French Friday: A Voice that Gave me a Chance

People leave their mark in many different ways. Sometimes it’s a voice calling you to offer you a chance.

Years ago, when my family had settled in the California foothills, I looked for local writers and soon met women who would become critique partners and friends too. One of them, old enough to be my mother, had been a journalist and was a very skilled writer. One day, upon reading one of my short stories, written for adults, she told me it was a great fit for Valley Writers Read, a program aired on Valley Public Radio, NPR in Central California. Valley Writers Read showcased readings by local authors, both professionals and amateurs. There was an impressive array of authors and I was certain they would decline my story. However, I followed my mentor’s advice and when she found my latest draft ready, I submitted my manuscript.

Months later, my phone rang. When I picked up the call I heard an unknown, deep warm voice.

“I am Franz Weinschenk,” the man said. “The host of Valley Writers Read. I’m calling you to let you know that your story has been selected for the program.”

“Oh, thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

“Thank you. Now, you’ll have to make arrangements with the studio to record your story.”

“Oh, no! I cannot do that. I mean…you know…my accent…would be distracting…no, really, I can’t read…”

“I could suggest someone who would read for you,” Mr. Weinschenk started. “But I think you’re making a mistake. It would make much more sense if you read your story yourself.”

He had a point since the main character was a French woman. So we made a deal: I would read  passages written from the French character’s point of view and someone else would read the narrative. This is what I wrote about my initial experience.

Over the following years, I drove down to Valley Public Radio three more times to record some of my stories. The second time, although I had already considered recording my own voice, Franz Weinschenk laughed and said he could not possibly find anyone to read my essay I Am an American. Thanks to the warm welcome at the recording studio, I came to look forward to the experience and didn’t even suggest a reader for my third story.

 

A longtime Valley educator, author, and radio host Franz Weinschenk has just passed away at the age of 92.

No longer in production, Valley Writers Read is still available through the radio’s archives. I could not find The Mug Quest, my first story, but I easily retrieved my two latest recordings.

Here is I Am an American, an essay about the meaning of becoming an American for a French-born woman.

Here is Welcome Home, a fiction story based in the California foothills.

Valley Writers Read gave me the chance to be in the company of well-known and award-winning authors such as Mark Arax, Davis Mas Masumoto, Bonnie Hearn Hill, or still my friend/mentor Flora Beach Burlingame. What an honor.

Meeting with the men and women at Valley Public Radio has been such a pleasant and enriching experience.

And Frantz Weinschenk’s unforgettable voice will always ring good luck to me.

 

If you have a little bit of time, whether you live in California or want to discover a different huge area of the Golden State, often so little known, I encourage you to listen to Max Arax reading from his book The King of California and his piece The Big Valley.  He’s the best journalist and writer when it comes to the valley. Also look for The Perfect Peach, David Mas Masumoto’s yummy family cookbook. Bonnie’s fast-pace writing guarantees page-turner stories and Flora’s novel, based on her great grandfather’s experience as he taught the freedmen in Texas is historically and humanly very enriching.

P.S. The photos that I chose to illustrate this post have been taken aboard Eagle 2, a sheriff helicopter, that my son and I were fortunate to ride once, in 2014. The chopper took us above sprawling Fresno and parts of the Madera county. This area of California produces most of the veggies, fruits, and nuts Americans find in their supermarkets. It is also the gateway to Yosemite, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia National Parks.

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