We love celebrating the work of authors in this space! Taryn Hutchison’s new book, One Degree of Freedom, is historical fiction aimed at young adult readers and is set in Cold War Romania. The heroine of the story, Adriana, is a teenager in the 1980s, who lives in a place where someone is always watching and listening, a place cut off from the rest of the world, a place where God does not exist. Everything changes when she steps through a wardrobe into a room, hidden in the wall, filled with stacks of banned books. You may have a young adult reader in your life who’d enjoy this book, or you may want to savor it yourself on a quiet afternoon. We will be drawing the name of one person who will win a copy of the book. Simply click here to email us your NAME and FULL MAILING ADDRESS (U.S. only) by midnight, Tuesday, January 19th.
Below, Taryn tells us the story behind the writing of her book. Sometimes, the shifts of midlife are just the spark to rekindle a dormant dream:
When I was a child, I loved to sit on the wooden swing my Grandpop hung from a tree on the banks of the Choptank River. I’d swing—back and forth, back and forth—and dream of someday being a writer. I didn’t sigh and whisper, “Someday.” I did something about it.
With a number two pencil and a spiral notebook, I wrote my first novel—more like a novella—when I was ten. It was historical fiction about a young girl named Anne who lived on Elfreth’s Alley in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War.
Fast forward more than fifty years. My debut novel, also historical fiction, was recently released. Did I waste those decades between?
As much as I loved writing, I also loved a lot of other things, and some of those are what I pursued in the first half of my life. When I turned forty, living in Budapest Hungary as a single missionary, I took stock of my life.
How had I spent the first half? Were there any dreams left untapped? Any gifts not used, lying dormant?
Immediately, I remembered the long-ago dream that had never really left me, just been relegated to the back of the closet. I had no regrets. I had followed what God put in my heart to do.
But now I was ready to make some changes for the second half of my life. It boiled down to a stewardship issue. Was I going to develop the gift I believe God gave me—the little bit of talent but whole lot of desire to write? I was ready, but I didn’t know when I’d “find” the time or how this could happen with my busy schedule.
It took moving back to the States to give me the needed push. Soon after my return, reeling from reverse cultural adjustments, I sat on another swing over the banks of my same Choptank River to reflect. And I remembered. That day, I promised God I would rekindle this dream.
But then my life disrupted again when I got married. It was a good change, but all change messes with my rhythm. When my new husband and I visited the Eastern Europe I love so dearly, he encouraged me to write about the place and time that had become permanently embedded in my heart. The sights and smells and sounds percolated in my memory. He helped me shift my work schedule to four days to “make” (not find) time to write my first book, a memoir entitled We Wait You.
More change. We moved across country and I landed an all-consuming job. But I kept plodding. I tried to learn everything I could about writing. With two classes per semester, I got my master’s degree in writing at age 59.
Five years ago, for one of those grad classes, I listened to a speech by Neil Gaiman on “How Stories Last.” Gaiman said good stories make life worth living and sometimes they even keep you alive. Then he told a good story about his cousin, Helen Fagin, in the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust. Every night, Gaiman’s cousin would read novels—all were forbidden—and then retell the stories to a group of young girls the next day. They were spellbound. Later, Gaiman asked Helen why she risked her life and theirs for a story. She replied, “Because in that hour, we got away.”
When I heard this, immediately a fully-formed plot flashed in my mind. It was so sudden, I think of it as a God-thing. I’d heard words like Helen’s many times during the years I lived in Eastern Europe, seen countless wardrobes with paperback books crammed into every inch. One friend told me she survived life under Communism by escaping into the world of banned fiction written by American or British authors.
The storyline that came to me was of a teenage girl in Communist Romania, named Adriana, forced to become an engineer against her will. Adriana walks through a wardrobe into a secret room filled with stacks of forbidden novels. The stories she reads bring light as her life strangely begins to parallel those of the heroines.
With work and grad school and life, it took a couple years to write that novel and a couple more to land a publisher. But it happened. I am thrilled that my young adult novel, One Degree of Freedom, entered the world this fall. I was 52 when my first book was published and 64 with this debut novel.
Perhaps you’ve seen the quote going around social media, mistakenly attributed to C. S. Lewis: “You are never too old to set a new goal or dream another dream.” Sadly, these words didn’t come from Lewis; they probably originated with Les Brown in 1992.
But whoever first wrote it, the advice holds. You will never outgrow your dreams. And you can quote me on that!
Younger people who pursue their dream early might have more raw talent than I do, and definitely more time to develop their skill. But not one of my experiences during those silent years was squandered. I lived life and I observed life. Now’s the time to write about that. I’m just getting started!
What about you? What is your unfulfilled dream? Maybe today’s the day to do something about it.
Taryn R. Hutchison wanted to be a writer since she was a child growing up in a small town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore—with its 75 people, three million chickens, and her two imaginary friends. After living abroad and traveling the world, her childhood dream began to beckon. Her debut novel, One Degree of Freedom, young adult historical fiction, was released in November 2020. She also wrote a memoir, We Wait You, about her ten years in Eastern Europe, now translated into Romanian. Visit her at www.tarynhutchison.com.