Let’s recap, quickly: after years of moving hither and yon, my family and I moved to a small town in New Jersey where our lives changed dramatically. It was there and during that time that I began making up stories, enjoying the characters and plot lines in my head.
I made it through elementary school. . .barely. I loved the academics, but I hated the social aspects. A particularly nasty few months (picture Mean Girls, the younger years) destroyed what little confidence I’d developed, and I went into middle school very unhappy. But I still had my books, and I still had notebooks with my stories.
On the first day of middle school, I met the brand-new librarian, who, as it turned out, would be my best friend during those three years. She had terrific ideas about a reading club and a library club, and I joined them both (big surprise!).
I also kept writing, and as much as I hated middle school, it was where I realized that I enjoyed and could do something that other kids my age didn’t like at all. It became a point of pride to earn the top grades on essays and reports. (Don’t ask about math and science; those were totally different stories.) I entered the poetry festivals and won first prize all three years.
And then in October of seventh grade, the library sponsored a scary story contest. I wrote a story that was based on something my mother had once told me, about a beautiful old house that used to stand on the hill behind the Catholic church in our town. The hill still stood empty, and I had to walk past in my way home every day. In my story, the house re-appeared every October 31st. . .for one spooky evening only. . .
My story, “The Mystery of Bennett House”, won first prize, and unbeknownst to me, my librarian friend submitted it to a magazine called “A Child’s Life” (now defunct). Imagine my shock when she told me that my story would be published!
It was my first experience with seeing my own words in print. It was pretty exciting. My parents had a copy of the magazine framed. (Yes, I still have it!)
That was the high point of my youthful writing life. Two years later, having survived middle school, I began high school, where writing took on a whole new meaning. Research papers, long reports and test essays edged out any time for creative work. I was the editor of the school newspaper, but even there, it was almost completely non-fiction writing.
In spite of that, I credit my high school experience with having a huge influence on my work. I had three of the best English teachers who held us to impossibly high standards. Incomplete or run-on sentences earned a zero for any assignment. We were not permitted to use the word ‘get’ in formal writing; Mrs. McConnell told me that it was a non-word that could be replaced by something more descriptive in any case. She was right; I’ve yet to find any instance wherein ‘get’ can’t be replaced with something better.
These two women and one man introduced me to Shakespeare, encouraged what they called my ‘eclectic reading taste’ and made me passionate about proofreading and editing. Any time I write a decent sentence, it can be directly attributed back to Mr. Eck, Mrs. Barrett and Mrs. McConnell.
I was a senior when I began dating the man who would later become my husband. My college years were consumed with more non-creative writing and then I was married. . .an Army wife and mother. Who had time to write?
Maybe not me, but the stories continued to play out in my mind. Sooner or later, they had to find an outlet.