“So how did you start writing?” It’s a standard question on most interviews, and I have a standard answer for it, too.
I usually say that I’ve been writing stories all my life, got sidetracked from fiction during college, early marriage and motherhood, stuck to non-fiction for a while, and then began writing stories again recently.
It’s all true, but it’s also much too neat. The longer answer is not one I can share in a pithy interview answer, but I’m going to share it here, in the hopes that it might inspire other writers who might need it.
My writing journey began, as I believe all writers’ do, as a reader. More accurately, as a listener. My father had long purposed that he would read to his children before bed every night, and he began with me, his first born, when I was barely old enough to sit still.
I can’t tell you what the first books he read to me were, but I can remember some of my favorites from the early years, from the time I was in kindergarten. We read the Katie John books by Mary Calhoun, the All of a Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor. Of course we read all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, long before they were on television. (And if you haven’t read those books because the TV show turned you off, please, please read them. You will hardly recognize them as being even related.)
Throughout the years, my dad moved from early elementary literature through the classics (Edgar Allen Poe, Jane Austen–Daddy didn’t care for her–the Bronte sisters, Oscar Wilde, Sir Walter Scott, Shakespeare, Dickens) to more challenging books like those by Madeleine L’Engle and even Ayn Rand. My father never hesitated to read me a book because he thought it might be over my head; he recognized that constantly challenging my comprehension and vocabulary made me a better reader and writer.
In addition to my dad, I also had a grandmother who told me stories all the time. I loved the tales from history, from her own childhood and her own adaptations of other classic stories that she shared. Add that to a mother who always had a book of some kind nearby and I was destined to be a reading addict.
The first time I remember inventing stories was after my family moved to New Jersey. We’d lived in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, California, Pennsylvania (again) although both of my parents had family back in South Jersey. We returned there when I was in fourth grade, and I joined a class who had been together since kindergarten. Kids of that age aren’t exactly welcoming to a newcomer, and I spent most of that first year very much alone.
It was then that I discovered the value of inventing stories. I couldn’t read as I walked alone to and from school, but I could make up the next part of my own story. I could invent characters and situations that were comforting and amusing and hopeful. Those stories saved my life that year, and from then on, I was always telling a story, whether or not I actually wrote it down.
But even so, I would never have believed that within a few years, I would actually be a published author.