Before Willie Nelson became a household word, he worked as a wrangler at Lost Valley Dude Ranch, in Bandera, Texas, “Cowboy Capital of the World.”
Just out of high school and two years of college, I fell in love with Willie Nelson – at least with his songs. As a writer myself, the simple brilliance of his words resonated with me: Pretend I never happened, Erase me from your mind, You will not want to remember, Any love as cold as mine.
Not knowing it, I broke one of the first rules of writing: write about what you know. I was a 20-year-old kid. I didn’t know anything about anything, so if I wrote anything at all – it had to be about something I didn’t know anything about. My first full-length adult novel (thankfully still unpublished) featured a country-western singer as the protagonist. Not that I knew he was called a protagonist.
Willie Nelson wasn’t my only interview. Local celebrity and bar owner Arkey Blue, of Arkey Blue’s Silver Dollar in Bandera, was kind enough to give me an interview. I’m sure I asked stupid questions. He patiently answered them without telling me how stupid the questions were.
When he was performing at Floore’s Country Store in Helotes, Willie Nelson gave me his phone number. For weeks, I called fruitlessly. Being a Texan, I never gave up. Finally, Willie answered and invited me on a date for an interview.
Willie was married to his third wife, but I was young and stupid – and not a Christian. I wanted to be a famous writer, and I wanted to do it the easy way. Willie Nelson was the ticket. He would fall in love with me, divorce Connie, marry me, promote my books – and I would soon be interviewed by Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.
When Willie picked me up for the Menudo Festival in San Antonio, he was drunk. I didn’t realize how drunk he was until we hit the winding Texas Hill Country road to San Antonio in the middle or on the wrong side of the road. Fortunately we arrived safely, and I clutched a notebook with answers to my questions. Willie said that when he grew long hair, men with traditional haircuts hated him. When he cut his hair – the “longhairs” hated him even more. I asked, “Are you really as sad as the words to your songs make you sound?”
Willie looked at me with humor glinting from the depths of deeply brown eyes and said, “I don’t think anyone can be that sad. Do you?”
On the way back, Willie asked if I minded if he smoked marijuana. I said, “Yes.” He pulled the car off the road and tried to kiss me. I was shocked. In my dreams, we took long walks, talked, spent more and more time together until he proposed. Even young and inexperienced, I realized the sexual advance was fueled by lust, not love, and would be meaningless and demeaning. When I resisted, he was surprised. “You mean you really are writing a book?”
A few months later, I saw Willie at a restaurant. He was staring at me, so I said, “You probably don’t remember me…” He replied, “Sure I do. You’re the girl who really is writing a book.”
That date with Willie Nelson taught me more about writing than any writing course or writing book I’ve ever read.
Write about what you know. Make characters real. Don’t put them on a pedestal because no one – not even famous people like Willie Nelson – is perfect. Your characters need flaws as well as strengths. Persevere. Never give up. Don’t look for the easy way or try to ride someone else’s fame. Even if that works, it will only be temporary, and you will realize that you cheated. That will rob your sense of fulfillment.
As a Christian, let God write the script. Even if Willie had married me and pushed my writing to success, my life would have been all wrong. He is now 80, living with wife number four. He’s a liberal; I’m a conservative. He drinks. I hate alcohol. He’s an activist for marijuana; I hate drugs. God has His own plan and purpose for Willie Nelson and I am not part of that pattern.
Most of all, if my dream wedding to Willie Nelson had taken place, it would have denied me the joy of raising my wonderful son, Luke, who walked with God his entire life.
Instead, God has blessed me with author husband Alan T McKean (The Scent of Time, The Scent of Home, and the soon-to-be-released The Scent of Eternity). We live in the extraordinary Black Isle of Scotland with such vast and varied scenic beauty that one can look in any direction and never see blight.
It’s taken me 40 years and 150 rejection slips to do it the right way and the hard way, but I am now author of five Christian mystery-romance-suspense books, and one young adult pro-life adventure-romance.
Most importantly, I can stand before God and instead of echoing Frank Sinatra’s song, I did it my way, I can say to my Heavenly Father, “I did it Your way.”
One thought on “What my Date with Willie Nelson Taught me about Writing”
How I remember those trips to Helotes to see him–wrote that great poem I’ve long since lost about the country singer “stand [ing} above them”–.remember the zaftig woman in the black dress that didn’t fit buying him drinks and writing the lyrics to his songs on napkins because he couldn’t remember them–and remember being sooo worried about you, but happy you were doing something that meant a lot to you.
Oh. Did I mention I remember Smokey and Ali, too? Much love, Steve!