Following her move into Plymouth Village during the summer of 2013, resident Kaye Beechum sought after a creative and fun outlet for herself.
She joined the community’s resident association and several resident-led committees. She also served as the association’s vice president and president; and she even began participating in a creative writing workshop held at the community. It was in that workshop Beechum discovered an opportunity to renew an old passion that gave her the space to write about her life as single mother who lost her youngest daughter in a tragic car accident when she was just 19.
“Right after Cheryl passed away, I started talking about what happened at that time but I always kept myself busy with work so I didn’t have to think about the sadness,” said Beechum. “However, in the writing workshop, I was really encouraged to explore and write my story.”
In 2015, Beechum published her debut memoir, “Forever 19.” She takes her reader through her compelling and heart-wrenching journey of becoming a single mother following 11 years of marriage, her career struggles, and most of all, the pain of losing Cheryl. Discover more about how Beechum found her artistic voice and story in our interview with her below.
Q: What motivated you to explore to write and share your story?
Beechum: “I’ve always wanted to be a writer when I was younger. Then I had all of my children and my husband, and we both were working. I only really had time to write short stories, and then I would send them off to magazines and would get this formal letter back rejecting my story. After a while of getting those letters, I moved on; you might say I got a little discouraged, but I was really too busy with my family to keep on trying.
“Right after Cheryl passed away I started talking about what happened at the time but I always kept myself busy with work so I didn’t have to think about the sadness. However, in the writing workshop, I was really encouraged to explore and write my story. I was participating in the creative writing group, where I started a shorter version of that experience of losing a child. Everyone in the workshop with me encouraged me to go farther and to share more. They were appreciative of the story even though it was difficult to open up my life and put it all down on paper. Yet after a while, I felt okay about that and that’s what encouraged me to go forward.”
Q: I also find writing to be therapeutic. Did you find it to be so for yourself?
Beechum: “Oh yes, it was quite therapeutic. For a long time, in my career I wrote reports, and in writing those reports, I had to work on making them sound more business-like, as opposed to making them sound like a creative story. It was always a challenge to do so. Now when I retired (in 1996) and then moved here (in 2013), I had to work on becoming more creative again and it’s not easy. You don’t sit down and just write down something on paper. People think and say to me: ‘Why is it taking so long?’
“I tell them writing is a real challenge.”
Q: How do you break through the challenge?
Beechum: “When I get stuck, I just walk away—and I will put it away for a while. Eventually, I will come back to the story and then I can see where I can fix it and make it even better, as well as determine the direction. Everyone has their own system or technique. You have to make your own choices and decisions, and do what works for you.”
Q: What have you discovered about yourself as a writer?
Beechum: “I’m not sure I have a short answer for that. When I first moved here, I wrote a short story in class titled, “The Search is Over.” I shared in that story my experience of being raised as an army brat and traveling around a lot. My family (she and her four children) also traveled around a lot. Now, I am living at Plymouth Village, which is this small town where I get to know all of the people and really feel like a part of it. I didn’t have that all my life.
“Also, it’s not about learning about myself through the writing; it’s learning about myself through my experiences from living here. I haven’t just been sitting here writing. I became the president of our resident association; I first served as vice president. I have joined a lot of committees and been involved in activities and programming at the community.
“I’ve found that I am kind of a leader, and I can help people.”
Q: You have started your second book. How is that coming along?
Beechum: “It has been slow. I started one, and then, I changed my mind about the direction of that story, which is about the travel adventures shared with my mother and I. But I decided to move on to a different story that’s related to my career working in parking enforcement in Los Angeles. My daughter is encouraging me to keep going. We will see what happens next.”
Q: What advice would you give to others who’re looking to explore the idea of becoming a creative writer?
Beechum: “When I sit with people at lunch or dinner, they always have stories to share. I tell them that they should sit down and write about it. They say: ‘No, I can’t write.’
“You will never know unless you write it out. You can always come back. Just write!”