It wasn't until April Henry was in her late 20s that she realized anyone can write books — not just special, gifted, wealthy people with prep school educations.
So she dropped her writing job with a hospital chain and started pecking out detective, suspense and teen drama novels.
Now, Henry, 55, a graduate of Medford Senior High School, has published 17 books, made the New York Times hardcover bestseller list for adult fiction and earns a good bit more than she made as a medical center flack writing things such as, "How to Live with Your Uterine Cancer," she says.
"Who knew if anyone was watching her now or if a bush covered the window? Who knew that even if she managed to get out, she wouldn't immediately find an obstacle — that out-of-control dog, a barbed-wire fence or a man with fists or even a gun? Who knew that Griffin wouldn't just break down the door, run to the window and shoot her in the back?
"There was no time to think, no time to hesitate. Cheyenne took a deep breath and slid the window up, praying that Griffin wouldn't hear the faint rattle over the water gurgling down the sink's drain. At the base of her throat, she could feel her heart pounding. She fought back the urge to cough. She tucked the trail of cord into her sock, so that it wouldn't catch on anything. Moving fast, Cheyenne put down the seat and lid on the toilet, climbed up and braced her hands on the windowsill."
If you go
What: Book signing and reading by April Henry, a Portland adult and young adult mystery writer and daughter of the late TV journalist and Jackson County Commissioner Hank Henry
When: 7 p.m. today
Where: Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 1400 Biddle Road, Medford
Henry is the daughter of the late Hank Henry, who was a local TV journalist from 1964 to 1982 and afterward served on the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. Later, he was the voice of Jefferson Public Radio's "As It Was" history segments.
"We kids were always the b-roll (random film) for weather stories and back -to-school stories on KTVL," says April Henry, of Portland, who is back in Southern Oregon this week on a book promotion tour. She will speak today at Ashland and South Medford high schools in hopes of inspiring students who might become authors someday.
She will also read from her work and sign books at 7 p.m. today at Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 1400 Biddle Road, Medford.
"My dad dreamed of being an author but never got around to it," she says. "When I was a kid, he gave me books on how to write. That lit the spark. I wish I'd started younger, but I had this idea that novelists spoke French, went to boarding schools and had horses — but I think I had them mixed up with the rich. I was in my 20s when I realized they were real people — and I didn't try to write a book till I was 30."
Henry got a business degree from Oregon State University, married another writer and they raised a child. They live in Portland, and Henry confesses to missing the hills and beauty of her native Southern Oregon.
On Monday, Henry toured the family's home in east Medford, visited her dad's grave at the Eagle Point National Cemetery and had lunch with her mother's old friends from the flower shop.
Her most successful book now is "Girl Stolen," published by Henry Holt in 2010. It's for young readers and tells the story of a girl left in the car by her parents with the keys still in the car. A thief who steals the car doesn't realize there's a child in it, but that changes everything. The plot twist is that the girl is newly blind and must find her way in a strange and dark world, forcing her to rapidly accept and work with her new handicap.
In researching for the book, Henry spent a day at a guide dog school for the blind in Portland. She often dives into such experiences, either to flesh out a novel or to just add dramatic information to the idea storehouse in her mind, she says.
Recently, she took a course normally for police on fighting in close quarters — and learned such arcane knowledge as how to escape if someone throws a plastic bag over your head. (You quickly bite a hole in it with your front teeth, stick your tongue through it and suck in some fresh air.)
Up next is an urban escape and evasion school, where she has to get out of ropes and blindfolds, escape a room and reach a goal, while her captors are looking for her.
"It'll all go in a book somewhere," she says, laughing.
Many facets of the writing life have gotten easier, but research and deadlines are still hard, she says. Right now, she's starting a five-week span to pen 35,000 words for her New York agent.
She has sold film rights for "Girl Stolen" and several others have been optioned. Film is dicey, she says, noting that you never know whether something will get legs and end up on the screen.
When asked about the state of literature in a Facebook-obsessed culture, Henry admits social media has had an impact on reading.
"But this is still a story-loving culture, and novels will always be here," she says.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.