Second Act


Early retirement at age 55 in 1991from a traveling, teaching position with the State of Illinois, newly married to a Texas man , this great-grandmother, Lois Barrett Billings, by 2003 lived in a strange area, depressed, unfulfilled, emotionally and physically sick.

Memories of days as a reporter, photographer, columnist, reasonably known as a person of public involvement and as a state employee traveling over 30,000 miles a year, blocked my mind to enjoying a new husband and life.

I attended a tax preparation program in 1992 which filled my life off and on in the Spring for nine years, but there was always a restless feeling deep inside. Dreams of becoming an author had only been fulfilled with news media, non-fiction magazine articles and anthology-published poetry. Health declined and despair led to a self-pitying couch potato, and I laid down to die to the point of calling my  home state to inquire about funeral arrangements.

One such black day, a sudden memory of a manuscript begun at age eighteen complete with outline, characters,  plot, and stored in a boot box brought to Texas from Illinois for “someday.”.  It was to be my “Great American Novel,” but distractions of marriage- children- career prevented the completion. Reporter-minded, I wrote non-fiction putting away fiction for another time.

Obsession with the project grabbed me.  Putting all else aside, in a burst of energy I worked day and night until a rough draft of a historical fiction adventure set in the early 1800’s– of what was to become Southern Illinois– was completed. Following a year of haunting libraries,  editing, rewriting, fleshing out, formatting and completion, endless mailings to publishers, agents, rejections, and over-all frustration took much time. At age sixty-eight, there wasn’t enough time with my deteriorating  physical condition to travel these avenues. I felt desperate to be published before death. It was a new dream, a reason for living. I adopted a new name:  Lois Fowler Barrett.

Convincing my husband in 2004 to leave Texas and return with me to Illinois where I believed better contacts could be made, I set about aligning myself with writers groups, attending lectures, haunting the libraries and listening to experts. One such expert, a self-publisher, revealed the strategy of setting up a publishing company, copy writing, ISBNs from The Library of Congress, but best of all, a published book.

Bowker, the avenue for ISBNs, became a name I grew familiar with, setting up the project in record time. Fellow writers expressed surprise at the speedy publication. They had only met me a few months earlier and I had established a company–Brick Hill Publishing–with my first novel When the Earthquakes Spoke ready for sale.

This novel– this “thing,”– had to be the one project completed in a life of noncommital leanings. Success in selling at a local Arts and Crafts Festival filled me with renewed desire to become known as a respected novelist, not just a reporter, a short-story writer, a poet.

Marketing, advertising, joining agencies of benefit, setting up a web page, all filled the days. Local news plugged my book, and I was off and running and running and running.  Future sales evolved in bookings and all the trappings of extolling the virtues of the novel, lifting me to a new level.

My second act was on-going: but in 2005 illness disrupted the plans. Bedridden, house-trapped, drowning in cabin-fever, cancelling meetings and book-signing obligations, to say I became depressed was an understatement. I took to the couch once more. Hospitalized again in early 2006, I vowed to never write again.

Lo and behold, a self-publication contest judge for Writers Digest gave a good report on the submitted novel I had forgotten and encouraged me to continue! This brought a discouraged great-grandmother back to the computer and Preacher’s Son & Henry Brown, a follow-up of the first novel, was birthed to be published in January 2007. This was followed by There Oughta Be A Law, a murder mystery set in Texas, published in May, 2007. I gave up tax preparation.

While doing research in Texas, a contact with  Hastings Book Store in Victoria, Texas led to two shelf stockings as they began selling all three novels. This led South Central Texas libraries, Southern Illinois libraries, area book stores and others to stock the books and once again I was off and running.

However–illness struck again. Back-to-back surgeries occupied late Summer of 2007 and at age seventy-two my mind was desperately seeking to remember simple words. I couldn’t think of writing properly, thus to the couch again, sure my new career was over. Recuperating became the only drive in life. September of 2007 blanked out.

Lo and behold, in late October, the Nov/Dec 2007 SATURDAY EVENING POST arrived!

On page 38, Second Acts by Andrea Neal slapped me into action. The article caused me to realize life hadn’t ended at age 68, nor at 72, and the second act ongoing. Whether this “second act journey” is accepted for publication or not is less important than the fact I sat down at the computer and began writing again.

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