One of the first lessons of writing is that stories are everywhere. Whether it’s a snatch of conversation overheard in the grocery store, an article headline that gets you thinking, or even a sermon that inspires you to educate others, no matter the genre, length, or style of writing, inspiration is all around us. Author Rebekah Byrd can attest to that first-hand. In fact, the tale that would become Byrd’s first novel, Tsalagi Freedom, started long before she was born. Thanks to her family, which has a hereditary penchant for storytelling and a fascination with history, the narrative of her ancestor who escaped the Trail of Tears survived many generations to finally find its way into her hands. “I come from a long line of people who love writing,” says Byrd. “My great-great-grandmother, Beth Robertson, wrote at least one book, and she and my great-great grandfather, Angus Robertson, wrote poetry together.” Byrd’s relatives have published other works as well, mostly focused on history or ancestry: her great-great-grandmother’s sister published a textbook about the Cherokee in Texas, her great aunt wrote a book about the history of her current hometown, and her grandfather traced their family tree back to just before the Mayflower. “I was just surrounded by people who loved literature while I was growing up,” explains Byrd, and all of this love for literature and history taught her to see the stories in everyday life. “He always told us that we were descended from a Cherokee girl who escaped the Trail of Tears and married a ferryman…It was all exciting, and, of course, unverifiable. But I just loved this story.” –Rebekah Byrd Byrd spent her childhood in Oklahoma, where her fascination with Native American cultures and histories was fed by the rich culture of the area. “Native Americans, in general, fascinated me,” she says. In fact, her mother coaxed her into reading in the first place with American Girl Doll books about a Native American character, Kaya. It’s no wonder that her favorite family story was one her grandfather used to relate about an ancestor of Byrd’s. “He always told us that we were descended from a Cherokee girl who escaped the Trail of Tears and married a ferryman.” Legend has it the ferryman was disinherited by his rich family for his choice of wife, adding another layer of complexity to the already compelling narrative. “It was all exciting, and, of course, unverifiable. But I just loved this story.” Rebekah was homeschooled, and when her senior year rolled around, her mother, Kathleen, had an interesting proposition. “She said I’d written enough essays, and asked if I wanted to write a novel for my senior composition.” Byrd was a little daunted at first, but they purchased a book on writing books and the process began. Naturally, Byrd turned to her family history for inspiration. “I was familiar with the history in general, just from growing up in Oklahoma and hearing the story, but I definitely did a lot of research on the finer details of what it would have been like to live at that time.” Using the bare-bones family anecdote as a jumping off point, Byrd experimented and discovered her own story to fill in the gaps in the oral narrative. She says the family history was “just enough to get me going. It provided a fun framework to pull from. It really was fun to write.” But, of course, the story of Tsalagi Freedom’s journey to publication doesn’t stop there. At the end of her senior year she gave the manuscript to Kathleen for editing and grading. “After my mom finished reading it she said to me, ‘I thought this was going to be bad, but it wasn’t! You should try to get it published,’” says Byrd with a laugh. “I told her thanks for being honest, and that was when I first considered trying to send it out for publication.” Byrd had been involved with contributing to a teen devotional previously and used a contact from that, agent Patti Hummel, to put her feelers out for publishers. Hummel read the manuscript, and decided to represent Byrd. She pitched the book to quite a few publishers and in the end Byrd made the decision to go the partner publishing route with Deep River Books. Since going to print, Byrd has mostly used the proceeds from her book to fund missions trips, her most recent one to China occurring last summer. She combined books sales with fundraising, which has helped to get the word out beyond the scope of her friends and family. Her dad and grandfather (the one who originally passed the tale down to her) have been two of her biggest advocates. “It’s so weird seeing someone reading my book,” says Byrd, who is now busy in college, looking to double major in Deaf Services and Social Work. “It’s really strange that it is not just in my head or a Word document anymore, but physically out in the world. It’s so awesome.” “So many people go through life just wondering where they came from and what their history is, and I’m fortunate enough to know that.” –Rebekah Byrd Although now busy with her studies, Byrd does hope to return to writing someday, again pulling on her rich family history. “I would love to write a book about my great-great-grandparents and their story. They met through writing letters, and they wrote poems together, and I have all of that to pull from just sitting in my desk drawer.” No matter when she is able to return to her work, it is clear that Byrd has a firm foundation to draw on. “I feel blessed,” she says. “So many people go through life just wondering where they came from and what their history is, and I’m fortunate enough to know that.” And she learned a fundamental key to writing: stories are everywhere. Even if you don’t have a compelling family story sitting in your desk drawer, you can still find inspiration for your writing all around. Pray, open your eyes, go outside, talk to your friends, family and even strangers, because you never know when God might be showing you that jumping-off point for the story that you are meant to tell; that juicy start that intersects perfectly with a compelling narrative and your own passions. Walking down the street, you might just trip over your next big project. To purchase Tsalagi Freedom, visit Amazon or Barnes & Noble.