I always tell people I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I know that sounds pretty silly coming from a 72-year-old but it’s true: I’ve never felt like a grown up. And when I look in the mirror and see gray hair, I don’t know who that person is because, inside, I still feel like a kid. And the truth is I’ve always known what I wanted to be: a writer! And I almost always wanted to be a published writer. But for many years life got in the way and I am just now realizing my ambition and living my dream. On December 8, 2012, I self-published BRANCHES on CreateSpace, a division of Amazon. Years ago, I wouldn’t have considered such a move. But timing is everything and for me, this was the right time to go for it.
I was born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa, the youngest child of Dr. Lee B. Furgerson, Waterloo’s first black doctor, and Lily Nina Furgerson, its first black teacher. There were 5 of us; Martha Ann, Betty Jean, Lileah, Lee and me. Martha Ann was the oldest and was a history major and the family expert. She died in 2000 and we miss her very much. Bj is the artist but also the political branch of the tree. She is well-known in Iowa for her civic contributions. Lileah is the musical branch and she played piano beautifully. Unfortunately, she suffered a stroke 2 years ago and has been semi-comatose ever since. Then there’s Electric Lee, my only brother who was the technology branch of the tree. He was a mechanical genius and would have loved iPhones, iPads and everything Internet. He died in 1998 at the age of 51. Way too soon and it broke our hearts. Then there’s me who loves to write so I was able to bring words to our family creative mix.
For many years, I considered myself a poet but eventually I found myself wanting to write a book. My first attempt at prose was visited and revisited many times before it finally evolved into a novel called MOTHER, MAY I. It was semi-autobiographical and those things seldom work unless they’re very, very good. MOTHER, MAY I had its moments but it didn’t hold together. I still hope to take parts of it and use them in a more contemporary story.
BRANCHES is also the product of evolution combining a mixture of ideas and feelings with a sprinkling of truth. It started from a line that came to me one day—“The last time she touched his face, she thought he was dead.” I had been reading about novels with great first lines and thought I’d come up with one. Angela loved it and encouraged me to write a book based on that opening. The first effort was going to be a murder mystery but I quickly discovered I didn’t have the slightest idea how to write a mystery. After a few false starts, I merged it with another idea I had about a woman who was having an affair but was miserable. That story was called SILENT DUST and I worked on it for a couple of years before I merged it with another idea that had been brewing: a story about a woman who in 1907 was asked by her husband to raise his daughter by another woman. Eventually SILENT DUST became BRANCHES when I developed the character of Alma so that I could complete the exploration of my main theme: family secrets and what they do to those who don’t know them but are affected by them.
I’ve been told that I’m both right brain and left brain. I guess that’s because I have an exaggerated sense of organization and structure and love numbers as well as words. But I’m not a mathematician; I just love bookkeeping and accounting kinds of numbers. Assets, liabilities, balance sheets and spreadsheets, the kinds of numbers that tell stories, explain things, at least explain things to me, if no one else.
My daughter, Angela, and I moved from Iowa to Ohio in 2003 looking for a new adventure and we found it next to Lake Erie. We share a house in Lakewood and a commute to Case Western Reserve University where she works in the library and I work in Facilities, crunching the kind of numbers I love. I’ve done some my best writing in Ohio and have written 2 more novels, 3 screenplays, a few more poems and am working on a novel called NOWHERE MAN, about a young man who was part of the Voter Registration Drive in 1965 Mississippi. It is loosely based on someone I knew who participated in that movement. Currently, I am getting my next novel, LAKE EFFECT, ready for publication.