I started my budding writing career in the tiny pioneer town of Oakley, Idaho. I was a stay-at-home mom to four children, and in an attempt to maintain my mental acuity and sanity, I turned to writing. I penned a weekly humorous column “Oh No! Tomorrow’s Another Day” for the Oakley Herald. I achieved local fame, i.e. several people I bumped into in the post office or grocery store said, “I got a real kick out of your column this week” or “How much truth is there in that column of yours?” This high praise encouraged me to send my work to national publications, and soon I was published in The Friend, Baby Talk, and best of all, Reader’s Digest which garnered me a check for $300.00 and a bumper sticker which read, “I won money, fame, and glory. Reader’s Digest bought my story!”
The fame and glory stuck, but the money soon ran out, so I found myself commuting two hours each way to earn a Masters Degree in English at Idaho State University and then teaching high school English for twenty-four years. Nothing impedes a young author’s progress more than teaching the masters. I’m no Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, or William Shakespeare. It took five years of retirement, four book clubs, and reading anything I wanted including mysteries, romances, best-sellers, nonfiction, memoirs, etc. for me to ease the pressure to be Tolstoy or Austin and just write. Viola! Shakespeare’s True Love was born.
Helen E. Burton
Educator | Traveler | Author
I love to read! The one constant in my life has been my affinity for books. When you read Shakespeare’s True Love, you will find me in the character of Anne Hathaway as she learns to read sitting on her father’s lap and helping him with the farm ledger. My father’s habit after a long day of cultivating, hauling bales, or harvesting wheat was to relax in his leather recliner to complete the crossword puzzle from the day’s Argus Leader. I would cuddle up with him, and he would read me the clues to the puzzle and ask for suggested answers. As a four-year-old, I rarely had insight into any of the words Dad was searching for, but as i followed along as he read, the words began to make sense to me, and I entered first grade able to read most things the teacher placed before me.
When I started school, my mother went back to work as the County Superintendent in charge of twenty-seven rural schools. Her office was on the third floor of an impressive courthouse with marble floors and long, imposing staircases. After school, I would walk to the courthouse and find sweet refuge in the little library located on the bottom floor of the courthouse, opposite the jail and sheriff’s office.
The library was dark and cool with walnut floors and a maize of tall bookshelves—the perfect spot for me to wile away two hours waiting for my mother to give me a ride home to the farm. The librarian was a gentle soul and good friend of my mother, and though I didn’t know it at the time, I think the two conspired to point me towards the best books: the Bobbsey Twins, Little House on the Prairie, Nancy Drew, Black Beauty, and all the Oz books. Very early in my reading career I became addicted to a series called the Happy Hollisters and read every book in the thirty-three volume series at least three times!
When I entered high school, I was blessed with excellent English teachers who expanded my reading to include Twain, Steinbeck, Bronte, Austin, and Shakespeare. Those authors became my friends and helped me through the angst of my teenage years. They were my comfort when the temperature dropped to twenty below zero and the winds whipped snow around our farm house and kept us homebound.
After graduating from high school, I took my first giant leap of faith by choosing to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The school was 900 miles away from my farm, had more students than my entire county, and strangest of all, it was a Mormon school. My parents did not object to my application to BYU because they were sure no Methodist farm girl would be admitted. We were all shocked when I received my admissions letter!
I became one among the swarm of 26,000 students walking the beautiful campus nestled at the foot of the Wasatch Front. I had never seen such a massive library in my life. I finally understood the long-known expression, “So many books, so little time.” I spent the majority of my days in the English and Political Science departments with an eye to becoming an International Diplomat or lawyer.
I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English with the goal of being in the first graduating class from BYU’s newly opened law school. One huge barrier stood between me and a law degree: money. My parents sacrificed to pay for my undergraduate degree, and I was not going to ask them to sell more cattle to pay for law school. I took a job at a small high school on the eastern slopes of Colorado teaching English, speech, journalism, and drama; I was the English department!
That need to stand on my own two feet and not rely on my parents introduced me to the career I loved for twenty-four years. I never made it to law school because I discovered the only thing better than escaping into a good book was helping young adults discover the magic of literature.