When I look back and connect the dots in my life that make up my journey as a writer, it all began, as near as I can tell, at the age of three. I know this must have been my age, because I know where I lived on the evening that I had the most interesting dream.
My mother sat in an armchair not far from our front door and I lay on the couch in front of the window in the living room. From where I lay on my back, I could look down and see my knees propped up, then the arm of the couch, and then my mother, her head turned to the left, watching television.
I don’t know how long I lay there watching her, and I don’t know when I dozed off, but I do remember a ship coming into view, and not thinking it at all strange. Then, I was on the boat with two friends, and I knew we were searching for land. I didn’t know them, but while we steered the ship, I remember thinking how glad I was we finally found each other. I also knew we had set sail in the hope of a grand pirate adventure, but had forgotten our lunches and couldn’t find any food on the boat.
We sailed through the afternoon before spotting a sand covered island. There were no trees and no rocks. Just a small arch of light golden sand on the horizon. We steered closer, and as the hull approached the shore, we realized that not one of us knew how to stop the boat. Our boat crashed onto the sand and we flew through the air, landing in the middle of the tiny island. A giant wave swept our broken ship away and we stood on the island as it gently swayed beneath us to the rhythm of the ocean (it was a dream, after all).
I watched us, on our island, swaying in the ocean, still not thinking it strange at all (even though I was watching us from a distance), when my mother’s face appeared in the sky behind us. It was bigger than the whole island and it was looking slightly to the left. From where I was looking on the scene (I guess somewhere out in the ocean) my giant hand reached out and pushed the island back and forth, and we all rocked with it like a seesaw. Then, my mother’s face began to seem more real, and the island began to fade. I realized that my giant hand, and my friends and I, were no longer on the island, but on my propped up knee, which looked a lot like a small arch of light-colored sand.
Eventually, my friends I were gone altogether, and my hand pushed the skin on my knee back and forth while my mother continued to watch her television show. Ironically, it was then that it finally seemed strange. At the time, I guess I knew it had all been a dream, but I’d had a wonderful time on that ship and wondered what I could do to make it come back. I have had dreams as far back as I can remember, but this was different. I wanted that dream. I wanted that story back, and I didn’t know how to make that happen.
That was my first experience creating and being part of a story that I wanted to revisit.
I don’t know why or how I remember that from so long ago, but the next dot I connected was much simpler. When I was around four or five, I would sit on a little bridge that crossed a creek by my house and make up songs. They rhymed beautifully and I was sure I could create songs that would be played on the radio. No one ever heard those songs, but whenever my parents and I were driving home late at night after visiting family, I would stand up between their seats and sing songs for them. (If car seats existed in the 70’s, my parents hadn’t heard of them.) My mom has sung some of those songs for me since then, and I was forced to rethink how beautifully they rhymed. It was quite frightening actually, but I guess the good that came out of it was the thought of putting words I liked together and hoping they would make others happy too.
The next dot is not a happy one. Elementary school was one of the worst times for me and kindergarten through sixth (that’s how it was where I attended school) seemed even longer than it actually was. Some of it was fun, but many of the girls I went to school with were not nice people. I say that like a water buffalo might say, “Crocodiles are not very nice.” They can destroy you before you even see it coming. Growing up as an only child with two easy-going parents, I was not prepared with skills in sarcasm, arguments, and verbal self defense. I had one best friend, all those years, but she is two years older than I am and went to a different school. Our calm natures matched, and to this day, we have never fought.
Anyway, my dad worked from home and everyday when I walked in the door, he couldn’t wait to hear about my day. Unfortunately, it almost always consisted of a tale that infuriated him. My dad grew up quite a bit differently than I did, and nobody messed with him. Ever. He eagerly gave me advice on different ways to handle things, ideas of things I could say or do. At night, I would lay in bed and recreate the conversations I’d had that day in school, only I would change it to how I wished it had gone. I would rework all of the dialogue and envision it as a complete scene in my head. Rewriting torturous events is not my preferred style of learning, but in my writing today, dialogue is one of my strongest skills.
In sixth grade, the kids stayed the same, but something in class was new. I was properly introduced to poetry and I loved it. When a poem was assigned to be written, I started on it the second I got home and didn’t stop until I didn’t know how else I could make it better. I love the way poetry plays with words and I was always drawn to songs with clever rhymes. I wrote a lot of poetry as a young adult and still have it in an old photo album. It’s not bad (if you omit all the drama of being a teenager).
In junior high I had a teacher who loved books. We read a lot and they were always books that made you think. To Kill A Mockingbird is still my favorite book, but Animal Farm is pretty high on my list as well. Her love of reading and her enthusiasm for stories crept into my brain and I became obsessed with mysteries. Christopher Pike was my favorite. They are scary books, but I loved the fact that all the clues were there and I just had to find them. I read scary books through most of high school and in my senior year I wrote my first story. I didn’t even remember writing it until I was looking through some old memorabilia in my poetry album last year and reread it. It scared the pants off me. Thank you, Mr. Pike.
From there, it took a long time for the next dot. I read a lot. I love books in general, and teaching reading and writing to fifth graders was an absolute joy. Most of the books I recommend on this site are ones I have shared with students or with my own daughters. As an adult, I wrote my first book four years ago, and was lucky enough to meet a writer who introduced me to a group of people who write for children. I have learned so, so much since then, and while it feels like a long journey when I write it all out, I am only just beginning. If you are reading this, you are visiting my site, and I am completely honored to have you be a part of my ongoing journey as a writer.