By J. Louise Larson
Friendship spanning a generation and a world of experience has united two writers and their work.
In life’s twilight, multiply published author June Wetherell Frame turned 100 last month.
A generation and then some behind her, writer Pat Pratt is still collaborating with her mentor.
She visits Frame three times a week in the Trinity Mission nursing home in Italy.
The two women published a novel three years ago, the PublishAmerica romance “On With the Dance.” And they’re still working on character sketches. Plot ideas. Short stories.
And that keeps June Frame’s own personal storyline going.
“We talk about what we might write together, what to do about what we’ve got. Otherwise, I don’t know what’s going,” she said Thursday. “I don’t make for stimulating conversation.”
June Wetherell Frame grew up in a newspapering home. Her parents worked in the newspaper business in Washington state, her mother as a reporter and her father as ad manager for the Bellingham Herald, where young June Wetherell got her start writing – although her first appearance in print was in a photo when, as a toddler, she rode a stuffed elk in a parade in her native Bellingham, Wa. (Her father was a leader in the BPOE Elks fraternal order)
“Instead of drawing pictures that they put up on the refrigerator, I wrote stories," she recounted in an earlier interview.
She wrote feature stories for the paper, graduated from the University of Washington and was an editor at Family Circle. She and her late husband had two sons, and she launched her fiction-writing career.
Her first book sold in 1941 to a little-known publisher for the princely sum of $150. She and her husband spent it on a trip to New York.
Her husband helped her with her historical novels. Having taken fencing, he lent some credibility to her swashbuckling scenes.
She was willing to try her hand at anything.
"Science fiction – that was hard," she said. "It came out pretty well, but a reviewer said it was very poor science fiction."
By the time she was 80, it got too hard to find agents because they had doubts about what she could produce and promote.
Clearly, they didn’t know June Wetherell Frame.
Frame’s writer’s mind that cranked out potboiling novels by the dozens in her day is still sharp, still looking for that perfect word. Even now, at the century mark, her blue eyes are still bright but focused, sometimes, on that fading light.
Frail and curled up in her bed, her hours and days tend to blur together, and some days, the dreams win.
“When you come here, at least I know it’s real,” she told Pratt.
“Her body’s just 100 years old, so it’s wearing out. It’s frustrating for her, her mind wants to do things, and her body won’t let her,” Pratt said.
“I help her stay in this world. Otherwise, she can go into her own little world after a while. It’s important to keep her frame of mind in the right place. Some days, neither one of us is a very good conversationalist,” she said with a bit of a smile.
“Some days we’re able to talk about whatever comes up. Anything to keep the conversation going, to keep her in reality. Sometimes we read. Sometimes I come down and have lunch with her.
“It’s nice to be able to visit with her but sad to watch her fade away,” Pratt said. “Her body’s just 100 years old, so it’s wearing out. It’s frustrating for her, her mind wants to do things, and her body won’t let her,” Pratt said.
“I just don’t think I have another novel in me,” Frame told her.
So they work on short stories.
What would June do?
So what would an oft-published writer give a writer just working on getting into print?
Here’s a century of writing advice from a 100-year-old writer, culled from several interviews:
"Selling it is twice as hard as writing it, to me," she said. "Maybe it will sell, maybe it won't sell, but it's done. Don't go into novel writing to make a living. You've got to do it because you love it. It's no way to earn a living.
“Just do it – don’t talk about it so much. For God’s sake, write it.
"Writing comes first – everything else in life has to work around it," she said. "When I had little kids, I wrote when they took naps, and I'd find time to write. When they went to school, then I had time to write.
To generate ideas, she has kept a leather-bound notebook, now tattered with age, filled with thumbnail character sketches – people she meets, people she imagines.
"I make up the people, get a setting and figure out where it is going," Frame said. "I put them in different situations. I've never been able to start with the plot. I'm not strong on plot – my books are character driven. When I'm writing a book, they just come right on through.
"Put your character in a situation and make the reader want to see how it's resolved."
Pat Pratt echoes her mentor’s sentiments.
"Making time to write – that's something June always stresses. ... I've learned to 'write in spite' – of everything and everyone around you. I have learned that although age may diminish our physical abilities, it does not need to diminish our capabilities. Age is not an excuse," Pratt said, borrowing Frame’s catch phrase for her writing philosophy: “Write in spite (of).”
After years of writing and newspaper work, Pat Pratt has found the courage to go out on a limb and self-publish. Her recently released “Finding Peace” (PublishAmerica) is a dramatic novel with elements of the supernatural. It’s based on a character sketch she developed.
“I was inspired by June to write this book. I never would have been able to get through this one … You are, in great part, responsible for me getting this done,” she told Frame.
“I was so excited when June asked me if I’d help her write, and three years later when we saw it in print, that gave me the courage to finish mine.
“I probably would have still been worrying over it had I not been working with her on her other book. She made me believe I was a real writer,” said Pratt, who shepherds the Ellis County writing group, Write On!
Pat Pratt feels, and sometimes sees and hears, her mentor letting go of earthly ties. And that makes her a little sad.
“It’s hard to think of coming to see her three times a week and watch her fade, but it would be harder to not come and see her, knowing she has so few days,” Pratt said.
“She’s been a great inspiration to me – that’s what I want to give back to her. I come to see her to inspire her to keep going, as long as she can.”
For one thing, Pratt made sure Frame’s portable electric typewriter sits at the ready in its sacred spot on a small desk, a tabula rasa – blank slate - waiting for Frame’s arthritic fingers to wreak magic from the QWERTY keys once more.
"That's as modern as I get," Frame said in an earlier interview. "Picture Charles Dickens sitting there with pen in hand. I don't see how he'd have written all those books."
Once in a while, Frame will greet her faithful old typewriting friend as she passes by.
“Hello, old friend,” she’ll say. “Well, it didn’t growl at me, so I guess it’s not too mad at me.”
The invitation is still there, the paper white and fresh and inviting, neatly coiled in the carriage, awaiting her expert hand’s tap of the carriage return. Any time, it seems to say. Any time.
“She’s slowed down a lot, but she’s still got a lot of ideas. If she feels the urge, she can still get up and type,” Pratt said.
The urge to control the written word remains. Curled up, her skin faded nearly to alabaster translucence, June Wetherell Frame is still self-editing at 100, with her trademark wry sense of humor.
“Polish me up a little. I hope you make something of me,” she tells her interviewer.
Blogmistress for The Writing Porch, J. Louise Larson contributes to WNI News papers, and is managing editor of the Ennis Journal. Her novel, At High Tide, is in revisions. Again.