In Steven Bowen’s second publication, “Inspiration Point,” one will find those characteristics that have made Bowen’s weekly columns a crowd favorite — a Southern drawl, a conversational style, stories that restore one’s faith and extra doses of humor and nostalgia.
There are also those stories that bring tears to the eyes.
“Inspiration Point” is a collection of 26 stories derived from Bowen’s columns published over the years in the La Grange Daily News. He focuses on stories of his grandmother, grandfather and various other family members and friends that have impacted his life.
“The book really is Grandma’s book. She lived in my hometown and she became one of the main characters. Going home to Grandma has been a topic I’ve written about. She and my grandfather had such a great impact on me,” Bowen said. “There influence has been great. This book came together as their story. Of course, it takes off to my mother, who had a great story, and other people in that Southern landscape who influenced me a lot.”
“When it came time to put the book together, I wanted a series of inspirational stories that really honored these people. And not only that, these are people that we all have in our lives - we all have the same kind of people in our lives,” Bowen said. “When I tell a story about someone, you have a person in your life that is like that too. We can all walk up that hill and talk about the experiences that formed us, in many ways, and we can all relate that.”
When it came time to choose the featured stories, he appointed his fellow teachers at Red Oak High School to the task of picking stories that would inspire and fit the subject area.
“I had about 35 or 40 stories and I had them read the book at the early draft and help me choose stories that have to stay in there and stories that may not be as tied into the subject. Gradually, the stories that survived, survived,” Bowen said.
Bowen structures the book more as a journey — a hike up Inspiration Point in which he shares stories that have touched his life. He also stops along the way and asks the reader to think about the people and experiences that have structured their thoughts, their beliefs and their relationships.
“In the beginning stages, I really tried to make it flow together. It had 26 different stories, as well as one story that blends together,” Bowen said. “It’s also about going to the same place — it begins and ends in the same place. I wanted this book to be a book that you could read from front to back or back to front, but at the same time, have a theme to it.”
As he has in many of his columns, Bowen talks about his grandmother — her cooking, long talks the two shared and, eventually, her passing.
“When I got to my grandmother, it begins with our encounters on the way home and really going home to the one place where you’re king for a week. And it covers all the way to her death,” Bowen said. “The first story I wrote about her was in August of 1998, and you read through all the encounters, then the death and then even driving away from her house for the last time. It’s the most emotional story. That one story at the end — I don’t know if you can read it without crying.”
One constant in all of Bowen’s columns, his noticeable Southern accent, is a prominent character in the book as well. Bowen attributes his use of the accent as a connection to his roots and his values planted while growing up in La Grange, Ga.
“It’s who you are. I’m a very nostalgic person. Really, it’s kind of funny — I think we continue to learn ourselves by who we are. I’m not sure if we really know who we are at times. As we grow and see things, we begin to see ourselves. As a writer, that really makes me go back and realize what traits I have. One of those traits I have is a deep-rooted appreciation for the values that I was taught when I was growing up and the people who taught em those values — you can’t get away from those,” Bowen said. “As I write, I have to be true to who I am. I really thing it’s my strength as a writer — who I am is what you see and what you get. There are no frills, there’s not a word in here that you won’t understand.”
Bowen hopes that his book does change lives, as any writer does, but realizes it’s up to the reader.
“Really, I want people to enjoy the stories and laugh and cry with me on this journey up to the peak of ‘Inspiration Point.’ But I want people to remember their own inspiration point. This book isn’t a life-changing book unless people take it and really appreciate their own inspiring moments and inspiring people. Just respect them in their own minds — if they can do that, then it’s life-changing,” Bowen said. “Or, if the values in ‘Inspiration Point’ remind them of their own values that they’ve kind of left behind — a young person reads the book and remembers who they should be and makes them stay true to their upbringing.”
Most of all, Bowen hopes that he builds friendships with his readers — people who look forward to the weekly columns as much as a conversation with a good friend.
“I think one of the things that inspires me a lot is the fact that you can reach so many people. To be able to make them laugh or make them cry, one or the other or both, that really motivates me to write. You have an effect on them that day that’s going to make their day a little better, inspire them. When I get a chance to write, I can share things that you normally won’t get to read anywhere else. It’s a breath of fresh air,” Bowen said. “One of the best compliments I’ve received is, ‘I read your article and it was like you were standing there in class telling a story and standing in my living room.’ It’s simple and it relates to people.”
To order “Inspiration Point,” contact Bowen at firstname.lastname@example.org or at P.O. Box 2125, Red Oak, TX 75154.