On December 31, 1999, I hosted a Murder-Mystery party at my house. My friends and I dressed up in all-out party gear (read: formal wear) and proceeded to have a dinner where we sorted out who was the murderer. It was a silly, fun night. At midnight one of my friends killed the breaker for the room that we were in, plunging us all into darkness.
So, at midnight on January 1, 2000, the idea that the world would plunge into darkness was true for about three seconds.
Before December 31, 1999, I had only written to entertain myself. If I look down to my left, I can open the second drawer and pull out a first chapter of a fantasy novel–of which there are at least eight copies because I started that novel over and over again. On December 31, 1999, I did not take writing seriously, I thought I was going to be an FBI agent.
Somewhere in 2000, I changed my plans. I was playing pool with my best friend, Shelagh, and my mother, Susie, when a woman approached us and bought us pitchers (Pepsi for Shelagh and I, and Coors Light for Susie). Shelagh and I were pretty sure this woman was hitting on Susie, but my poor clueless mother had no idea and we weren’t about to say no to free drinks. During the pretty flirty conversation, the woman asked me what I did. As I was recently unemployed, recently graduated, and so very lost, I was about to say ‘nothing’ when Shelagh said “She’s a writer.”
That didn’t sound like a bad idea. I went to Barnes and Noble and found the Writing/Publishing section. Since I was new to this writing gig, I looked through to see if there was something helpful. There he was: Stephen King. He’d written a book on writing (On Writing, perfect!). I’d never read anything of his before. Figuring that a bestselling uber-writer was probably the best person to learn from (gotta learn from the best, right?) I bought the book and read it all in two days.
King says that I must write. So I wrote.
In the meantime I got pregnant and married. In that order.
Finished a 600+ page novel. I wrote while I breastfed Owen, my son. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I’ve never written like that before, or since to tell the truth. It was tinged with desperation–I was not happy in my marriage, we were living with a woman with 8 dogs and there were all kinds of lovely surprises in the communal kitchen. (Yes, you can say ‘ewww’, I sure the hell did.) I was hoping that I would, of course, write a monsterously bestselling novel that would sweep me away from where I was. Me=Cinderella. Writing=Prince Charming.
Well, that didn’t work. But in my need to become a better writer, I joined a writer’s group at the Barnes and Noble where I worked. The Colorado Springs Fiction Writer’s Group is still around and kicking. I made so many friends and learned so much there, including the fact that the 600+ monster should not be brought out without a lot of reworking.
In the spirit of becoming a better writer (and pulling myself out of a marriage that was totally tanking) I decided that I should go back to school. Lo and behold, right when I decide to go back to school was right when Colorado State University-Pueblo started their Creative Writing emphasis with the English major. I met even more friends/influences there. And I learned that there was more to writing than dreaming about being a bestseller. When you decide to write, you decide to become part of a tradition that is long, honored, and sometimes tedious. It’s work, and sometimes it’s thankless work. Observe the geniuses that have died in obscurity.
Along the way I got divorced, leaving me to take care of Owen. You’d think that maybe kids would suck the dreams out of you, needing things like clothes, food, and whatever else that is really expensive and thus negating the idea that writing is a dream worth pursuing. Owen, however, has always proved the opposite: an inspiration. Because I want him to always, always to follow his dreams, I feel it is important for me to set the example. If I never give up on what I want, then I hope he’ll see that, and never give up.
And I got remarried. To a writer, Shane, who gets it. If ever you’re with someone who doesn’t get it, it’s time to go your own way. And if you ever find someone who does get it, hold on to them. This is an important lesson. Because of Shane, I started another novel–the one that’s making the rounds to agents at the moment. It’s a good second effort, I think.
Then we had Bryce, a little boy who loves books and singing. He has given me one more thing to fight for.
So, from December 31, 1999, to December 31, 2009, I have accomplished the following with my writing:
1. The very first flash piece that I ever wrote and ever sent out was published by Anotherealm in their online flash section.
2. The very first short story that I sent into a competition, “For Five Miles,” placed third in the first annual All Pikes Peak Reads competition.
3. A grand total of 11 short stories published.
4. Played at Editor in Chief for The Hungry Eye.
5. Finished two novel manuscripts.
6. Finished one book-length poem manuscript.
7. Finished countless short stories.
8. Worked with and helped start two fabulous writing groups. (So, countless critiques too!)
9. I read. A lot.
10. Started a blog!
Not bad for a decade that started in the dark. Tonight I think I’ll keep the lights on and start the next ten years with eyes wide open and fingers punching the keys.
Jenny writes dark fiction that her mother hates. Her stories and essays have appeared in Across the Margin, Pantheon, Shimmer, Black Denim Lit, Skive, and others. When she’s not writing her own stuff, she’s reading mysteries for Criminal Element. When she’s not writing fiction or reviews, she’s writing/directing/performing/designing plays at Springs Ensemble Theatre.