Okay, I know I promised this blog would be about writers in the virtual sky of the Internet, but today I must post instead about writers in a different virtual sky – the one not in cyberspace, but “heavenspace,” or whatever you want to call that dimension beyond the physical.
I want to tell you about two writers who both happened to be my cousins, and who were both named Dian/e (a name derived from an ancient Indo-European word meaning “heavenly or divine”), and most important of all, who both gifted me with inspiration and support to be a writer myself.
They graced my life at different times. Neither knew the other. One died years ago; the other just a few weeks ago. But they both lived lives of great courage and difficulty and both left me with a great legacy.
The First “Writer-Cousin Dian”
The first Dian entered my life as a baby when I was less than a year old. We played together as children, shared our teenage angst and fantasies with each other, and invented secret worlds of our own. During the summer between fifth and sixth grades, Dian and I got to spend a whole week together at our grandparents’ place.
It was during that week and because of Dian that I wrote my first “novel,” fell in love with writing stories, and set my life’s goal to be a writer.
The full story of that week of writing with Dian is published on my Web site, and I encourage you to read it there. It also tells of her tragic death at age 40 after a horrible experience similar to the one portrayed in the book and movie Not Without My Daughter. I think if Dian had followed a different path in life, she would be one of today’s best-selling novelists. But she made another choice. She followed the love of a man rather than the love of writing, and ended up dying as a result.
There’s not a single time I sit down to write that I don’t think of Dian with tremendous gratitude for showing me the joy of writing fiction, and it’s partly because of her that I’ve held on to my life’s goal for all these years.
The Second “Writer-Cousin Diane”
The second Diane showed up (with the added “e”) much later, when I first met my new “cousins-in-law.” Of all these new cousins, Diane had the most time to spend getting to know me because she was confined to a wheelchair in her parents’ home. At the prime of her life, she’d been struck down by multiple sclerosis.
Diane had a brilliant, creative mind, but didn’t become a serious writer until MS stole her body’s mobility, requiring her to live more in her mind than ever before. She started writing poetry, lots of poems, some of which were published. Then she got an idea for a novel and focused on writing it.
Diane wrote part of the first draft of that novel using her own fingers to press the computer keys. But then her disease destroyed the muscles in her hands. She didn’t give up. Instead, she found volunteers – aides, friends, high school students – who wrote down the story as she dictated it. She finished the first draft this way. Then began the revision process. She would read the pages her helpers had printed off and talk them through the changes they should make to the manuscript. She went through numerous revision cycles this way, until she decided she was done.
Then she did what most serious writers do: she sent her first novel out to agents and publishers and started on a second one.
Like most manuscripts, hers was rejected at first. It didn’t matter; she knew the realities of the writing business and continued working on her second novel and resubmitting her first.
All the while, her body continued to betray her. She developed cancer and had to take a break from writing while she underwent treatment. She sent the cancer into remission, but the MS continued eating away at her neurological system. She could no longer operate her mechanized wheelchair, much less hold the pages of her writing. Still, she never stopped writing and submitting.
Early this fall, her MS had progressed so far that her movement was limited to mostly just a few muscles in her face. She was put in hospice care.
The last time I saw her, she asked me, as she always did whenever we met, “How’s that novel coming, Joan? You know, you’ve got to get it finished and sent out.” She said we helped motivated each other to keep writing, but I suspect I got the better end of that deal.
Then one day we got the expected, yet dreaded, phone call. Diane had died. My sadness at her loss was bad enough, but it was worsened by the thought that she’d never see her novels published – if they ever were.
We traveled across the state to attend Diane’s funeral, and I carried with me this deep double-sadness. It wasn’t until after the funeral, when I could talk with her two best friends and writing helpers that I found out what happened. Diane died on a Sunday. On each of the preceding two days, she’d received acceptance letters from publishers – both of whom wanted to publish her first novel. She died knowing that her words would, indeed, be shared with the world. She died happily.
I don’t know which publisher her survivors will choose for her novel or when the book will be published, but someday you’ll see on the bookstands a novel by the author Diane Groth. That’s her.
I realize how lucky I am to have had these two muse-cousins in my life. I get goosebumps when I think about the fact they shared the same name; in fact, they’re the only cousins I have with that name. But most of all, I’m filled with gratitude that these cousins each helped me develop the two most important qualities a writer needs: the love of writing stories, and the persistence – against all odds – to keep writing each and every day.
My hope is that their stories will serve as a bit of inspiration for you, too.