Listening to: the birds chirping in the trees. I'm relaxing on the front porch after a busy weekend with the in-laws. Pictures of my pretty, pretty flowers to come sometime this week.
Every writer has a story.
I'm not necessarily talking about the stories we slave over, dream about, and furiously brainstorm as we drive and shower and go about our daily lives. Those are a part of our larger story, though--each shaping who we become as a writer.
I'm talking about the path we took to get here. The journey we've taken that won't end until we either stop writing or die. Our "how I became a writer" story.
For me, the term "writer" is the first thing that would come to mind if someone asks me what I am. I'm also a woman, a wife, a daughter, a sister to many, a friend to more. Maybe an enemy to a few. An employee. A gardener, a reader. A violinist. But the one word that defines me is "writer".
I've mentioned before how someone had to say, "You're good at this," before I realized, hey, I kinda was, and it might be a good idea to pursue it. For many years after that fateful incident in my eighth year, there was only one career path I cared about. Of course, I had a backup plan. In my younger days, I figured if I couldn't become a novelist, then I would be either a librarian or work at a bookstore. I think no more needs to be said about that.
Naturally, the first step was to really write something. Something more than just the usual essays and short stories assigned at school. So, when I was about twelve, I embarked on my first novel.
Yes, I know. How adorable. But I didn't think it was adorable then. It was all I cared about, that thing. Every spare second was devoted to it. I crafted scenes and dialog in my head at school and on the bus, and then I'd rush to the computer the second I got home, boot it up, and let my fingers fly. I sneaked upstairs to the computer after my family was asleep--to write. My mom once told me to stop writing and go outside, for heaven's sake. It was my first taste of the singular obsession that is writing a novel.
I remember one specific moment, while I talked on the phone with a friend about the book. I was approaching the climax but wasn't quite sure how to set it all in motion.
"I just don't know how to make it all happen, how to bring them all together and put them in danger," I said to my friend as I lay on the dining room floor, the phone cord stretched across the adjacent kitchen. I can still clearly remember the texture of that carpet.
We chatted about it for a few minutes, and then it hit me.
"Fire!" I yelled--much to my friend's alarm, I'm sure. "There's going to be a fire!"
After reassuring her that no flaming conflagration was engulfing my house, I hung up and dashed to the computer.
That first "novel"--50 pages of single-spaced, 12-point courier type, if you must know--was entitled Whispers of the Past. All the character names--except, of course, the character "Luke", whose namesake should be clear to any Star Wars fan--were taken from another book, one near and dear to my heart: my dad's family history, going back to the first members of our family who arrived in America in 1630, first written and published in 1913 (I think), and subsequently added to by each generation.* The main character's name was "Julia Greene." Remember that little detail, folks.
I cried a little bit, I'm sure, when I finished that book. Late at night, while everyone else slept, of course. And everyone else cried when they read it, since I killed off all but two of the main characters, who of course got married in the "ten-years-later" epilogue. The very kind classmate who offered to print it out for me, since we had no printer then, handed it to me on the bus the next day with the following comments:
"First of all, stop making each chapter a separate document. That thing was a pain to print out. And secondly, some of the pages toward the end might be a little damp."
"What do you mean?" I asked him.
He raised his eyebrows. "Tears, you idiot. I mean tears."
So, it was quite a critical success, at least among my friends and family. I gave that copy to everyone who asked. Whether they read it or not, I don't care. Most probably didn't...and that's a good thing, I'm sure. It was decently written for a twelve-year-old, I guess, but no one should be subjected to 5o single-spaced pages of any twelve-year-old's writing.
And very few more people would be, as it turned out. I gave the only existing hard copy to my best friend in the world, who didn't read much, and waited impatiently for probably several weeks for her opinion.
When I finally asked about it, she admitted that she'd lost it. Don't get me wrong, she was the best friend a girl could have, but she was a bit disorganized and more than a bit irresponsible. After the storm of tears and accusations, and swearing I would never forgive her for it, I searched out the disk containing that little piece of my soul...and discovered it had been utterly corrupted.
Whispers of the Past, it turned out, was lost.
What happened next? Well, I guess you'll have to wait until tomorrow. A little hint, just to keep you salivating: it involves lots of angsty poetry. Oh yes--that's right. Angsty. Poetry.
*My uncle and I will soon be embarking on this generation's addition, and I can't wait. Yes, I'm a dork. Deal with it.
If you don't feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then possibly what you are doing isn't very vital. If you don't feel like you are writing somewhat over your head, why do it? If you don't have some doubt of your authority to tell this story, then you are not trying to tell enough. --John Irving