It was a fitting way to celebrate a milestone. Under a brilliant October sky, with a jazz quartet playing in the background, friends and supporters strolled into Beale Street Landing to celebrate Dorchelle Spence’s first book signing. As the vice president of Riverfront Development Corporation, she had already attended one gala here, when her office orchestrated the landing’s grand opening back in June.
But for Spence, this marked a much more personal victory: the publishing debut of her young adult novel, No Less Worthy.
The book was a decade in the making, originating as a series of short stories started in 2004 that Spence eventually strung together and developed into a novel. She first discovered her voice in junior high school, where she and another classmate, a boy who wrote science fiction, would pass around pages of their stories at the lunch table.
“That’s good!” the kids would say. “What comes next?” Those words were the affirmation Spence needed. From then on, she says, “I knew I wanted to be a published author.”
But it was the birth of her now teen-aged daughter Maggie that prompted Spence to return to her work more seriously. At the time, she says, she felt she was drowning, weighed down with the responsibilities of motherhood, marriage, and a career.
“I got lost and I was trying to find myself again,” she explains. “I needed an outlet that was just me. You have a baby, you’re a wife, you’re rearing three active boys; sometimes you can feel like there’s nothing unique to you.”
And so, after work, Spence would unwind at a local coffee shop where she’d pour out her thoughts, writing longhand in her notebook about whatever was on her mind. Sometimes she would do the same in the evening, once her husband Robert and the boys had retired. Through journaling, Spence carved out the creative space she needed and her stories began to take form. Several years later, when the well went dry,
“I took a break and wrote a second novel, which went up into the attic,” she says with a laugh.
Needing to redirect her energies, Spence decided to pursue an MBA at the University of Memphis, where she’d also earned a bachelor’s degree. During her coursework, a professor posed the question Spence needed to reignite her dream. Class members were asked to define a five-year plan.
“I said my personal goals were to complete my book and lose weight.” She got busy and several years later, the publishing of No Less Worthy, along with a slimmer self, are the result.
In her novel, Spence writes a similar story. Kathy is a teenager who struggles with her mother’s callousness, questions about her color, doubts about her abilities. Can she have a brighter future than what she sees around her? Ultimately, Spence writes an uplifting story of hope and resilience. While aimed at tween readers, it’s really for kids and adults alike.
“Like my neighbor said, there’s a little bit of Kathy in everyone,” she says.
Spence draws some storytelling from her own experiences. Despite her achievements, she has also known strife, and like her main character, has been forced to make difficult choices in own her life. She feels that theme, of self-doubt but gradually yielding to belief in yourself, is one that will resonate with readers.
“There was a larger story that needed to be told, to help girls and women navigate the struggles of life,” she says. “I feel my purpose … is to share that experience in such a way as to give people hope. We are already stronger than we think we are.”
• No Less Worthy is available online at urbanedgepublishing.com and amazon.com or locally at The Book Juggler on South Main Street.