A Writing Life

Palm Harbor woman not too shy to be
an award-winning author

BY CHERYL BENTLEY
SUNCOAST NEWS STAFF
ã Copyright 2006, The Suncoast News
December 23, 2006

 

        Michele Ivy Davis' polished PT Cruiser parked in the driveway of her Palm Harbor home gives a clue about its driver. "Id rather be writing," says a strip above the retro-station wagon's license plate.
        "It's a way of expressing myself," says Davis in her soft voice about writing. "I can't sing. I can't play the piano. I'm too shy to go on stage."
        But not too shy to argue with an editor when a beloved character in her book was being changed
- and win. The editor was trying to tinker with Evangeline Brown's way of speaking.
        Evangeline is the main character in Davis' award-winning young-adult novel, "Evangeline Brown and the Cadillac Motel."
        "She's tough," says Davis, "but I think she's very vulnerable and trying to make sense of the world she lives in."
        Is Evangeline anything like Davis?
        "Not a bit," laughs Davis. "Maybe she's like what I would like to have been, saying all the things I never could."

In German
        This year, the German-language edition of the book won the
Prix Chronos de Litterature.
        The award is sponsored by Pro Senectute Schweiz, a Swiss senior-services organization that promotes dialogue between children ages 10 and 13 and older people.
        The book also was a finalist in the novel-in-progress category in the 2001 William Faulkner Creative Writing Competition and the grand prize winner in Dutton Children's Books' 2002 Ann Durell fiction contest for new voices in young adult fiction.
        Evangeline was born when Davis saw two contradictory signs
-- Cadillac, a symbol of luxury, and Motel, that of low-end lodging -- and wondered what would happen if she put the two together in the Cadillac Motel.
        She began mentally to create the "...long,
low coral-colored building -- one of those motels where people park in front of their room and the air conditioner sticks out of the wall by the door and drips water on the cement," she wrote in the book.
        The motel is in Florida, "right between
BAIL BONDS - 24 HOURS and all of the bicycles and junk on the sidewalk outside Gus' Pawn Shop," she wrote.
        She began to flesh out the details about how the motel's residents would look and talk.

Characters take on lives
        Davis had heard novelists' stories describing how characters take on lives of their own but didn't believe them until it happened to her.
        "Evangeline just kind of came to life," she says in her quiet way.
        That was how she knew Evangeline wouldn't say the things that the overly-eager editor wanted her to speak.
        Looking back on her life, Davis can see her earlier years formed the seed for a rich inner life that would result in the birth of Evangeline.
        Quietly, almost tentatively, as if feeling out a visitor before allowing herself to open up, she describes her early years. The word "shy" comes up several times as Davis describes herself at various times in her life.
        She sends her listener away with a copy of a piece published in "Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul" as if trusting the written words to say more about herself than the spoken ones.
        In the piece, which details her relationship with her sister Diane, Davis describes herself in the third person as "quiet and shy. Her eyes were blue, and hidden behind a pair of glasses. She preferred to spend her time alone reading."

New setting
        The quiet life of reading took on a new setting when she was 12.
        At that time, Davis moved to India with her family. Her father was in the foreign service.
        In India, she spent more than two years at each of two boarding schools, one in the cool hill country in South India and the other in a former maharaja's palace on the Arabian Sea, near Mumbai.
        Formerly known as Bombay, Mumbai is India's most populous city. Current estimates place its population in the vicinity of 13 million.
        Today, Mumbai is India's financial industry hub and the home of its "Bollywood" film industry.
        Davis remembers the honking of the jumble of rickshaws and noisy Indian cars in the mass of Indian traffic, the fragrance of jasmine from the flowers pinned to black Indian hair and the scent of nuts, spiced with the pungent flavors of the subcontinent, roasting in street carts and sold in little cones of newspaper.
        The former palace near Mumbai in which she went to school was far from its glory days as the abode of a king. Only the grand white marble staircase reminded of regal times.
        "Except we weren't allowed to use it. Only the teachers were," she recalls.

Labor plentiful
        Labor was plentiful in India, taking the place of appliances used by American housewives.
        In the family home, her family had a cook; a bearer, or kind of butler; a "second boy" who did the cleaning; a gardener; dhobi wallah or laundry man; and ayah, or nanny.
        Upon returning to the United States when she was 17, her family went back to a servantless household, Davis laughs.
        The introspective teenager found herself going to a high school in Maryland with a senior class larger than the entire student body of any other school she had ever attended.
        The change provided its own lessons for the future writer.
        "Coming in as a new kid, you have to watch and get the feel for what's going on," she explains. "It gives you an eye for the differences and maybe a little more tolerance for the differences."
        Her ability to observe serves her well in her freelance writing of more than 100 articles that have appeared in law enforcement and emergency medical services publications.

Writes with partner
       
Davis writes with partner and fellow Palm Harbor-area resident Jim Weiss.
        Her freelance work allows her a deeper entry into the world of police and emergency personnel whom, she notes, she has always respected. "I love behind-the-scenes kinds of things."
        In those articles, she uses the byline Mickey Davis because it is more in keeping with the tone of the publications for which she writes.
        Although she has lived in Florida for a number of years, her Indian experience is with her today in the form of her husband Don, whom she met when he was a college student visiting his parents in India.  Don's father worked for General Electric in India.
        The Davises have been married 40 years and have two grown children.
        Davis already is at work on a sequel to her first novel.
        She is also tinkering with writing, perhaps in a blog, about the changes she sees in her own life.
        "It's about hitting 60. All of a sudden, you're a senior citizen. Your body is changing. You haven't got the stamina you used to.
        "I'm writing it for my kids. Even if they don't read it, it doesn't matter. It's a way of making sense of it all."

        For more information on Davis, visit www.micheleivydavis.com.

Cheryl Bentley can be reached at
cbentley@suncoastnews.com

ã Copyright 2006, The Suncoast News

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