Saturday, August 20, 2016

An Invitation to Speak

I have been thinking about this invitation to speak at the Westfield Women's Club- and trying not to work myself up too much about it. Public speaking has never been my forte. I write much better than I speak. I wonder if I can prerecord my speech and lip sync it like those singers do! (Just kidding!)

I have been thinking about the why I write aspect of my life.

I don't know why I write. It's just something that I have always done ever since I was a child and could put pencil to paper.

I think it is because I am 1) easily bored, 2) tend to internalize my stress, and 3) am not good at holding a conversation. I am totally at ease when I write. 

Another thought is that my childhood was rife with little traumas that led to my siblings and I being shuffled from home to our grandparents a lot. We missed classroom time, doing our schoolwork independently at our grandparent's with Dad coming to collect it and bring us new assignments. This type of thing led to our not being able to form the kind of friendships normal kids make in the schoolyard. When we got back to school we were not part of the cliques that had formed. Therefore there was some social isolation going on.

However, we lived in a home that was full of books, games and props to amuse and entertain ourselves with. My mother let us choose whatever books we wanted from those Scholastic Book Club flyers and we all had our own libraries. At one point she had Dad take out all the walls in the hallway and construct bookcases down both sides that were chockfull of books when the project was done! I vividly remember sprawling in the hallway on the celery green carpet just reading books. In fifth grade I challenged myself to read 100 paperback books and did that. My teacher even came to the house because she didn't quite believe I had done this (this was after blowing through those pick a card and read it and answer the question things that were designed to test you ability to read and comprehend. I had nothing else to read in class so she let me read books from home.) She was amazed by all the books in our house, not just in the hallway library but in the family room and living room as well. And we each had a bookshelf in our room, too.

I was never one to watch much sitcom TV, but I liked old movies (still do!) and would watch a few every Saturday afternoon with my brother and sister.

My sister is four years older than me. She had a cerebral vascular accident at age 11 and had to relearn everything that she once knew. She was partially blinded by this- cannot see from mid-point to the right in both eyes. It changed her personality. Yet, she relearned everything in one year and was able to go back to school and rejoin her classmates. She wrote plays that were performed in school (one on the signing of the Declaration of Independence). She also wrote plays for the three of us to perform for our parents in the family room, which we called The Porch Theater. Dad had strung a wire across the width of the room and Mom had made bedsheet curtains. My sister's bedroom had a door that opened into the family room so her room was our changing room and prop room. Our parents would dress up in their theater going finery. My sister would have programs typed up. They'd be seated, refreshments would be served- iced tea or soda and popcorn or cookies, and the play would commence.

My mother never stifled our creativity but encouraged it. I liked to draw and write poetry at that time. I wrote two books of poetry by age thirteen. By books I mean I handwrote my poems on notebook paper and drew little pictures to illustrate some of them, then tied the pages together with bright yarn.

When we moved to Westfield in 1973 I missed the small circle of friends I had finally made. I was lonely, shy, not happy in the brand new high school among people who all knew one another and had been friends since childhood. I started writing short prose pieces. I inherited my sense of humor from my parents, and I guess my imagination as well. My maternal grandfather was Italian and a great oral story teller! He always had stories to tell about locals in town when we went to visit.

I wrote some short prose for the high school literary magazine. I continued to draw, doing pen and ink drawings. My sister painted and wrote children's poetry and stories. My brother was not as creative .In college I started as an English major and worked on the college literary magazine until I switched majors after the first half of my sophomore years and transferred to what was Westfield State College at the time to complete my education earning a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice.

I continued to write. I'd lie on my bed and just write all weekend. I wrote stories with the same characters over and over, perfecting them, putting them through different scenarios. I also continued to write short prose and do pen and ink drawings.

For a few years, when I was working as a campus police officer and then supervisor, I didn't do a lot of writing. I wrote some poetry, I hand made teddy bears and I continued to draw. When John and I moved to Westfield after we bought our house I would write to amuse myself and to relieve stress caused by my job. I worked nights.

Then I went to work at LEGO making bricks. It was fun. I left there a few weeks before Kelly was born and stayed at home to raise her. Like my mother before me, I made sure she had a bookcase full of books in her room from the day we brought her home to present day (she's 25 now). I remember sitting in the white wicker rocker feeding her in the wee hours of the night, showing her picture books and then reading her books like Goodnight, Moon and The Runaway Bunny. She threw up on her Goodnight Moon paperback book! I had John drive us to the mall so I could get a replacement book as soon as we were finished eating dinner that same day! I got the board book version- she still has it downstairs.

As she grew I'd write while she was in school. I read to her every night before bed. We'd select six books from her bookcase and I'd read them. I never parked her in front of the television so she never developed any need to watch TV. Instead, we did art projects, we listened to music from many different cultures and danced in the kitchen, we had picnics at various locations, like the airport where we watched the planes. We took drives into the hill towns to look at trees and lakes. We went to the park. We colored a lot (and still do!) Sometimes I'd lose track of her and find her sitting in front of her bookcase (from age 1.5 on) with an open book across her lap looking at the pictures. She wrote her first short story about Harold the Shoe in first grade which astounded her teacher. We still have that handwritten on yellow lined paper story in the file cabinet!

I began writing stories for her when she was four years old. Everything I've written the past 21 years has been for her. She writes for me and that makes my heart happy. She is black & white, very analytical like her father, but in her genetic make-up she also got a good dose of the creativity gene from her mother. Her writing style is very different from mine. I'm wordy and descriptive. She paints an image with a few deft key strokes. It's more stark but does not lack in skill.

We have started one book together, writing alternating chapters. My bad, it's my chapter next. We started it a few years ago on vacation in Maine. I really need to get back to that with her.

Curiously, I never wrote an entire novel until 2011. I didn't think I had it in me to actually finish a full-length novel. I wrote a lot of short stories, novelettes and novellas. Kelly had learned about NaNoWriMo in college where she and her roommate were involved in the arts & literary magazine. They did the challenge in 2011. She told me she wanted me to try it in 2012. I practiced in March and wrote a novel in 23 days. That November I wrote a novel in 18 days and she was mad at me! Since then we do NaNoWriMo. I have four NaNo novels written. She has two and two others half written. College and work obligations prevented her from finishing her novels two years.

I now write mostly novels. I have a vast body of work in binders and file cabinets in my home. I'd been encouraged to publish my writing for years and years by family and friends, but was reluctant to do so. Finally, as my 2014 NaNoWriMo winner's goody of two free copies of my NaNo novel was about to expire at the end of May 2015, I took Medea, my 2014 NaNo novel and created a paperback book of it and got my two free copies. The book was crude and imperfect but I was thrilled to have my book in print. I ordered a bunch of copies and handed them out- horrendous or not!

Then Kelly clued me in that I could change fonts, colors and add pages like the title page, a rights/copyrights page, an author bio, headers, footers, page numbers...all the stuff that first attempt was lacking. Version two came out better although still not perfect. It's the current version of Medea by Victoria Bell that's still available.

From there I began putting together books from material I had on hand that was already written and just taking up room. Each books eliminated one or more binders from the crates in the dining room. With each book I got better at making them look more professionally put together. I loved designing the covers from stock pictures (for now), choosing the fonts and colors. I needed Kelly's help at first with headers. footers and pages numbers but now can pretty much do everything independently, although I ask her opinion when a book is ready to submit, just to make sure she doesn't catch something missed (sometimes she does and I fix it immediately before submitting the book file because I have learned to be more patient about getting each book done!)

My books have been well-received in general. My short stories don't get rated as high as my novels. The general comments are the readers want longer stories, want to know what happens to the characters. I leave that to their imaginations but I guess some people want to know what's in my imagination! So now I mostly write novels except for my annual Halloween and Christmas stories.

Because of my books I have ventured out and done a couple book signings and met other authors at their book signings. Slowly I am developing a public persona as an author. I'm just an ordinary person with an abundance of imagination who can string words together to make a story. That's the thing I share with other authors who, the ones that I have met so far, feel the same way. They're just ordinary people who write.

I guess this is what I will say when I am invited to speak. People are all different. Some can dance (I cannot), some can sing (I cannot), some can act (ditto), some can fix cars (not me!), some can program computers (uh-uh), and some can write (ta-da!). I just happen to be one of those people who can write. I was born this way and like anyone born with some sort if innate talent, I've practiced and worked hard to improve over time.

And now I am at this place in my life. An author invited to speak about my craft (or rather my innate talent). Hopefully writing this all down here will inspire me at the end of January when I am in panic mode about the upcoming speaking event! I'll at least have some thoughts put together someplace I can look back on to refresh my memory!

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