When I was eight-years-old, I made a writer’s den in the basement of my family’s split-level house. With only a solitary naked bulb for a lamp and an old, plastic toddler’s table and chairs for a desk, I scrawled out stories about things I was an expert in: pesky cats, bossy older sisters, and gossipy friends. In elementary school, I ignored most assignments and passed in short stories instead. While this didn’t help me earn high marks, my teachers never discouraged me. For elementary school graduation, my fourth grade teacher made blue and silver awards for each student. Most of the “honors” were superlatives, such as “Best Speller” or “Fastest Runner”. However, my award was a bold, declarative statement: “Ambition is to be an Author.” A statement I vowed to make come true.
I never forgot about that award. By high school, I had eighty pages of a novel written and stacks of journals all over my new writer’s den– my pink and teal bedroom. The words printed on that little silver and blue award remained my mantra through middle and high school. I even took the award to college, the edges worn and frayed. I tacked it to a bulletin board above my desk as a reminder of my dream. Unfortunately, my duties as an English major with a concentration in Writing and Education forced me to all but abandon my “ambition” in favor of academic papers that focused on analyzing other people’s writing. Even though I wrote about literary greats from Charlotte Bronte to Alice Walker with great flourish and ease, I felt a longing to write about things from my own life. I enjoyed studying these literary masters, analyzing passages and unfolding the mysteries of their writing techniques, but not as much as I liked to write my own stories. It was this desire that led me to the basement offices of my college’s school newspaper. One day my junior year, I trotted in and convinced the editor to give me my own column. Each morning, as I worked on that week’s column, I read that award through my bleary eyes and vowed to make my ambition a reality.
After college, I spent six years teaching high school and middle school English. My passion for writing flowed into my career as a teacher both in and out of the classroom; I taught creative writing, started a literary magazine, developed English Language Arts curriculum for middle and high school, and was an advisor for capstone projects that involved writing. I encouraged my students to not only study fine literature but also to look inside for their own, personal stories. My goal was to get students to connect to literature and to find a way to bridge the gap between J.D. Salinger or Shakespeare and themselves. Maybe they experienced betrayal like Caesar or depression like Holden Caulfield. I noticed that when my students found these connections, they were no longer intimidated by complex language or dense plotlines, and more importantly, they actually liked what they were learning. Soon they realized that they weren’t that different from these great authors and that they too could write. All this preaching and teaching about writing inspired me, and I began to refine that novel I wrote back in high school.
Writing as an adult involved not only sitting down and writing every day but also finding a way to get published. While balancing my day job as a teacher and night job writing young adult fiction, I scoured the Internet and the latest copy of The Writer’s Market. I subscribed to Writer’s Digest and faithfully studied the art of query letter writing. Eventually, I submitted to over 100 agents and editors.
My efforts paid off–sort of. Editors and agents from across the country responded and agreed to read my work. For five years, I was, unofficially, courted by several “top” New York publishing houses. I thought this was a sign that I was truly talented and would, in fact, achieve my life-long goal as an author. I was wrong about both. Despite fits and starts with editors and agents, nothing really happened. I became frustrated. By year five, I shirked the conventional and traditional publishing path and decided to self-publish. On a sunny day, four months after the birth of my first child, my dream came true: My Sister’s Wedding arrived, a glossy cover, an ISBN barcode, and my name on the cover of my book.
That was 13.5 years ago and so much more has happened since. Check out my BlogMoir: Failing Forward for what happened after I published my first book.
Handwritten first draft of My Sister's Wedding