Retirement may be the end goal for many of us, but for 79-year-old Elsie Harrell, it may as well be a fate worse than death.
“As far as still working at (my) job, the doctor told me, 'Don't you dare quit, keep working as long as you can, because it keeps you mentally sharp,' ... So that's where I am,” Harrell told the HCN.
The Lipan resident currently works as a licensed insurance agent at Low Cost Insurance in Stephenville. For the past 12 years, Harrell has driven back and forth from Lipan to Stephenville multiple times a week.
“It's actually 28 miles from my driveway to where I park here at the office,” she said. “The other gentleman who owns the office has two offices — this one and one in Mineral Wells. He lives in Mineral Wells, but he was driving back and forth to Stephenville every day, and he asked me one time at church if I would consider running the Stephenville office. I decided (it would) get me out of the house, so here I am.”
Although Harrell’s insurance job keeps her busy for most of the week, she always ensures she has time to do her favorite job on the weekends: write.
“That's my love,” she said simply. “That's my big love is writing.”
Harrell’s love for reading began at a young age — so young in fact, that she learned how to read before she even started school.
"On my first day in the first grade, my older sister brought her geography book out at lunch and I read it to all of her friends,” Harrell said. “I've just always loved (reading). You couldn't get me out of the library.”
In high school, Harrell was on the yearbook staff and was editor of the school newspaper. As an adult, she had several articles published in the Southern Baptist Texan magazine and in local newspapers.
But she never thought about writing a book — until the day her granddaughter shocked her with a comment about how she hated reading.
"You can't say that and be related to me,” Harrell said, chuckling. “That is not going to work. So, I said, ‘Why do you not like to read?’ She says, ‘Well, maybe if I had something interesting, maybe if I find something I like, maybe I would read,’ and I said, ‘OK, let's go write something.’ I grabbed her by the hand and took her back to my office where my computer was and I said, ‘Let's write a story.’”
Harrell said as soon as she sat down at her computer, her mind was instantly flooded with many ideas, adding that she instantly knew the characters’ names as they just “jumped out at her.” She put her granddaughter to work and asked her to come up with the characters’ occupations and physical characteristics.
"While she was doing that, I wrote about four or five chapters,” she said. “Just out of the clear blue sky, the story came, so every Sunday, I would always pick her up for church, we'd go out to eat and then we'd come home, and she'd read what I had written. She gave me ideas and stuff about things that she liked, and all of a sudden, we had a book finished and it was over 400 pages.”
The book, “Dreams Never Lie,” tells a story about Josh Howard, who was only 8 years old when the little girl next door, Doni, was kidnapped and killed. Years later, Josh is now an FBI agent and has vowed to catch her killers.
By the time Harrell finished writing "Dreams Never Lie,” she already had ideas for another one, “Fire Light Fire Bright,” in which a North Central Texas town gets destroyed by fires.
"In the book, I mentioned Mineral Wells, Weatherford, and Cleburne, but yet my town is fictitious,” she said.
After writing both books, Harrell realized she needed to try to get them published, so she started looking for an agent. A year-and-a-half passed by, however, with no luck. It wasn’t until a client walked into her office and showed her how he had successfully published his book that a perfect opportunity finally started to present itself.
"He says, ‘Look what I've got,’ and it was a little book he had published. I said, ‘Oh my goodness, how did you find a publisher?’ He said, ‘The publisher found me,’” she said. “He told his publisher about me, we visited, and I sent him a digital copy of both of the books, and he said, ‘I want to publish both of them; they're great,’ and that's how it started.”
Now, Harrell has six books published and she is currently working on a seventh. Her books include “Fire Light Fire Bright,” the tetralogy “Dreams Never Lie” “Dreams Are Forever,” “Shattered Dreams,” and “Forgotten Dreams,” plus “The Color of Thunder,” — a Christian novel about the life story of a minister.
“The one that I'm working on now is new people. It's a whole new series,” she said. “It's still about an FBI agent, but it's new people. I kind of put Josh through the ringer.”
Some might be curious how Harrell can write so many FBI-focused novels without ever being in the FBI herself. But she said it’s simple — lots and lots of research.
“My husband said that if the police could read my mind, I'd be locked up with all these ideas that I get,” she said, laughing. “My point is if they ever got ahold of my Google account, (I’d be in trouble) because I Google, ‘In this situation, what kind of gun would be the best to use?’ and ‘Which one is considered a woman's gun compared to a man's gun?’”
Harrell said she’s not sure when she’s going to publish her next book, but she is thinking about releasing it in a different format.
"We're considering going to a subscription type deal, where you sign up and you get three or four chapters every week. A year or so down the line we will put it in hardback and go ahead and publish it. It's not definite yet, but that's kind of what we're thinking about,” she said. “Stephen King did that and so did James Patterson and I think they charged $1 a chapter or something like that. Well, I have 101 chapters, so I can't do that. We would divide it into segments to make it fair.”
When she’s not busy writing, Harrell enjoys reading FBI novels — of course — and spending time with her husband of 37 years, Ronnie, whom she met on a blind date in the late 1980s.
Harrell’s books can be purchased online at Walmart.com, Amazon.com, or her website, elsievanharrell.com. Her “Dreams Never Lie” series can also be purchased as a bundle at a discounted price.
“We've made a package out of the ‘Dreams Never Lie’ series and we're calling it ‘Dream Big,’” she said. “On my website, you can buy them for a special price if you buy all four. On the website also, there's T-shirts and things like that that have pictures of my books on them.”
For more information about Harrell or to purchase her books, visit her website, elsievarnharrell.com.