Her name is Louise and I first met her on a bookshelf in the children’s section of the store I worked in. I frequently read bits and pieces of novels to pass the slow times, so I picked up My Name is Sus5an Smith: The 5 is Silent and read a bit. I liked her. Her words resonated with me. My friend, Rhonda, said that I should pick up Thoughts of a Grasshopper, so I did and I was hooked. A short time later, I received my acceptance letter to BYU, and as soon as I was given my schedule book, I decided to forego the traditional freshman lineup of generic classes, and filled half my schedule with upper division writing courses. Brilliant, I know, but my new favorite author was also a professor at BYU.
Louise Plummer turned out to be one of the only redeeming parts of my entire BYU experience. (There was also a delicious Frito Salad at the Blimpie in University Mall that can get me choked up from time to time, but that’s about it.) She was hilarious and engaging and supportive and all I wanted in the world was for her to like me and tell me that I was a good writer. She did tell me I was a good writer, but I’m not sure she was interested in being Best Friends Forever with a freshman, no matter how many notes I passed to her in the CougarEat.
One of the greatest things she did was introduce me to Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, my all-time favorite scripture about writing. (A close second is On Writing by Stephen King.) She believed in the book and I do too. It gives you permission to write about anything be it boring, lame, stupid, embarrassing, politically incorrect, whatever. It’s a green light to get to what’s really going on inside your head. And what I needed more than anything else during that time in my life was permission to be whoever I was.
I took every course she taught. If she was speaking somewhere, I went. I arranged for her book-signings at Deseret Book. I took feverish notes every time she spoke in that wonderfully nasal voice. And when she told the story about her son sticking a Micro Machine car up his nostril, nobody laughed harder in the class than I.
During that time, she was finishing up a novel called The Unlikely Romance of Kate Bjorkman and frequently read passages to us in class. I think that’s when I decided that I wanted to grow up and
change my name to Louise Plummer Jr. write children’s books for a living.
One of my writing assignments was a memoir piece I wrote about the house I grew up in. I wrote about wanting my family to move to a bigger, better house as so many of my friends had done. But as soon as my parents really entertained the idea, I couldn’t handle the thought of leaving our house and the laundry chute that I used to hide in and the cut-out in the wall for the TV set. At one point in the story, I talked about a lace tablecloth with a faint purple Kool-Aid stain from one of my little brother’s many spills, and I remember that Madame Plummer spent a bit of time talking about how much she liked that particular detail, and the kind notes she wrote in the margin of the paper I read and re-read at least a hundred thousand times. At the end she wrote, “You should send this somewhere.” It meant everything to me.
When her next novel, A Dance for Three, finally hit the bookshelves a few years later, I bought a copy and devoured it. But it was the page that mentioned a Kool-Aid stained lace tablecloth that really caught my eye. A. Lace. Tablecloth. With. A. Faint. Purple. Kool-Aid. Stain. LOUISE PLUMMER PLAGIARIZED ME! LOUISE PLUMMER PLAGIARIZED ME! DID YOU HEAR ME? THE WOMAN I GAVE MY CREATIVE ALL TO PLAGIARIZED ME! HOLY CRAP! I CAN’T BREATHE!
I was so happy.