My Remarkable Mother

Tuesday’s edition of the Austin-American Statesman had this article on my mother:


At 93, aspiring writer awaits her big break

By Ricardo GándaraAMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFFTuesday, January 27, 2009

Writers write. They keep at it until they think they have it right. It’s work. Some make a living at it, hacking away at computers to tell a story or inform. With this Internet thing, many have started blogs and wait for a comment that will confirm someone out there is reading. Then there are those who write for pure pleasure and because they must.
“I write because I can’t stop writing,” is the way Betty X. Davis explained it to a gathering of the Austin-area Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators last summer.
The aspiring children’s book writer, who at age 93 is still waiting for her big break, is determined that she will write until she can’t.
With her own brood now grandparents, the retired speech pathologist keeps jotting down ideas for children’s and young-adult novels. She works daily, sitting at the computer in her bedroom refining books that have been years in the making.
On a recent morning in her Northwest Hills home, Davis looks fit and just-so, with every white hair in place. She has coffee and croissants situated perfectly on good dishes in the living room.
Davis immediately wants to explain the X in her name. “I was 11 when I decided to add it to my name. How do you explain what 11-year-olds think? I didn’t have a middle name and neither did a friend. I chose X and she chose Y.”
She’s always been creative. Davis could not read or write — she was barely 4 — when she got her first taste of earning a profit with words.
Her parents wanted to enter a contest put on by a jewelry store in their hometown of Akron, Ohio. The challenge: Name a water nymph on a beach at sunrise holding a lustrous pearl.
“I looked at the picture and said, ‘A virgin pearl?’ Certainly, I knew what a pearl was but not the word virgin,” she says.
Her spontaneous creativity earned second prize in the contest, a $15 add-a-pearl necklace that she still has in its original off-white, padded box. She wore the necklace as a child, as did her children. And she kept on working with words.
As a young woman spending time in Spain, she wrote her mother every day on her trusty portable Olivetti. The letters were circulated for years among relatives. She’s still an avid letter writer and e-mailer.
“Maybe because words and ideas keep bugging me until I have to write them down,” she told that group of writers last summer.
The ideas come from everywhere, including her family. Davis has eight children, 13 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
“I have a 10-year-old great-granddaughter who during the presidential campaign did not want Hillary Clinton to win because she wants to be the first woman president,” Davis says. “It inspired me in writing a book about Mitzy Lynn, a brash little girl who wants to be president.”
Mitzy Lynn fully expects to become America’s first female commander in chief in 25 years and has written rules to guide her: Never take a cat to a laundromat. Never give a wig to a pig. Never say “This is my worst day.”
Davis says her great-granddaughter’s enthusiasm and determination inspired her to create Mitzy Lynn. “They’re both spunky kids,” she says.
It’s been rejected by publishers. “They all seem to like the character, but one publisher said it doesn’t fit their line,” she says.
She has four other books in the making. She began “Beyond the Red River” in the 1990s. It’s a novel about Millie, a teenage girl growing up in the Great Depression. It’s been rejected, too, she says. She’s done some rewriting and put it away to work on other books. She plans to fire it up again soon and change the title.
“What do you think about, ‘One to Sing, One to Pray’? Getting published is a long process,” she says.
In 1980, she began to write about a dysfunctional family and called it “The Night the Meat Burned.” A publisher nearly picked it up but rejected it at the last minute, she says. “So I’ve rewritten and rewritten. Now it’s in my files. What I should do is submit it to someone else. It could be fun.”
She’s not deterred.
“This is arrogance, but I have words that people might like to read,” she says. “I have this desire to get the words out and see them in print.”
She tells other aspiring writers that they don’t have to be published in order to write.
“One of the most important things in my life has been writing letters,” she says. “There is always someone who needs comforting words. My words may mean something to someone else. That’s why I write.”
Recently, she wrote a letter to a friend whose wife had died.
“The letter said, ‘We miss her, too. She’ll always be a part of my life.’ He called me to say, ‘Betty, I’ve read your letter a hundred times.’ “
And she does have some publications to her credit. In 2005, a short children’s story, “The Magic Needle” was published in Spider, a children’s magazine. “I got four fan letters from kids,” she says proudly.
In 1987, she wrote a curriculum book for junior high and high school students taking speech pathology. It remained in print for 10 years, she says.
Davis retired from the Richardson school district as a speech pathologist in 1978. She has master’s degrees in speech arts and speech pathology.
After moving to Austin in 1981, she volunteered with the Battered Women’s Shelter (now called SafePlace) and the United Way as a motivational speaker.
Her husband of 69 years, lawyer and law professor Harvey Davis, died two years ago. They met in 1932 on an Akron tennis court. “He was a good father. He was fun with a good sense of humor, and we taught all the kids to play tennis,” she says.
Davis still plays tennis twice a week and goes on daily one-mile walks. She takes no medications.
She’s active in the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, where her work is critiqued by other aspiring writers. The exchanges encourage her to continue.
“We’re writers,” she says. “Of course we all want to be published.”

I got some good genes!