I grew up in a small town in upstate New York. Apple country. I lived in a North Country fixer-upper on a long and lonely road. My siblings and I would ride our bikes to the big tree or the big pipe, a drainage pipe for the big cornfield, for excitement. We built a lot of forts. We had goats, pigs, and a horse. When I wasn’t riding my bike or building forts, I was reading a lot of Judy Blume and I wanted to be a writer.
When I was 13 and Avon/Flare announced their novel competition for people 13 to 18-years-old, I had to enter. I wrote the story by hand and my mom TYPED it for me on a typewriter. 104 tidy pages. My dad, a high school English teacher, tried to give me pointers about dialogue and character development and plot. I did not listen to a single thing he said. I thought the book was brilliant. It was not. It was about a young girl beat up by her older brother. I was/am the oldest and didn’t know what I was talking about. I dreamed of winning the $5,000 prize, getting my novel published and becoming an instant celebrity in my little hometown. Every afternoon I scouted out places where I’d have my author photo taken- with a goat in my arms? Next to one of our dogs? On the split rail fence with the horse in the background? Or, forget animals and go with a wintry shot? What would I wear?
Many weeks later, I got the thin envelope from the publisher. They decided to give the prize to an 18-year-old from Canada who’d written a story about dragons who show up at a teen party and get drunk. The fact that you’ve probably never heard of Dragon Fall or Lee J. Hindle means a lot to me now.
My parents and teachers encouraged me to continue writing. I got a job for teen writers with a sports newspaper. I played for the school’s soccer team—that’s another story—and a little summer softball, but that was it. I was not sporty, but I could write about my friends and coaches I’d known all my life. I made some money. In college, I wrote and edited my college newspaper.
Later, when I graduated from college, I got a job at an outdoor education outfit, leading people through ropes courses, when that was a new thing. I was able to write about it for College Monthly magazine and that turned into a long-lasting freelance gig.
I continued to do freelance work, even writing a profile of a friend who started her own life coaching business, when that was a new thing, for an alumni magazine.
Eventually, I lived in my own North Country fixer-upper, became a parent, and wanted to keep up with freelance work. The Press-Republican came out with JILL Magazine for Today’s Woman. I could pitch anything to them and they’d publish it and pay me. I wrote about a friend’s wedding, book reviews, music reviews, sex ed, my dog dying. ANYTHING. Freelance is still a part of my life.
I didn’t win the novel competition, but I did become a writer and I’m grateful for that. It’s not exactly the way I pictured it and that’s OK.