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The Boston Globe

South

Beverly Beckham

Remembering my mentor: Bob Cormier

“Times change but feelings never do,” Bob Cormier told me more than 30 years ago. He was a writer famous for his novels for young adults (“The Chocolate War” and “I Am the Cheese” were both made into feature films), and I was a semi-young adult, thirtysomething and just starting to write.

I was freelancing for the Patriot Ledger the summer I discovered Cormier. In three months, I devoured everything he had published: his short stories, adult novels, kids novels, his columns.

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I loved how he told a story and I loved how he used words. So I wrote to him and asked if I could interview him. He wrote his reply on an old typewriter on thin erasable bond, his name and address embossed in brown at the top (brown was his favorite color, though I didn’t know that then). He said, “Thank you for your letter” and “I’d be happy to meet you” and “My telephone number is. . . . ”

And the next week I drove to his home in Leominster.

He introduced me to his wife, Connie, showed me the small, doorless home office in which he wrote. Then we sat in his living room and talked.

That’s when he said words that have stuck with me since: “All my ideas come from emotions. Emotions are timeless and they bind us together. I’ve seen my children on a rainy day sitting at the window looking out feeling lonely and I think it’s the same loneliness that an 85-year-old woman feels in her room downtown looking out on Main Street.”

Times change, the world changes in big and small ways every day.

He said: ‘All my ideas come from emotions. Emotionsare timeless and they bindus together. I’ve seen my children on a rainy day sitting at the windowlooking out feeling lonely and I think it’s the same loneliness that an 85-year-old woman feels in her room downtown looking out on Main Street.’ 

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Even our feelings change from moment to moment. But sad, lonely, angry, frightened, in love, content, happy? Emotions never change.

I still have my notes from that long ago day. They’re full of descriptions: “Green and gold couch. Coffee table with books on it. Piano — cartons under it. Window seat — more books. Blue carpeting. Rocking chair.”

But I remember only the window seat because it was that window he was looking out on a gray October day as he talked about his children and the old woman and loneliness.

Bob Cormier took me under his wing. He encouraged me to be a columnist. He had been a columnist for more than 30 years. He said I didn’t need a degree in journalism to write. All I needed was passion.

He said that more important than talent for a writer is discipline. Write every day, he said. He thought of himself not as a writer, but as a rewriter. “I do two things when I rewrite. I cut and cut and then I search for the perfect word.” He said that when you’re a writer, nothing gets wasted. “The bad times you accept because they’re grist for the mill some day.”

He wrote about how it feels when your kids grow up and leave. How loss, even when it’s expected, feels unexpected. How spring feels and summer and winter and fall. He mined the changing of the seasons and the changing of people’s lives. He told their stories. He didn’t just see with his eyes — green and gold couch, coffee table with books on it.

He saw with his heart.

And he encouraged me to do the same.

Now I have been a columnist for as long as he was. Hard to believe.

Today The Globe is launching a small e-book of my columns, called “The Best of Beverly Beckham.”

Bob would have liked this.

Emotions are our connection. They are what we share. This is what he taught me.

The book is in memory of him.

Beverly Beckham can be reached at beverlybeckham@me.com.
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