Whether a story is fact or fiction, to tell a good story takes a great deal of passion. Each writer has a meaning and reason behind what he or she writes and that reason can not only touch the writer’s life, but also the lives of the readers who pick up the story. Self-published writer Donna Mabry was inspired to write her non-fiction piece about her grandmother. Not only did Nola Maude Clayborn inspire her granddaughter to write her life story, becoming the Amazon self-published book Maude, but readers have taken so much inspiration from Maude and continue to pass that inspiration along to other readers.
Maude is a truly beautiful piece of non-fiction written by a truly beautiful, both inside and out, and accomplished woman. “I am an only child who has three sisters. The first one didn’t come along until I was twelve. The last time I was pregnant, my mother was pregnant, and my sister is younger than my son. They grew up like twins,” Mabry said. “During my many incarnations, I have been a wife, mother, actor, seamstress, painter, and writer, not necessarily in that order. Right-brained, they say. If you have a math problem, keep it to yourself.” Having told stories to her daughter her whole life, Mabry’s daughter was the one who told her mother to write Maude’s story.
A truly inspiring aspect of Mabry’s writing career was the fact that her writing career did not begin until after she was 60 years old. She has shown every aspiring writer that one does not have to be twenty-something years old to begin writing stories for publication. “I was in Creative Writing in high school. I didn’t begin college until I was 30 and took more classes there. I still take an occasional class at UNLV for things like screenwriting. I married young, at 19, and that was my profession for the next six years. When my son began kindergarten, I became an Avon lady. With no second car, I rode my bike. I was promoted to team leader, Assistant Manager, and then District Manager in only two years. I still own stock in the company. I didn’t write anything for forty years,” Mabry said.
Where did her first inspiration come from for writing a novel? The very idea of actually writing a novel came to her when she worked in Las Vegas as a seamstress, making outfits for showgirls. She thought she could write a novel based on the people she knew and the stories she had heard. To her surprise, writing a novel came very easily to her and, within three months, she had completed her first novel. “[My novel] was published by Publish America at no cost to me,” Mabry said. “Now, I remember hearing a writer friend say that if he had known when he started writing what he had to learn along the way, he wouldn’t have written his first book. It’s much like labor pains: if you knew what they were before you got pregnant, you might never get pregnant. Luckily, I deliver babies the same way I deliver novels, quickly.”
“I was sixty when The Last Two Aces in Las Vegas came out. It was unpolished, but a good story with great characters. Since then, I have revised it and would do another revision if I could find the time,” Mabry said. “I used the lives of almost everyone I knew. The publisher gave me no advice and no help. They required that I cut 20,000 words from the story and those 20,000 words became the basis for The Las Vegas Desert Flower. With that, I was off and running with my first series The Alexandra Merritt Mysteries. The sixth book in that series, The Las Vegas Sophisticate, was just recently released. I now have 19 completed books.”
Writing Maude was a very different experience for Mabry, her non-fiction book about her grandmother taking ten years to complete versus the three months it took to write her first novel. And yet, even with Maude taking longer than her other novels, discovering how much she must have meant in her grandmother’s life while writing her grandmother’s story meant a lot to her. “It wasn’t until I actually began writing the introduction where I tell about sleeping with her and her telling me her story that it became clear to me. She only had two close friends in her whole lifetime, and I came to understand how important our relationship was to both of us. The actual writing was a ten-year process, at times delightful, at times heart breaking,” Mabry said. One fact Mabry does not mention in her book is one of her fondest memories with her grandmother: her grandmother would stand Mabry up on a chair in front of her stove and teach her how to cook.
What readers will notice as they make their way further through Maude is that Mabry herself is in the story. One would think it would be strange or difficult to write oneself into a non-fiction story, but Mabry had no problems writing her childhood scenes. “The difficulty came when my grandmother faced so many terrible losses. Especially when I wrote about my father’s death, it tore me up. I did waver over telling about my grandfather’s anatomy. I didn’t know that until he was in the hospital and hallucinating and throwing off the covers. By then, I was a married woman and asked my grandmother how she coped with it. That was when she told me about that part of her life. I finally decided that if I was going to tell her story, I had to tell all of it,” Mabry said.
With how wonderful and difficult Maude was to write, Mabry was truly inspired by those closest to her to tell her grandmother’s story. Mabry’s daughter (who describes herself as her mother’s manager) and her friends, Sandy and Shelby, were her biggest influences in writing Maude. “It was Shelby who suggested that Maude should be written in first person and she was SO right,” Mabry said. “It isn’t my story, but my grandmother’s and it needed to be told to the readers in the same way I heard it.” Beautiful novels come from the passion their writers feel while writing them. Beginning in a publishing company before migrating to self-publishing, Mabry shares with writers everywhere that not only can beautiful novels be released through self-publishing, but also that there is no age limit to write a novel that will touch the lives of many readers.
“When I signed with Publish America, they owned my work for eight years. If I publish myself, I own it and all the rights that come along with it. I can make the story as long as it needs to be. Maude is 150,000 words. How could I possibly cut one-third of it? Also, even if your book is picked up by a traditional print publisher, it could take two years from contract to holding your book in your hand. I don’t know how many ‘two years’ I have left, and I’m writing about three books a year. Amazon and CreateSpace have given me tremendous support,” Mabry said. “The success of self-publishing Maude brought many blessings, one of them was an agent who has since negotiated deals to have Maude translated and published in Russian, German, Italian, and, just recently, in Slovak. He also brought me together with an audiobook publisher who did wonderful work on not only Maude, but also the first three books in my The Manhattan Stories series.”