Beginning the Journey

Sometimes, people ask me how I got started writing fiction, professionally. As I’ve explained in previous blogs, I’ve written stories for as long as I can remember. You can read about the birth of my passion in the blog: FROM DREAMS TO REALITY, February 29, 2012.

The Mighty Benson Bunny

I wrote for my high school newspaper, the Benson High News.  I’ll be forever grateful to my journalism teacher, Mr. Gunnar Horn, for selecting me, in my senior year, to be co-editor of the Feature Page.  I happily shared that privilege with Doug Nelson.  (Thanks again, Doug for covering my assignments the week I was laid up with a judo injury.)

As editor, it was my job to fill Page Two of the four-page paper with compelling articles.  Not the editorials; that was Randy Wright’s job.  My mission wasn’t to dig for the hard news, either.  That was News Editor, Barb Boyer’s job.  I was tasked with rounding out the edition with softer, human interest stories.

Mr. Horn hoped for articles about interesting hobbies the teachers had, or maybe a biography of a heroic janitor.  What he got, were my essays.  Fiction.  I didn’t officially get my own column, but I did get a byline.  I published my musings, disguised as human interest stories.

Many times, Mr. Horn assigned Bill Shaffer to illustrate my feature articles.  I liked working on those issues because Bill is a talented artist, and because his graphics took up space for which I didn’t have to scrounge written material.

The Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffett

At that time, there were two newspapers in Omaha.  The daily was the Omaha World-Herald.  (Now owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.)  The defunct, weekly paper was the Omaha Sun, a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper owned by… Warren Buffett.  This smaller publication was broken into neighborhood editions. The edition delivered to my house was called the Benson Sun.

The Teen Beat page appeared in the Benson Sun.  It held news articles written by teens, for teens.  I vividly remember the most popular teen girls wrote one particular column.  The entire article was paragraph after paragraph of the names of the couples dating that week—Marcia Duncan ‘n’ John Bowenkamp; Barb Decker ‘n’ Jim Fullerton; Jodie Fratt ‘n’ Jim Young.

The clever editors at the Omaha Sun made a contraction of the word “and” to save column inches.  See how “Mickey ‘n’ Minnie; Jack ‘n’ Jill” takes up less space than “Mickey and Minnie; Jack and Jill?”  BTW, it was a precursor to modern-day texting.

But I digress.  Hang with me, I’m about to make this relevant.  Not to you, but to me.

I suspect, to compete with The Teen Beat, every other Friday, the Omaha World-Herald reprinted articles published in high school newspapers.  Many times the editors reduced the copy, abridged the reports, but not always.  At least that was my experience when they reprinted several of my feature articles—giving me full credit—in their “big city” newspaper.

My parents were proud.  I felt honored.

My point being, I was “published” by the time I was seventeen, albeit, no money exchanged hands.

I took one journalism class in college which convinced me I wasn’t cut out to be a reporter.  I believed there were no viable career options for an English major, except to teach, so I eschewed that path, as well.  I went a totally different direction—I majored in Spanish.

LOL.

In hindsight, I realize that I took the same number of composition, literature, and speech classes an English major would have taken, but I did all those things in Spanish.  Ole!  My goal was to work in a multi-national corporation.

It didn’t happen.

Instead, I began my career in adult training and development.  It (kind of/sort of) gave me the opportunity to create.  At least, I earned money by writing.  My self-instructional, computer-based training programs taught sales associates how to book hotel reservations.  The text wasn’t as glamorous as a novel by Fitzgerald, but I always sprinkled fun scenarios into the skill exercises I produced.

Here’s a sad fact.  During a fifteen-year period at the start of my career, I didn’t read recreationally.  If I had any time after work, I spent it reading non-fiction books, business journals, self-help magazines, and newspapers.  Not that I wouldn’t have enjoyed a good mystery or romantic comedy.  I just didn’t use my time that way.

Isn’t that a shame?  I wonder how many young people, hungry to climb the career ladder, did (and still do) the same thing?

Then, one day, after co-founding a company and co-founding a family, I woke up to find myself out of a job and out of a marriage.

Don’t cry for me, Argentina!  These were very healthy changes.

A friend, Margery, invited me to visit her in Coos Bay, Oregon for an extended weekend.  I went.  Neither of us had much money and she had planned some activities that didn’t cost much or were free.

My first night in Oregon, we went to a church for a free, public meeting to hear an author from Portland read from her current, published mystery.  Margery had thought she needed to entice me by mentioning the complimentary cookies and punch.  But she had me at “author.”

NY Times Best-Selling Author, April Henry

As it turned out, the author, April Henry, didn’t read from her book.  She did, however, talk about the craft of writing and how she adjusted her schedule to accommodate her creative passion.  I was struck by her approachability, warmth, and humor.  She seemed like an ordinary person, not at all intimidating.  When I chatted with her after the lecture, I didn’t feel like I was conversing with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but rather my next door neighbor.

Of course, Margery and I both bought copies of April’s book, Circles of Confusion.  For three evenings, we read her mystery, in our separate rooms, and compared notes in the morning.

April Henry made writing a novel look so easy that I ran right home and finished composing my first mystery in eight weeks.

Proud as I could be, I gave it to all my friends to critique.  Not!  I should say, my close friends teased, pulled, and then finally yanked it out of my tight fists.

My author colleagues agree: It’s scary to show a first manuscript to anyone.  What if they don’t like your production, your baby?

A quick eight years and four rejected manuscripts later, I published Luck of the Draw.

This is what I learned.

1)    Always take the opportunity to sample free cookies and punch.  You might fall into a new career.

2)    Treat yourself to a fictional read.  You’re worth it.

3)    A successful anyone—writer, painter, baker, teacher, mom—makes it look easy.  That’s because she’s mastered her craft and loves what she’s doing.

4)    Publishing a book does not mean you’re “home free.”  You still need to continue polishing your craft and studying the publishing business.

5)    Mastery takes a lot of practice.  That’s not so insightful, but it’s true in all professions.  I have a little magnet on my desk lamp.  It was given to me by a colleague in the Heartland Writers Group.  It says, “Even if it’s crap, just get it on the page.”

Inspriational quote for a writer

Don’t you love lists?  Here’s another one.

For more info about writing fiction, check out

1)     April Henry’s website.  Thank you, April for your inspiration.

http://www.aprilhenrymysteries.com/

2)    Romance Writers of America

http://www.rwa.org/cs/home

3)    Heartland Writers Group

http://www.heartlandwritersgroupomaha.com/

 

Do yourself a favor today and choose something fictional to read.  Feed your imagination and watch it grow.

Did I make that line up?  Or did someone else?  I read and write so much, sometimes I forget.  If you know that answer, let me know.

 

Thank you, Darrell Klein for posting this link to the archives for the Benson High News.  Go Bunnies!

http://bhs.stparchive.com/Year1973/

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2 Responses to “Beginning the Journey”

  1. Did you go to Monroe too? I went to Monroe, but then transferred to North, because it was closer. I took journalism class, though I mostly studied boys.

  2. Teryl says:

    When I was in sixth grade, there was a proposal to require all the Benson West Elementary kids to go to Lewis & Clark. The parents fought it and won. So, I did go to Monroe, Cheryl. Go Mustangs!

    LOL. I took that course at UNO. Call me a late bloomer.

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