S.E. Hinton started writing The Outsiders in high school. Stephen King sold his first story, The Glass Floor, in 1967, when he was 20.
I turned 39 in October and, I guess by those standards, I’m coming to the fiction-writing party relatively late. To extend the metaphor, it feels a little like I’ve just showed up with chips and dip to find out all the beer is gone, the DJ is tired and the attractive partiers have paired off and are making out in dark corners.
Writing has always been part of my life. My first published work was a book report I wrote in second grade. The book was about a Native American kid who played hooky from school and ran into a bear. He survived, but he never played hooky again.
In middle school, I discovered the power of the extra-credit essay, using them to eke out just enough grade points to keep my parents off my back. In those days, my writing heroes were Bill Cosby and Andy Rooney, giving most of those essays a curmudgeonly feel. I wish I had a few examples but those works, usually written in pencil on yellow lined paper, are lost to history.
In high school I wrote as needed. I do recall rave reviews for a religious satire called “The Trial of Baby J,” which took to task foes of surrogate motherhood. I wrote a lot of poetry in those days, too, and one took me as far as the “New England Young Writer’s Conference” back in ’88. I was also team poet of the Lincoln Academy ski team.
It took me awhile to find my footing in college. I started out thinking about getting an art degree, switched to English and then psychology. Finally, with only two years left on the clock I went for political science. I won a few friends for paper I wrote on Supreme Court jurisprudence: “What would Spider-Man do?” I took some writing classes and penned a monthly column called "Old Shoes" for the school paper.
Between 1995 and 2007 I worked in newspapers, as a writer and editor. That took just about all the creative juice I had in those days, save for the on-deadline haiku and dirty limerick contests I had with my staffs via e-mail. I ran a few poetry contests and talked a lot about wanting to write fiction, but never did much with it.
I left newspapers to become a high-school English teacher a few years ago, offering classes in journalism and creative writing. In fanning the flames of creativity in my students, I started to smolder, too. Last summer, I finally took time to write: pounding out three short stories and starting an MFA program in fiction writing. Now, with three rejection notices under my belt, I feel like I might be on my way to becoming a writer.
I don’t need to write, but I like to. I want to. I have some stories to tell and a modicum of talent to strain them through. I’d like to get published and find an audience. I’d like to see my name on a book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. If it happens, you’ll hear it here first. If not, you’ll probably hear that, too.
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So far, I’m enjoying the party. The DJ may be tired but he still has some songs you haven’t heard, and we can always send someone out for more beer.