Palmetto author turns childhood stories from distant past into novel

CARL MARIO NUDI PHOTO
Sarah A. Younger, author of A Bend in the Straight and Narrow, talks to an audience of more than 45 people Aug. 19 at the Woman’s Club of Palmetto. She explains how while dusting the photos of her ancestors, displayed on the table, she would think of the family stories her grandmother, Nellie O’Steen, would tell her while growing up in Palmetto. These stories were the inspiration of Younger’s Civil War historical novel.

By CARL MARIO NUDI

Palmetto native Sarah A. Younger was back in her hometown Aug. 19 to give a talk at the Woman’s Club of Palmetto on her first novel, A Bend in the Straight and Narrow.

When Younger was a little girl growing up in Palmetto she would take long bus trips with her grandmother to visit relatives in Northern Florida and Virginia.

To make the time go by faster, her grandmother, Sarah Helen O’Steen, who went by Nellie, would tell stories to Younger about her family ancestors.

“She wouldn’t just tell the stories once,” Younger said. “I heard them several times, and they’re imbedded in my mind.”

Many years later when Younger retired in 2006, she was excited to start projects.

She bought a guitar and wrote some music.

She bought a computerized embroidery machine and made five or six quilts.

She bought a camera and photographed a lot of birds.

“But I was looking for something else,” Younger said.

Over the years as she would dust her bookshelf, she kept looking at a framed photo of her great-great-grandmother, Sarah Ann Wilson, one of the relatives her grandmother would talk about on those bus trips.

Then, in 2009, she said he had an epiphany.

“I realized I could write Granny (Nellie) O’Steen’s stories,” said Younger, whose maiden name is White, “I can just fictionalize them.

PROVIDED PHOTO Sarah A. Younger, author of A Bend in the Straight and Narrow.

“I always knew I wanted to write, but never started,” she said.

Life was so busy. There was work. She had a daughter, got divorced, remarried. She never seemed to have time for writing.

“I was waiting until I retired,” the former teacher said. “Time is the gift.”

So Younger started to put down on paper all of Granny Nellie’s stories.

“I wrote for five or six months like a crazy woman,” she said. “Writing was such an exciting experience.

“There’s nothing like it,” Younger said. “Once it started flowing it was like a broken dam.”

At the end of this frenzied period, she had a stack of paper with a fictional story about a young married women who had to flee her home in Georgia to the wilds of Florida during the Civil War, as the Union troops advanced.

But then she asked herself what was she to do with all this writing.

Maybe it could be a novel.

Younger remembers finding a paper in her mother’s attic she wrote while attending Palmetto High School.

“She said she saved it because I got an A+ on it,” she recalled. “In the paper I wrote, ‘Someday I want to work on a novel.’

Everybody talks about writing a novel,” Younger said.

But here she was with what could be a book.

“I was naïve and didn’t know anything about publishing,” Younger said. “So I looked at author blogs (on the internet).”

She crafted a query letter and sent it to writer agents.

Not knowing what to expect, one agent replied and asked her to send the manuscript.

After awhile the agent called and said he had some good news and some bad news.

“He said the good news was that he would like to represent me,” Younger said.

The bad news was that I had a lot of work to do,” she said. “It was not long enough and needed character development.”

A Bend in the Straight and Narrow, Sarah A. Younger’s first novel, has been very successful and is available on Amazon.

Younger said she was excited about the process and expected to hear back once she did all the revisions and sent them off to him.

But she did not hear back from the agent, and then she found out he had died before sending her finished manuscript to any publishers.

With all this work completed Younger decided to send out more query letters, but she never received a reply from any of them.

After many months, her daughter, Morgan, said she would help Younger self-publish the book.

They started the process in May 2015, and the book was finally published in November.

Younger said she would not look at any reviews, then one day her daughter called to say she got her first review.

“I peeked at it,” she said, “and it was good.”

Since then the book has been very well received.

“I think it’s because people can relate to the story and characters,” Younger said. “Everybody has a past and everybody has stories.”

Many of Younger’s former Palmetto High School classmates and friends came to hear her speak at the Woman’s Club of Palmetto.

She reminisced about when her family moved to a house on 11th Street.

“I was in the second grade,” Younger said. “During the summer we never wore shoes, and the white shell roads were hot.”

The children in the neighborhood would climb the large guava trees.

“They were our pirate ships,” she said.

During that time Younger also spent a lot of time with her grandmother.

Granny O’Steen lived with Younger and her mother while her father was serving in World War II.

“Grandmother was a wonderful cook,” Younger said. “She made her own clothes and always had a fan and wore a corsage.

“There’s a family term, ‘a true Palmetto woman,’” she said that the men folk of the family would use. “We’re stubborn, strong, and resourceful.”

The male members of the family did mean it as a compliment,” Younger emphasized.

But this saying very much described Granny O’Steen.

Younger’s grandfather ran off with another woman leaving her grandmother and five grown children.

Granny O’Steen owned a boarding house in Palmetto and lived on a government pension she received after one of her sons died in World War II.

“She wasn’t bitter or angry,” Younger said of her grandmother. “But [she] was stern.”

Younger said some of the success of the book was due to her growing up in Palmetto.

She wrote in high school and taught English and art for many years.

“I’m thankful for the education I received in Palmetto schools,” said Younger, who retired from teaching and went into selling real estate in Merritt Island where she now lives with her husband Doug.

Her cousin, John O’Steen, was at the event at the Woman’s Club of Palmetto to hear Younger talk about her book.

“I’m very impressed with my cousin,” O’Steen said. “I read her book about a year ago and thought it was very good.

“I’m impressed at how well documented it was,” he said. “She spent a lot of time researching it.”

“O’Steen said he could relate to some of the stories in A Bend in the Straight and Narrow.

“Grandmother told me some stories about my father, who died in World War II,” he said.

Younger said she is writing a second book.

“It starts in 1888, where the first book left off,” she said. “And will be about my grandmother.

“And I have a feeling I have a couple more books in me,” Younger said.

A Bend in the Straight and Narrow can be purchased on Amazon.

For more information about Sarah Younger visit her website at www.FloridaHeritageNovel.com

To learn when Younger will be speaking next in the area, go to her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/abendinthestraightandnarrow/.

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