I’d planned to continue the series on how to prepare for NaNoWriMo this week, but my good friend and powerhouse author Leila Meacham passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer, and I wanted to take a moment to honor her spirit—and what she still has to share with authors.
The author of lush, epic New York Times bestsellers like Roses, Somerset, Tumbleweeds, and her most recent release, Dragonfly, Leila had first tried her hand at writing in the 1980s, while still working as a teacher of high school English. She published three romance novels before deciding the genre and working to the demands of a publishing contract weren’t for her.
It wasn’t until more than twenty-five years later, when she retired from her long teaching career, that she returned to writing, feeling what she always described as a calling to write what became Roses, a surprise New York Times bestseller that kicked off her wildly successful second act as an author—at the age of 70.
A gracious example of bygone Southern gentility and charm who deeply enjoyed talking about writing and books and publishing with those who loved it all as much as she did, Leila was warm and generous in sharing her time and her talent with other authors working their way toward the heights she’d already attained. (Including me; Leila read each of my books and insisted, after I didn’t ask her to blurb Intuitive Editing out of consideration for her health issues, that she read and offer a blurb for my latest novel, despite being in the thick of her personal challenges.)
And she was never shy about sharing what she believed was her God-given mission to write her books. That was one of the things that always struck me the most about Leila: her unflagging belief in herself, her stories, and her writing. In the years in which I knew her, each time she began a new story she gave herself to it wholly, never doubting the vision she had in her head, nor her ability to convey it.
Even as she battled chemotherapy, neuropathy in her fingers that made it painful to type, and increasing health challenges, Leila kept writing, working on one final story that was a complete departure from her usual style and genre, but one she felt compelled to tell.
This one challenged her—not just because of the increasing difficulty of writing it through her physical challenges as well as the mental ones that resulted from her chemo treatments, but because she knew that breaking out of the mold of the sprawling epic historical novels she’d become known for came with a fair number of logistical challenges as well.
And yet in our last conversation a number of weeks ago she was still busily working on revisions, not for one moment entertaining the idea that she couldn’t do it, or shouldn’t—or that she wouldn’t.
Perhaps Leila had dark nights of the soul now and then–like most of us. Every once in a while she hinted at such, asking, “Do you really believe that?” when we talked about whether she would defeat Henry—what she named her cancer to bring it down to a foe she could grapple with, or “Do you really think this is a good story?” when she struggled with parts of the book she’d been working on when she passed away.
But Leila’s faith always carried her through any moments of doubt she may have felt privately or shared only with her beloved husband of six decades, Dick: faith in the God she believed during nearly her entire cancer battle would see her through; faith in her writing, her stories, and her ability to tell them; and faith in herself.
It doesn’t matter that her faith wasn’t always borne out: In the end Henry managed to take Leila down after all, despite her valiant battle; and I don’t know what might become of the book she was still working on when she died.
What matters is that she had that faith. That she kept it. That it fed her confidence and determination and hope and kept her getting back in the ring every time life knocked her out of it.
The last time I talked to Leila weeks ago, she was so very pleased with how her current work-in-progress, April Storm, was coming along. She was exhausted and in pain, and yet despite acknowledging those facts, she was not giving in to Henry, not giving up on seeing her story published.
I believe that faith was what allowed her to never let go of her vision for the future—and that regardless of how things turned out, it made the journey always feel worthwhile to her, even when the path was hard.
Her grace and grit are an inspiration to me—and judging by the friends, readers, and authors whose lives she’s touched, I expect I’m far from alone in that.
Before I expanded How Writers Revise into a regular blog feature, it was a short bonus section for my monthly newsletter subscribers. Leila’s very early contribution was brief, but I wanted to share it here in memory of her fighting spirit and relentless faith.
There’s an old Southern saying that a guest should leave a place a little bit better than they found it. I love that in her below reply she talks about giving revisions her all. Leila gave absolutely everything her all, and her fortitude, generosity, and faith are among her lovely legacies that leave the world just a little bit better than she found it.
How Leila Meacham Revises:
My editing, like all my other approaches to writing, is unorthodox, but I blame the Virgo in me. It’s a trait of ours not to let anything go until it is finished, in this case, whether it’s a word, a sentence or a paragraph. So I don’t move on to the next scene until I have given the foregoing my all.
That is not to say that I don’t go back the next morning to peruse yesterday’s work and throughout the writing process to revise. As a matter of fact, I have never minded revisions. I love making something better.
My approach makes me a slow writer, but then in the final analysis, I don’t have much revising to do when I give the book a final pass over before submitting it to my editor.