I’ve been a writer even before I knew how to write.
When I was in kindergarten, my favorite babysitter, Beth, would hand me a Magic Slate and ask me to “write” something. I would dutifully scribble what I believed to be words down on the toy and hand it back to her. Beth, knowing that “The Wizard of Oz” was my favorite story, started to tell me a story about Dorothy and Toto, and then erased the Magic Slate and gave it back to me, urgently asking me to write the next bit of the story down. I would excitedly “write” the next few lines and give it back to her, anxiously waiting for her to tell me what I’d written. And so it’d go, until she’d told me a story that I “wrote.”
I suppose that is how I learned to love writing stories.
So once I actually learned how to write, I was ready to go. I started writing – for real writing – in first grade. I was blessed with parents and teachers who encouraged me every step of the way. My dad in particular told me to keep writing, and my blessed second- and fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Hurst, patiently read every journal entry I handed in about my cats, Whiskers and Wilbur.
In eighth grade, we had to write essays for Law Day on the theme that the Constitution is the foundation of the United States. My family had taken a weekend trip the day before the essays were due, and I had forgotten the assignment until we came home late Sunday night. Dad angrily sent me to my room to write the thing, which I dashed of in a hurry. I stomped down the stairs twenty minutes later to show it to him.
“The Constitution is like the foundation of a house,” I wrote. “A house is made of many parts: a foundation, a frame a roof and aluminum siding.” Dad crossed out aluminum siding and handed it back to me. I accepted his edits and turned it in. I won the statewide prize that year – $25 that I spent on the Tears for Fears album. I guess that’s when my career began.
He always was my best editor. He was with me when I wrote my first article for the college newspaper, The Red and Black of the University of Georgia. It was just some silly thing about the marching band doing a tour of high schools around the state, but I was supremely nervous about having a byline for the first time. Dad, who had written for his own college paper and the Army Times and had been an Associated Press photographer, literally held my hand as I slogged my way through that forgettable story and helped me edit it before I turned it in.
After graduation, I did marketing for a business weekly in Miami for less than a year – a paper so boring I admit I never once read the thing. I worked for a book wholesaler for a while. The thing about that job was there went my paycheck every week, right into the employee discounted books.
But I couldn’t stay at a job where I was losing money, so back to journalism I went. I spent fourteen years at four papers, covering mostly the automotive industry, but also the poultry industry, the foreclosure crisis, labor negotiations, agriculture and the odd murder and mayhem. When newspapers started to flounder, I eventually found my way into politics and wrote for the Michigan House of Representatives for seven years, which was fascinating in its own right. You know those newsletters you get from your state representative? If you live in Michigan, there’s a chance I wrote some of them. Most recently, I work for a nonprofit that is working to end mass incarceration, where I not only do the writing for the organization, but the photography, video production and just about any other creative needs that come our way.
So I know I’m lucky already. I’ve been making my living writing all along, and there aren’t many people who want to be writers who get to say that. But there are these nagging story ideas I have that are begging to be set down into novels. And that’s what this is all about.