This is Kelly, my husband’s niece, on the day a drunk driver crossed the center lane. She was nineteen. After this day she no longer walked, took herself to the bathroom, combed her hair or brushed her teeth. Her days as an athlete, and an IU cheerleader, ended.
This is Jason, Kelly’s brother. He was sitting next to Kelly in the back seat of the car. He was comatose for eight months.
This was the accident scene. The sober driver of Kelly’s car died. He was a ranch hand at the dude ranch in CO where Kelly and her family were vacationing.
Kelly and Jason before the accident: two teenage siblings. Jason, the younger brother, a high school football player. Kelly, a star athlete and cheerleader.
Kelly and Luke–two people in love, days before the accident. Luke, a pro-basketball hopeful. Kelly, an IU cheerleader and elementary ed major, planning a future together. But what kind of guy sticks around for a girl who’s a quad?
This is Jason now: he’s a high school grad, but never went to college. He’ll never play football again. He’ll probably never walk down the aisle with his bride, or teach his son or daughter to shoot hoops.
When I began my writing journey ten years ago I wanted to write this story because it moved me, and I felt confident that telling the story would bring others hope. I spent months interviewing people central to Kelly’s story. I spent hours at my computer outlining facts from the true events. And a year later I pitched her story to a well-known agent.
He said, “Michelle, it’s a great article, but it’s not a book. It’ll never sell.”
I sat across from him at lunch, trying not to choke on my walnut salad. I’d paid to attend the writer’s conference for the opportunity to pitch this story to him. That was the sole reason for going–to get his professional opinion. And when he told me the book would never sell, I sighed, and thanked him. Yes, it felt like a spear had pierced my heart. Yes, I was crushed, but I wasn’t stupid. I’d paid for his professional opinion so I needed to take it. Right? My analogy was, “if I’d gone to a heart doctor for his medical opinion wouldn’t I take his medical advice?”
So I put the book aside. For years. And told myself, “Don’t waste your time. There are too many other stories to tell.”
But, guess what, I’m here to announce that I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to write this novel. I’ve seen movies like THE VOW and MY SISTER”S KEEPER that were based on true stories. Those movies have entertained and brought hope to many people. I believe that Kelly’s story isn’t any different.
Kelly’s story follows me. It’s a story about love, courage, pain, fear, hope and sacrifice. It’s not just about a drunk driver and the damage he caused a family. It’s a story about rising above diversity, forgiving the monster who took your life away, and believing in God. It begs me to write it and share it. It’s not going away. I’ve tried to squelch it’s noisy voice, but it continues to speak to me. I’ve rewritten it in my head a dozen times with new characters and new point-of-views each time. Sometimes it surfaces in my dreams. Sometimes I see it in the fear on people’s faces that have no hope. And sometimes, if I listen, I hear God nudging me, telling me that this story matters. That it will make a difference in people’s lives.
So the next time you see me ask me how it’s going. Encourage me on my journey to write and share this story, and I’ll encourage you to share those stories you need to tell. Because stories are about people and people matter. Listening and sharing stories change lives. They have power. Write them.
Here’s a glimpse further into the story. No, I’m not going to tell you how it ends, but I will tell you that there’s romance. Of course, there is!
WHAT ARE YOU WRITING THAT WILL CHANGE LIVES?