How I became a writer

A couple weeks ago, The Telegraph published an interesting essay by Haruki Murakami about how he became a novelist. Murakami says that he had something of an epiphany in 1978, while watching a baseball game–Yakult Swallows vs Hiroshima Carp. In his words:

“In the bottom of the first inning, Hilton slammed Sotokoba’s first pitch into left field for a clean double. The satisfying crack when the bat met the ball resounded throughout Jingu Stadium. Scattered applause rose around me. In that instant, for no reason and on no grounds whatsoever, the thought suddenly struck me: I think I can write a novel.”

I wish I could say I had a magical moment like this. It makes for such a good story. Alas, I became a writer because of lots of mundane moments. Plain and simple, I just loved writing, from a very early age. I don’t know why. My parents are not writers. They worked in medicine, actually. My mom has always read a lot, though. I have to think that played a part. An interesting tidbit: When my grandma passed away, we found old stories she had written, stories we didn’t know existed when she was alive.

I started writing stories in elementary school–juvenile cursive on those wide-lined pages. I think my mom still has some of these. In third grade, we had an assignment to rewrite classic fairy tales and make them our own. I LOVED this assignment. We only had to do one story, but I wrote several. I was so excited to read my stories to the class, which was telling because I was very shy.

My parents got me one of those baby name books so I could search for the most appropriate names for my characters. That was my favorite part–creating the characters. I would spend so much time deciding their favorite colors, foods, hobbies. I drew pictures of the houses they lived in, created school yearbooks that featured all their teachers and friends. I loved all this, creating little worlds.

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In sixth grade, my friend, Eurie, and I started writing a novel together. Incidentally, she now teaches English at the university level, so those early years must be very formative. I don’t remember if we set out to write a novel, specifically. I don’t think it was that purposeful. We both loved to read (Nancy Drew was a favorite) and writing seemed to come naturally from that. I would write a chapter from my character’s perspective, give it to her, and she would write a chapter from her character’s perspective, give it to me, and on and on. It was a dual-perspective detective story, very suspenseful. I believe my character’s name was Skye. Eurie and I went to different junior high schools, but we maintained our writing, sending chapters back and forth through the mail. If I didn’t have enough stamps, I would write her address as the return address so that my package of pages would still make it to her. I thought I was so crafty.

In seventh grade, I had an English teacher named Mr. Medina who made books seem cool. He said I was a good writer and that meant something to me. He let us choose books that weren’t part of the usual 7th grade syllabus. I read The Maltese Falconfor example. There was just so much exposure to reading that year. And he had us start every class with a writing exercise. I felt like, “This is it. This is me.”

I didn’t write much in high school. Whenever I sat down to write a story, I felt some pressure to be “proper.” I blame this on all the 19th century books we had to read. I wish kids got to read more contemporary books. Seriously, Beowulf is a disservice. There, I said it. Catcher in the Rye was a lifesaver. It changed my understanding of “literature.” Holden Caulfield was honest. Things he said sounded like stuff I wrote in my journals (I had so, so, so many journals).

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I resumed writing in college, completing a handful of amateur novels (thank you to my mom and my roommate, Megan, for reading all of them). My mom reminded me the other day that she shelled out $650 to hire an editor to help me with one of the novels she thought was decent. I must have been about 20. I remember that editor. Drusilla Campbell. She passed away last year. I wish I could have told her about my book deal.

I haven’t really stopped writing novels since college. I’ve had phases–some of them long–of not writing much, but I always come back to it. I submitted my first novel to agents when I was 20 (that novel Drusilla Campbell helped me edit). No luck. I wrote two more novels after that. No luck finding an agent with those either. I wrote my fourth book and landed an agent for that one in 2003, but we couldn’t come to a finished manuscript that she wanted to sell. I wrote my fifth book and landed another agent in 2009. She loved the book, but couldn’t find a publisher to buy it. I started a sixth book, but abandoned that one to work on my seventh book, which became PEOPLE WHO KNEW ME. I have a great agent, a wonderful editor at St. Martin’s, and an official publication date of May 24 (meaning, this is really happening!).

Exciting news: My book is now available for pre-order on Amazon. It’s very early, so the cover art is not up yet. I love that the brief author description mentions my pets. Ha! Anyway, join my mom in being one of the first to order a copy. And then wait 10 months. Sorry.

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