I started reading before I started kindergarten, thanks to having a sister that is two years older than me and a mother who loves to read. We had books everywhere, which was great except when I found a copy of Helter Skelter, the Charles Manson story, in a box in the garage. I think I was eight at the time.
Just like lots of kids, I had imaginary friends. But unlike other kids – I had seventeen of them that were with me on a daily basis. I had Uncle Wilkensack, his wife, their thirteen kids and their two pet alligators. I was never at a loss for a story with them around.
I think I realized I wanted to be a writer while in fourth grade. I’d written a report on the Civil War, and when it was time to read my report in the big competition at a different school, I lost it. I started crying as I described the horrible conditions these kids went through. The power of those words on the page set the hook. Needless to say, I didn’t win, but my eyes were opened.
Life happened. I became pregnant, married young and dropped out of high school to raise my son. It’s funny, because I never missed school. I had so many obligations as a young kid that I felt older than everyone else my age. In school I was always picked to be the teacher’s assistant to grade papers and run errands. In other words – I was too fidgety to sit through class and even though I was bored numb, I made good grades. But I loved to play hooky and got really good at it. Even when I was at school, I spent lots of time outside, taking time running errands for teachers, always going out into the sunshine through the side doors of the classrooms instead of using the hallways.
I wasn’t embarrassed by my lack of education, (even though no one in my family had dropped out of school) until my son started kindergarten and it was obvious that I was much younger than the other parents. When my son started school, he was way ahead of the game, but I was afraid that other parents might judge him (whether they knew it or not) because his mother only had a GED, and I wanted to make sure he had ever opportunity to have a college education. So, I quit my job as a secretary at a small business in town and went to work at Vanderbilt University Medical Center because they offered college benefits. I spent twenty-six years trying to prove that I wasn’t the stereotypical teenage mother. I finished the last sixteen years there as a pediatric cardiac sonographer, and my son graduated from UT Knoxville with a degree in journalism without any student loans. But to be honest, once my son had been at college for a couple of years, and life settled down, I realized I missed the girl I used to be.
I started writing again and looking for the side door.
But the same self-doubt was there. I was intimidated by other author’s backgrounds. So many degrees and grants and teaching backgrounds on the bios. I was a single mother, twice divorced, dating a man who once told me, “That’s nice, doll, that you want to be a writer. But who would publish you? You didn’t even graduate from high school.” Needless to say, I felt like a ball lost in tall grass.
Until I met a man named Elkin Brown at a little writer’s group I stumbled into by accident. He was an English professor at a nearby community college. Without my knowledge, he entered a chapter from my novel as a stand-alone story into the Vol State’s annual competition and it won first place. He later talked me into to coming to his class – the first time I had ever stepped foot into a college classroom except for my son’s orientation – to speak with his students who had been given my work as assignments. It changed my life and I finally worked up the courage to write without worrying about my lack of credentials.
Since then, my stories have been published in Vanderbilt House Organ’s Summer Reading editions, Vol State’s Number One, and several anthologies.
Two years ago, I made the decision to live my life the way I wanted to.
I escaped out the side door, quit my job, sold my house, and gave everything I owned away. I now live on Amelia Island with my three dogs – Moe, Curly and Pearl and a turtle named Albert. I wasn’t planning on staying but fell in love with the island and the people here. I bought a house that needed major renovations and got busy. In between doing the remodeling I worked on the final edits of my first collection out for critiques. Then I started my dream job as a bookseller at a beautiful independent bookstore nearby which is proof I made the right decision to stay.
I decided to self-publish mainly because I am too impatient to do all the things you need to do to sell yourself to an agent, and three different indie publishers I’d corresponded with weren’t the right fit. Then it hit me – I could publish them myself. I’d already spent the money on editors. I’d had the book critiqued by one of my heroes, Suzanne Hudson, and I had a group of readers asking, “When can I get your book?” So, I started a publishing company, three dogs write press, and got busy. It’s been a great learning experience.
I have a second collection of short stories, one novel in the first draft stages, and a second novel in its rough draft stage.
I do write about some heavy subjects. But to me, those stories are important. I hope that I give the reader a satisfying ending and if they’ve struggled with some of the issues my characters face, I hope I give them closure. At least a feeling of hope and the knowledge that they aren’t alone.
Years ago, I had a friend who was a therapist – she was my therapist actually but that’s another story – who would take my stories and poems to a shelter for victims of domestic violence where she volunteered once a month. She said the residents all looked forward to them. My stories became part of their healing process, which in turn helped me to heal some old wounds. Through the power of words on a page.
I will always be grateful for that. I think about that when someone tells me I should try writing fluffier pieces. I write what I know and about what’s important to me. And I hope I do it with humor and humility.