot tall Bolivian Military Attache, who wanted me to translate his flowery compliments and advances to her. All she did was smile and giggle at Coronel Molina, but it made his day.
Later, I worked at a branch of the French Embassy, which represented all the French nationalized companies in the United States. Here I dealt with contracts with the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank. My boss and I took visiting South Americans looking for French contracts on tours around the city of Washington, while I translated from French to Spanish and back again, since neither spoke the other’s languages. They were both fascinating jobs to have right out of college. I lived in Georgetown and enjoyed all the excitement of Washington and Embassy parties.
After being married, I taught French and Spanish at all levels in various schools around the state of Virginia, and had two wonderful children. Changing gears, I opened a women’s dress shop, which made a profit the first year, and expanded it to a small department store. Then my life made an abrupt change, which is told in Healing Myself. My eleven-year-old son and I were on our way in a snowstorm to a gift show to find more things for the shop before my next buying trip to New York, when we were hit head-on by a carload of kids. My son had learned CPR the week before in Cub Scouts, and revived me from a near-death experience.
The next ten years were spent being reconstructed in more ways than one, using the Monroe Institute’s audio Surgical Support Series to control pain. I was divorced, remarried, moved to Denver, and divorced again after six months. Then my dream since college of working for an airline finally materialized. Frontier Airlines was like a small family and I made lifelong friends. My main position was in Dining and Cabin Service, but agents called me down to translate on the concourses if someone could not speak English at a gate. After Frontier was taken over by Continental, we had our own line at the Unemployment office and Frontier employees learned about a new side of life.
While jobless, waiting for my Denver house to sell, I took a creative writing course. For the first assignment, we had to describe something in our lives, and read it out loud. When I finished reading about the beginning of the car crash, I looked up, thinking I had bored everyone. But one student asked, “What happens next?” The teacher said that it was the beginnings of a book, and should keep on going. When I had written anything in school, I always thought everyone else was better. Suddenly I was catapulted into the world of authors, surprising me, since I loved to read and had never thought of writing.
Henry David Thoreau said, “Stand up and live, before you sit down and write.” As I wrote, I understood how all my assorted careers enriched and helped me. Working on my first book, my body hurt again from each new descriptive word. I thought I had let go of the accident trauma. Writing that book was a welcome clearing mentally and physically, which I turned around to use my experience to help others.
I do not have an agent, and looked over the lists of publishers at the library in Literary Marketplace and Writer’s Digest. From that I made an A, B, and C list of publishers who published the type of book I wrote. I sent out query letters to 20 from the A list, then two weeks later 20 to A & B selections, and sat down to wait the standard six weeks. Luckily, three publishers were interested in me, so I had a choice.
A famous agent, whom I had met at the Monroe Institute, gave me advice on the contracts. She was not taking new clients, as she wanted to work in her garden, but kindly helped me through the process. My first book, Healing Myself, was published in 1993 by Hampton Roads Publishing Company, after I had moved to Florida.
I traveled and spoke and did TV, radio and newspaper interviews for a year. Paramount Pictures filmed a program about me, which is on my website, along with sample TV talk shows. I realized that out in the speaking world, I was removed from hands on healing, so studied for degrees in energy healing in Polarity, Cranial-Sacral Therapy, Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, and other modalities.
Thinking about what to work on next, I looked around at my family furniture and remembered all those enticing stories. My mother had given me two sets of Civil War Journals years ago, and I decided to pull them out. I began on her mother’s father’s writing. He was a fascinating man who led a Cavalry Legion from Maryland in the Civil War, was captured, and was put into Libby Prison in Richmond. After writing the journals in several versions, I never could find an interested publisher.
Franklin Dick’s journals were longer and harder to read, so I had just glanced at them. Once I began actually perusing them, I was amazed at what an impressive man he had been. It took quite a while to decipher his writing and copy it onto the computer. I used various lights, magnifying glasses, and slowly grew to know his style. I understood his thoughts and words, even if his ink ran out, or he wrote in pencil. He made his world very real to me, instead of dry facts in a history book. I had known very little about Missouri history. In ways, it was much worse there than in the East during the Civil War. My eyes were opened by Franklin Dick.
I wrote to all the Civil War Publishers to ask about suggestions for organizing the manuscript. Nancy Rediger, the Editor-in Chief at Truman State University Press, emailed me for several months with information and advice. Years later when finished, I emailed her first, to see if she was interested in seeing the manuscript. What a thrill that she remembered me, and wanted to read the manuscript! Gratitude for her assistance over the years gave me strong feelings of loyalty. They have been outstanding in their helpfulness getting the book ready for publication.
Truman State University Press’s readers noted the lack of page references in my footnotes, so the next year was spent researching information to complete the manuscript with help from Barbara Smith-Mandell, Acquisitions and Copy Editor. It felt as if I were putting together a large jigsaw puzzle to refit the manuscript together, and each new find was exciting.
A slow and careful writer, I make many notes on post-it notes, finally write, read again, think a while, and rewrite over and over. It is always hard to let the final version stand and not change a just a few more words. Sometimes the best twists of words come when I am doing Yoga or Tai Chi in the mornings, working in the garden, or contradancing in the evenings.
Gari and Edward
Photo credit: Garrity Photography
Now that Troubled State is finished, there will be a second volume on Franklin Dick. Then Col. Leonard’s journal will have another rewrite. And next, who knows? I live and write in a secluded area in the mountains of western North Carolina with my indoor English Spot Lop Ear rabbit, Edward. We take an afternoon hop/walk together (Edward in his harness and leash). My two terrific grandchildren adore Edward and have drawn his picture many times for my refrigerator. We all enjoy our times together.
I look forward to hearing comments from my readers at Gari@GariCarter.com.
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