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Theresa Verboort won the WILLA Literary Award for Best Young Adult fiction in 2019.

COURTESY PHOTO - Author Theresa Verboort is a Coos Bay native, but has lived in Hillsboro for 58 years. Verboort's latest book, 'The Communing Tree,' helped her win a WILLA Literary Award.

For most people, taking 15 years to write a book may seem like a marathon, but for Hillsboro author Theresa Verboort, it was worth the wait.

Last year, Verboort won the WILLA Literary Award for the Best Young Adult Fiction of 2019 written by a Western woman for her book "The Communing Tree." The award was presented at the Women Writing the West Conference in San Antonio, Texas.

"I gave my little acceptance talk… (and) I had a couple of people come up and tell me they were inspired by the fact that I'm so old and managed to pull this off," said Verboort.

Her advice?

"You have to be persistent, and you have to get advice from people who know about writing," Verboort explained.

Verboort's novel tells the story of 16-year-old Judith and her family, who live in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness of southwestern Oregon in 1979, convinced that the end times are coming. Her father is a Vietnam veteran who is living with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from war.

COURTESY PHOTO - 'The Communing Tree' written by Theresa Verboort and illustrated by Amy Blumenstein Collen. The novel helped Verboort win a WILLA Literary Award.

When tragedy strikes, Judith and her little sister, Kali, escape their family's killers, joining their grandmother at the family home. Once the grandmother passes, the girls have to live alone in the wilderness, fearful of being discovered.

"The (underlying) themes are the effects on PTSD on families and also the effect of a religious cult on a group of people," Verboort said.

As for what inspired her to write the book, Verboort remembers spotting a sign for the Kalmiopsis Wilderness on her way back from Ashland, but she had never heard of the area despite living in Oregon her entire life.

"I thought, what if people were living in there illegally, hidden away in the secret valley?" Verboort recalled.

But it wasn't until she retired from her work at the Hillsboro Brookwood Library that she started to research and tour the area.

Verboort hopes her curiosity can be an inspiration for others looking to fulfill their dreams.

"Just because you're retired doesn't mean you have to sit back and just wait to die," she said with a laugh. "I firmly believe retired people can achieve a lot in this world, and we're the ones who have time to make a difference."

The Coos Bay native was first rejected by literary agents left and right, but then she self-published her novel. She's now working on a sequel to the book.

"I'm hoping that the younger women will look at this and realize that how they can do more than they think they can do," Verboort said.

"The Communing Tree" is available for purchase from Amazon, Barnes & Nobel, iUniverse Publishing, and Powell's Books.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story did not state the correct year Verboort won the award. The year has been corrected.

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