storytelling from the inside out...



Sometimes… you have to dive deep inside yourself to find your  S T O R Y.

x-ray of Holly Payne's left femurWhat do ten metal screws and a titanium plate give you?A funny-looking x-ray, for starters. And a story—from the inside out.

That’s my left leg. My left femur to be exact. It didn’t always look that way. On the night of June 6, 1994, I stopped my car to give two mountain bikers a flashlight in Crested Butte, Colorado. All three of us were struck by a drunk driver. I flew over the hood of my car and landed on the road outside a local cemetery, looked up at the mountain peak and determined that if lived, I would write—and the ‘skywriter’ was born. I survived with a few broken bones, lay still, read a lot, wrote a lot, learned to walk again, studied and practiced the craft of writing, then taught for 15 years and published three novels.

I’m still practicing. Writing is an endurance sport.

Swimming to write…

My two older brothers played football forever. I think they might have been born with cleats, pads and grass stains. I envied their dedication, the special treatment they got for being athletes, and the attention they received from my dad. I wanted that, too, but had no more ability to toss or catch a ball than I did to block opponents or bench press 300 pounds. I was left handed, but I threw with my right. I closed my eyes when a ball came toward me. Other than tennis balls, I wasn’t a ball kid.

I tried running. I got shin splints from high arches. If roller skating (backwards) had been a team sport, I would have signed up immediately. Back then, I would have also signed up for anything related to bike riding, especially given the love affair I had with my emerald green Columbia bicycle with the banana seat and high rise handlebars. I prided myself on towing friends on roller skates from the back seat bar. By fifth grade, I was ready for something else. During a swim lesson one day, my teacher asked if I would consider joining the team. Swimming came easily. I learned to be a fish in the lake near my grandfather’s summer cabin. I went home and told my parents. By sixth grade, I started my swimming ‘career’ but had to jump into no less than 50 meter races now that I was a 12 & Under. Big problem. I couldn’t do a flip turn. I got too much water up my nose. It stung. I cried, under water. I tried again. And again. I kept practicing until I could push off that wall as if I were a torpedo. Then something happened.


A whole world opened up to me in the pool. I eventually broke a high school record. I swam at districts and states, and was named an All American Swimmer. Our high school swim coach, Andrew Amway, made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for most wins for a high school coach. He had a slogan on his t-shirt and our team uniform: There is no substitute for victory. It was a quote from a General Patton movie, which Amway apparently watched every Friday night.  He was the stuff of legends. He scared the bejesus out of his athletes including our parents. He demanded respect for himself and the team. He made us dress up for “away” swim meets — men in suits, women in skirts. And this was a public school. He taught honors history and required his students to read American literature, not usually associated with a high school curriculum. He pushed us all, even with the grueling winter break practices. 50 meter sprints in freezing cold water without a breath. He taught me capacity.

In that pool, I found my edge. I also discovered a secret place where I could hear myself think—beyond the jarring heavy metal songs that my brothers blasted at home and in the car. Swimming gave birth to my voice and developed my endurance. It offered me a safe place to be alone with my thoughts, which eventually made their way to paper. After being struck by the drunk driver, swimming helped me heal. I learned how to walk again in the water. I now believe pools are sacred places, where a writer can develop just about every skill needed to survive writing and publishing a book. Stroke by stroke. Page by page. The blinking cursor invites me to dive in again and again.

The Beginning…

I had no idea I would ever write books. I grew up in rural Pennsylvania and had trouble reading as a child, but when I discovered writing, my reading ability improved thanks to the summer program at our public library in Mountville. Reading lead me into magical worlds and into the lives of people I admired—Walt Disney, Helen Keller for starters. I turned my writing interest toward journalism and started to publish stories in our local newspaper when I was 14, then continued to publish features throughout college.

I had dreams of living abroad indefinitely and becoming a foreign correspondent—working as a stringer for the Associated Press. (Obviously, that dream changed slightly after the accident). I stood at the Berlin Wall in late December 1989 with my family and a chisel. While we helped ‘take down the wall,’ I interviewed some East Germans crossing to freedom. I was 17 years old and wanted to know what that felt like.

It was my first major article, a news story and travel piece for our high school newspaper and is now a time capsule for how much my life and the world has changed since the Cold War ended. That was just the beginning of my need to write. There’s a whole lot more life to live and a lot more to write about the world. I love to travel—on the page and in real life, and I hope to preserve endangered people and places through my stories.

Writing has given my life dimension, pushed me to my limits and, consequently, has made me grow. Writing has also galvanized my resolve to keep trying no matter what the market bears or how the landscape of publishing shifts over the course of my lifetime. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and the only thing I know how to do well. I love this craft because it asks you to climb mountains. And I know with mountains there is always beauty.

I’m still practicing. Writing is an endurance sport.