Yesterday I did something I haven’t done in a long time. I wrote a short story. Fiction and I haven’t been on speaking terms in quite some time. Not that fiction “speaks” per se (though a case could be made if one were so inclined), but you know what I mean. I was trying to figure it out today. How had I lost passion for something that once brought me so much joy?
Looking back, I, like most kids, first wrote stories. I wrote obsessively, commandeering the family typewriter for my midnight rendezvous, click-click-clacking with a passion my admittedly derivative narratives while others slept. I had a sea of mass market genre titles I’d scored at yard sales (authored by giants like Grisham, V.C. Andrews, etc) that I read with ferocity in elementary school, delighted that although my parents would usher me precipitously out of the room when watching a rated R flick (Pretty Woman springs immediately to mind), I was allowed unchecked access to adult situations in literary form. Neither of my parents read for pleasure, so nothing I read was audited. Among my most valued possessions was a trunk of shamelessly smutty romance novels an aunt had handed down to me.
When my home life became rocky in junior high, and I first began staying with other friends and relatives (initially with my 19-year-old sister), one of the bright lights was when I managed to publish some erotica under a pen name in a smattering of zines, nothing too prestigious but exhilarating news to my 13-year-old self. It amuses me now to think someone out there may have fapped to something I wrote when I was recently pubescent. Thanks, Aunt B. You have no idea what you started. Admittedly the work I did then is hackneyed to my adult eyes, a series of racy stories that mixed a marginally engaging murder mystery plot with pure filth – I was going through this phase where mixing sex and violence terribly excited me. Regardless of their dubious quality, their acceptance was a huge boon to my self-esteem and self-image as a young writer. Still, I felt kind of bad that I couldn’t share my newfound success with anyone outside of my inner circle for a multitude of concerns, not the least of which was the dubious legality (and less dubious poor taste) of what I’d done, being a minor and all.
As I transitioned to high school, I set my sights on more “legit” ventures. I wrote a myriad of stories, three of which I was fortunate enough to publish – all 3 of them were soft sci fi/fantasy/horror (basically just eerie little things) of about 1000 words. I also published my first poem (a 10 liner, written in Spanish) and won a local poetry prize. Still, I didn’t consider myself much of a poet, being largely unexposed to very much serious poetry outside of what I’d had to read for school.
When I got to college, I had a lot of friends in the theatre department and on a lark started writing plays. It was insanity, but I put one on (using my own scholarship money to rent the hall) and actually met with financial success. Thereafter other student directors were interested in my work, and a handful of my plays were put on, and I found myself pretty famous around campus.
Unfortunately, life intervened, I developed a nasty drug habit, got into a horribly abusive relationship with a much older man, and a myriad of other complicating factors that left me an emotional shell and resulted in my taking a semester off school to recuperate and attend substance abuse counseling. The following semester, I took a fiction writing workshop taught by a grad student along with the rest of my course load. I did okay in the class (if I recall correctly, I got a B or a B+ in the course), but the instructor seemed to personally dislike my writing style (though he’d mention that I was good at turning a phrase and would point out examples of snippets he liked) and didn’t give me much in the way of helpful feedback. My fellow classmates, too, were useless in this regard. It was devastating.
I can see now that I was far too sensitive about the experience, but at the time, I was feeling defeated in a number of facets in my life, and I had I had hoped the class would be an experience to help rebuild my confidence. Instead, I let myself get rather discouraged due to a fragile ego. I took a break from writing altogether.
About a year later, I took a Canadian lit class taught by a fairly well-known Canadian small press poet. Something about our personalities just clicked, and I asked him if I could read some of his work. He graciously gave me a copy of one of his collections, and I was so moved and affected by his work that I found myself making detailed notes on the individual poems – I wanted to discuss so much with him that I was afraid I would forget it all if left to chance. When I was done, I gave him my notes on his work. We had an excellent conversation about my observations, opinions- and had a good give and take as he gave me insight into his personal relationship with the work in his collection. He was so impressed by my enthusiasm that he pulled some strings to get me admitted into an advanced poetry writing workshop at the school, though I insisted I had very little experience with poetry and hadn’t written much.
I was introduced to Constance Hunting, the (regrettably now passed on) grand dame of belle lettres of Eastern Maine. I will never know why she took such a liking to me or my work (as at this point I was quite overweight and dumpy, neurotic, and painfully shy), but she took notice of me rather quickly, heaping praise on the work I produced in response to her assignments. In one surreal lecture, she referred (much to my total and utter embarrassment) to my “virtuosity” in front of my entire class. Later she even published some of my work in The Puckerbrush Review, her literary magazine. She encouraged me to enter the campus writing contests that year – and I did – winning the Grady for poetry and fiction, the Hamlet for playwriting, and the Grenfell for form poetry – for prize money totaling $1800 (which I used to finance moving into my first apartment with my now ex-husband). I was chosen afterwards as the student proctor for a professional poetry conference being held on campus, full of accomplished older poets. At this conference, I met a well-known poetry editor from Southern Maine (as I helped run her writing workshop, being a gopher of sorts), chatted her up, bought a sample copy of her magazine. She eventually went on to publish my work multiple times, we kept on a cordial correspondence, and even had an informal partnership, cross-promoting for one another, when 4 years later, I started my own (now defunct, or as I like to say “on permanent hiatus”) poetry magazine. Since then, I’ve been published in scads of magazines as a poet, have a host of publication credits, and am very confident in my abilities on that front.
Which brings me back to my original point. Somewhere along the way, I got to thinking I couldn’t write prose. When I took a creative non-fiction writing class a few years back (yay for tuition reimbursement and online classes!) and was met with praise for my attempts at memoir, I amended to this to that I couldn’t write fiction.
First, I started writing erotica again – and now a (non-erotic) short story.
I’m not sure what is happening, but I’m thoroughly excited about the possibilities.