Last Friday was my friend Mary Frances Spears’s birthday. She would have been 73. I suppose that’s why she was on my mind all the way home from Maitland, where we’d done a workshop for the Maitland Writers Group the evening before. She’s been gone for nearly two years, but it felt a little bit like she was in the car with us, celebrating another good event for Twisted Road. Frances was the type of friend who celebrated every success of everyone she cared about, and treated our failures as just another step on the road to doing something good. She was endlessly cheerful and encouraging.
Frances lived in our home for the last fourteen months of her life, and she was there when I began talking about starting a small press. In fact, one of the first serious conversations I had about the possibility took place in her room. Her reaction to that conversation? Of COURSE I could do it, no doubt about it. She had no idea what starting the business would entail or how complicated it might be, but she was sure I should do it and equally sure she wanted to help. Did I need financing? Just tell her how much. Did I need someone to read? I could put manuscripts in large print so that she could read despite the cataracts, right? Was there anything at all she could do to make it happen? Just tell her, she said, because she was ready.
I talked to lots of people about the idea. Some were encouraging, more were skeptical. Some were interested, others not so much. But no one else reacted with the same enthusiasm and absolute certainty as Frances did. She never asked to see a business plan, never demanded to know how it would actually work, never questioned whether or not I had the skills, energy and determination to pull it off. She simply had faith in the dream.
Toward the end of her life, when it was difficult for her to stay cheerful and engaged, one of the few things that could bring her back to her old self was talking about the press. Her deteriorating health had forced her to let go of her own dreams, but she never turned loose of mine. I’m sorry to say that she was gone before the first book arrived from the printer. I like to think she saw it anyway – it and the ones that followed. I’ve taken care with each of them to make sure they were not only something that I could be proud of but also something she would look at with pride, knowing that she had been a part of making them a reality.
Frances was a nurse for 35 years and made multiple trips into the mountains of Haiti with the Children’s Haiti Medical Mission. She touched many lives with her kindness, and that is a part of her legacy in this world. But her legacy also includes a collection of wonderful books by really talented writers – books that have found their way into the hands of people she never had the chance to meet. As the first and most ardent supporter of Twisted Road Publications, she touched me and everyone who cares about our books in a truly profound way.
I can’t say for sure that Twisted Road would not have existed without her support. I like to think that I’d have found the courage to do it anyway, but the blessing of my life is that I didn’t have to. So to my friend Frances, on the occasion of her 73rd birthday, I want to say thank you. I miss you.