Talking about how I came to be a writer feels awfully self-centered. But, what the heck?
When I was a rug rat, I got sick and my mother got super-anxious because the doctor didn’t take it seriously. Not even when I attempted to die. Ends up, I was diabetic and my blood sugar was over 800 (Old scale. I think that’s like having an A1C of 80 today. Normal is 5). My mother was told I wouldn’t live. I did. Then, she was told I wouldn’t walk again. I did. At the age of four, she put me in ballet. I danced until I was 16, when weak ankles prevented me from going en pointe.
Doctors don’t know everything.
My point? I think when I temporarily lost the ability to walk, my imagination took over. Like in Polyanna.
Boredom is a foreign concept. I think the only time I’ve ever been bored is when trapped in my Grade 9 (a.k.a. Freshman Year of high school) math class, with a teacher who said “Um… err,” every other word. It’s the only time I’ve ever considered doing violence. Seriously, abusing the English language like that? Grounds for mayhem. We spent four months learning how to do basic fractions. Sigh.
Why be bored if you can construct worlds in your head? Use your imagination, already!
I’ve always had an affinity for words. When I was two, I told my doctor that after someone took a bath, there was condensation on the toilet, which vibrated when flushed.
(Did I mention I was weird eccentric? Might as well put that out there right now.)
By the time I was three, I was reading and writing. Somewhere, my mother has a recording of me reading The Fwee Littoh Peegs. I think she played it for every friend I ever had. Most of them did not run away screaming. Yeah, I had good friends.
When I was five, I had a (very) short story published in an educational tome. I’m still fond of that story. That was likely the first time I said, “I want to be a writer.” I have a binder of stories I wrote as a child. Who knows? Someday, I might update and publish them. Not exactly my normal area of concentration. *coughs –spicy romance- coughs* But hey, Judy Blume gets away with writing two disparate genres. Of course, she’s Judy Blume. She’s on Twitter, by the way. I tweeted with her once… *fangirl moment*
At eight, I read at an adult level. I was annoying like that.
As a hobby, in Grade 7 and 8, I wrote three reference book manuscripts about animals, birds and fish, complete with drawings. I showed them to my school librarian. I think he was gobsmacked that a kid my age would spend scads of spare time compiling reference material. Alien. He wanted me to publish, but I hadn’t credited my sources, so I couldn’t do anything with the manuscripts. Now, we have the Internet and kids don’t need books like that anyhow.
In Grade 9, I met my first mentor, a genius who had abandoned teaching in a prestigious university in favour of shaping young minds. His name was Merv Sharpe and I don’t think I’d be a writer today were it not for him. He’d scrawl pages and pages of English notes on five blackboards and when class was over, not a few kids were groaning and clutching cramped hands.
The majority of my friends were quirky. They’d have been the fringe kids today, probably. Most of the guys had mullets (except my pal Brian J., who was an army cadet). Most of the girls were a bit punk, with earrings in unusual places and dyed, spiky hair. I had a ducktail like David Bowie. I put this highlight-stuff on it that washed out. It was like gold paint and it came in a mascara-like tube. My guy friends were hooked on Metallica and Skinny Puppy, and the girls were into Billy Idol and Eurythmics. As for me, I was absorbing Bowie 24-7, with a dash of Sting and Peter Gabriel thrown in for kicks.
The kids a year older than me let me hang out with them in Art. The ones my age jammed in the music room during lunch hour. Great times.
Yeah, I’m nostalgic about the Eighties. Sue me. The clothes and hair were epic. I still wear my Esprit jean jacket, which cost me a whopping $50 back in 1986. Quality lasts.
I can still sing you any Bowie song up to 1989. Try me.
He’s still got it. Just sayin’. I really want to see his multimedia art exhibition, but it probably won’t happen for me.
I got Mr. Sharpe again in Grade 13 (a.k.a. Senior Year #2). I’d get my work done and my pal Brian J. and I would start exchanging notes and sketches. Mr. Sharpe noticed, and in the hope that he could prevent us from plotting world domination, he started passing us sheets of foolscap with one word (or phrase) at the top, written in red. B.J. and I would spend the rest of the class responding to the teacher’s note. We’d swap papers and read them, then, hand them in. I still remember some of those pages:
Would you rather be a legend or a myth?
Hero vs. heroine.
Astrology and astronomy.
Merv Sharpe taught me how to express opinions and emotion on paper. If I could see him today, I’d hug him. I missed seeing him at my 20th high school reunion. Boo.
In my teens, I dabbled in poetry. Somehow, I got a couple of poems published in a compilation. My family spent more buying half a dozen copies than I ever made off it, with good reason. I’d prefer that it never see the light of day.
University? I didn’t think a Lit degree would snare me a job, so I majored in music, specializing in Music Education. I’m a Dramatic Soprano. Betcha don’t know what that is! Technically, I can conduct a band or choir (You wouldn’t want me to). Plus, I tried out a bunch of instruments. Although I played a lot of flute, I cherish a secret hope to play the oboe professionally, but I don’t have the time to indulge every dream. I also loved bassoon, but I suck at clarinet. I minored in French, English Lit, and Psychology. My intent was to go to Teacher’s College, but my grandmother had Parkinson’s and I didn’t want to leave home. My mother worked and Grammie would have had to go into a nursing home. Not an option.
Then, I met Hubbs. I was his boss in the Opera Workshop program, where I was in charge of props and dressings. I took one look and thought, “I could marry him.” That was 22 years ago.
Later, I was a stage manager. We finished up school, then found out music degrees weren’t very handy. He decided to trade being an opera singer for accounting, and I took a six month course in Secretarial Sciences. That’s where I got my typing up to 90wpm. Need a job? If you’ve got a computer, take advantage of a free Learn to Type program and practice, practice, practice. Here’s one for you: http://www.typingweb.com/ All it costs you is time, and you can get all kinds of work out of it.
Motherhood. The only things I wrote for 12 years were letters to my children. And grocery lists. Suddenly, Microsoft rocked our world. You might have known me in the Potterverse as Sculdermully. I may have written an online essay or three. I daydreamed Harry Potter and X-Files. I’m not sure I got a fair night’s sleep in ten years, but I read like a fiend. Effectively, I was making up fanfic in my head, but never wrote anything down. And that’s because I don’t think you can improve upon JK Rowling. Chris Carter’s a fanfic writer’s dream, though.
People told me to read Twilight for months. I did, and was underwhelmed. But I took my kids to see it, and Boom! Robert Pattinson entered Stage Left. The whole Twiverse burst into colour and not long after, I discovered the world of fan fiction. I read everything I could find for about a year. Free stories!!! Then, I decided to take the risk of writing one of my own.
Amazingly, there was an audience for it.
Fan fiction is a wonderful way to train as a writer. Basically, you’re writing an old-fashioned serial novel and readers are glad to give you feedback on each chapter. If you’re fortunate, experienced editors are willing to train you, free of charge. As another plus, you meet other writers and you might even meet some professionals.
Why write someone else’s canon? Well, because we love the stories and characters and we have ideas of where we’d like to take them. Places the original author didn’t.
I read and review. A lot. About three years ago, I started paying the community back by editing for other new writers. Eighteen months ago, I was approached by a publisher to write an original novel. I wrote the manuscript, but they decided (after much debate) that a group of Italian-Canadian moms (age 45 to 60) wouldn’t use Facebook to match make their kids.
Um, that’s my age group. All my friends use Facebook. And I hate to tell you, but matchmaking’s not dead, even in Canada. Scary boo.
So, I’m going to start querying other publishers in about a week, once my kids’ birthdays have passed. I have to rewrite my synopsis and a new query letter before that.
This is an exciting life. I love mentoring, pre-reading and editing. It’s taken me nearly five years, but so would any education. And you can learn from any writer, even one who’s penning her first short story. You just have to be open to input. We all have lessons to learn.
I’m starting a new challenge in November: NaNoWriMo. The challenge is to write 50K in one month. I’ve never done NaNo before and it seems like a good way to chunk away at my next manuscript. I’m actually writing my original series out of order because the characters in Book Three just won’t stop yelling at me. I have 22K words of it, and I want to be at 75K by the end of November. Of course, real life happens and if I don’t get there, I know it will still happen.
So, who’s with me? Care to pick up your virtual pen for NaNo? Sign in, then look me up. I’m going to need your encouragement.