Former teacher Feather Linn of Conway remembers getting called into the principal’s office one day, and it changed her life.
Linn, 36, was teaching at Bob Courtway Middle School in Conway, and after her first year, then-Principal Jerry Whitmore asked to see her.
“He said, ‘We have a problem,’” Linn said.
She was panicked about what she could have done wrong.
“He said, ‘Nobody in this school knows your name. You’ve kept your head down and done your job,’” she said.
Whitmore recommended that she go to the Arkansas Leadership Academy Teacher Institute. Then, he wanted her to lead the professional development at school the next year.
“I said, ‘Are you serious?’ I couldn’t get my head around getting up in front of a group and leading teachers,” she said.
Linn’s husband, also a principal, was excited when she told him what happened.
“It really kind of evolved into finally finding my own place,” Linn said.
And finding her voice. Her first novel, Pickle Juice, Football and Diamonds, was released in June. Writing, she said, is what she was created to do.
Linn, education manager for ArkansasIDEAS at the Arkansas Educational Television Network in Conway, took a winding route to get to that point.
She grew up in Jonesboro, the only child of Leon and Linda Poley. Her father was a state trooper, then a Jonesboro police officer; her mother worked for ADT Security Co. factory, which is now closed.
Having the last name Poley “was terrible as a child,” she said with a laugh. All anyone knew was “roly-poly,” she said.
She said the name “Feather” is from a 1970s television show, The Feather and Father Gang.
“The main character — her name was Feather, and she was a lawyer. Her father was always in trouble with the law. She was always bailing him out,” Linn said. “My dad wanted something unique, so every name he kept throwing to my mom was ‘no, no, no.’”
Linn said her mother came up with Heather, but her dad asked, “Why not Feather?”
“She agreed to that,” Linn said.
Linn said her mother was one of 12 children, but the only educator in the family was an aunt.
“The journey I took is surprising to me, even now,” Linn said.
When Linn came to Conway to attend the University of Central Arkansas, she decided to major in occupational therapy.
After two years, she had to apply to get into the OT program, and she wasn’t accepted.
“I was devastated,” she said.
Linn was active in several campus organizations, and she said that during the week she was turned down for the program, “three people asked, ‘Are you going to be a teacher?’ It was literally a random sort of thing,” she said.
She became a teacher, and her first job was in the Vilonia School District teaching family and consumer sciences.
After two years, she stopped teaching for a bit.
“I had one of those ‘Oh my what have I done’ kind of moments,” she said. “I tried to figure out if I wanted to continue teaching.”
She even started nursing school, “but I knew that wasn’t it,” she said.
Linn had married Joel, who was working on a master’s degree, and she did substitute teaching at Bob Courtway Middle School, then was hired there to teach seventh-grade science.
The Linns were living in Conway, and Joel took a job as Mayflower principal. They pulled up roots and went to Heber Springs, where she taught fifth grade.
“That was one of the best years of my teaching career. I loved those kids,” she said.
Instead of having classes change, as was standard in the older grades, she had the same 25 students all day.
“It’s amazing how close of a community you develop. They’ll graduate next year, and we’re going to go [to their graduation],” she said.
Joel Linn took a job as Conway High School principal, and that’s when she got a job at AETN. She took a year off from AETN to write her book.
She was promoted about a year ago to education manager of ArkansasIDEAS, which stands for Internet Delivered Education for Arkansas Schools, a grant-funded program. The free program was designed to “level the playing field” for Arkansas teachers, Linn said, so they all could have access to quality professional development.
Linn said she uses her leadership training every day.
Whitmore, who has retired from education, said he doesn’t deserve credit for Linn’s leadership role.
“At that time, I saw a true leader, I guess a lady who had potential to be more than she was,” Whitmore said. “I don’t think she was looking way down the road. At that time, she was focused on teaching. She was always willing to go beyond the classroom. I was trying to build a learning-community school where everybody took ownership. I knew that she had real potential, so I wanted her to be a leader.”
Whitmore said he had heard about her book and wasn’t surprised at her success.
Linn said the book idea came from an actual experience.
Being the wife of a principal means a lot of activities, and Linn said she made the decision to accompany her husband to his school’s events.
“If it’s a band concert, I’m there. If it’s a football game, I’m there,” she said.
It was a championship baseball game in 2011 they attended that gave her the idea for her book.
They attended the Conway-Bryant game, and she saw Peyton Hillis, a former Conway High School standout football player who now plays for the New York Giants, come to the game with a friend.
She watched as everyone got excited about Hillis being there and observed how he interacted with his friend and others.
“It was amazing the way it was like he was his own little satellite,” she said. “Everyone knew who he was.”
The character named Blaze in the book was inspired by Hillis, whom she still hasn’t met. She had Hillis’ sister in class, though.
The female character in the book, Blaze’s girlfriend, Laura Jane, “is completely made up,” Linn said.
It took Linn nine months to write the book, but it seemed effortless at times.
She shopped it to publishers, and one told her it was a good story but needed to be cut.
“I cut out like 30,000 words. When I shopped it to her again, she still passed,” Linn said.
However, Tate Publishing agreed to accept the book.
The woman who called from the publishing company left a voice mail in a matter-of-fact voice, but Linn said it was exciting news to her.
“She said, ‘OK, we’re gonna go ahead and issue a contract on this.’ I was literally running with my phone, trying to get out of the building because I knew I was going to scream!” Linn said.
“I called Joel, and he said, ‘Are you hurt? Are you injured?’” I said, “No, we got a contract on this book!”
Linn said she has had book signings, and several more are scheduled. She did have to pay a fee to Tate Publishing for marketing, but she said her book is out there — it’s available on the Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.
“People have liked it; people have really liked the story,” Linn said, almost incredulous. “Those first days after the release, I was almost breathing into a paper bag.”
She was afraid of the public’s reaction, but so far, it’s all been positive, she said.
“I knew I needed a Simon Cowell who would say either ‘Keep your day job,’ or ‘Keep doing this,’” she said. “I will be the first to admit I’m a late bloomer.”
Whereas Linn’s husband knew from early on the exact path he wanted to take, “I’m like the hot mess following behind him,” she said, moving her hand back and forth, side to side.
It may have taken her awhile, but she believes writing is her true calling.
“I can do lots of things,” Linn said, “but writing is the thing that brings me the most joy.”
She said all her experiences have helped her writing.
“I was an only child, and I lived with this huge imagination,” she said.
A person she didn’t know well asked, “When are you going to write another book?”
“There are several pieces I’m sort of storyboarding,” Linn said. “They’re fun and entertaining, but they’re going to have a much more focused message.”
The messages are based on some of the life circumstances of the children she taught, and she hopes she can help children by providing a road map, of sorts, for their problems.
“If a kid can identify with a character in a book and see how they resolve an issue, … that’s something I feel like at the end of the day will make my life on Earth worth it.”
She’s also passionate about being a positive role model in her AETN job.
“I have a lot of young professionals who are on my team, and my goal is to pass on knowledge that was so graciously given to me. I was given a great gift of leadership training, and I want to share it,” Linn said.
“I’m so glad Mr. Whitmore did that — took the time and initiative to do what he did for me.”
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.