“Why do you write?”
“Because I have to write.”
I hear this comeback every time I question an author about his or her motivation. But what is it that really compels us to write what we write? Why are some people drawn to historical romances? Why are some people drawn to thrillers? And why are others drawn to speculative fiction? What we write isn’t always what we enjoy reading, so what compels us to do what we do?
I think my first manuscript turned out to be YA fiction because there is a part of me, deep down in my gut, that can empathize with the adolescent, particularly a girl, who finds herself in the most awkward of situations. At least I have material that I can use.
Here’s a taste:
I’ve never really looked my age. That’s great, you say. Maybe now, but back when I first graduated college and took on my first substitute teaching job, my “baby face” got me into a heap of trouble with the dreaded lunch ladies at Central Middle School. There I was eating lunch in the cafeteria by myself, the teacher. Afterwards I returned my tray to where I thought it was supposed to go, and then I was stormed and read the riot act for putting my tray in the wrong spot. Those little ladies in hair nets and buns attacked like a small army, pinning me against the wall ready for a firing squad. The whole cafeteria witnessed my public humiliation. For crying out loud, they thought I was a middle schooler! I was a college graduate. I held a teacher’s license. I’ll bet no other adult has ever been mistaken for a MIDDLE SCHOOLER!
And then there was the time when I worked on campus at MTSU in the education office. My job was simple: Make three copies. I went to the copy room and faced a machine the size of a small SUV. I punched in three copies. Nothing happened. I punched in three copies again. Nothing happened. I punched in three again. THEN the machine started spitting out 333 copies—during a time of a paper shortage. I was in TROUBLE. I ended up hiding 330 copies in trash cans all over campus. It took me a long time. Oh, the humility.
And then if you really want to talk humility, there was the time I was sent to do inventory in an almost abandoned education building. The task was simple: Write down the number of the item found on the bottom of the item, be it table, desk or chair. Everything was going fine until I had to write down the number of the conference table, the HUGE conference table that filled the room. I had to crawl under the table, lie flat on my back and write down the long number. No big deal. But then the janitor walked in and saw me there. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t say anything. I just looked at him and smiled. He left. I can only imagine what must have been going through his mind.
I could go on and on. But my more vivid memories involve the time I was the only teacher in charge of the Satan’s Legion Death Metal Shindig in our school theatre. I was young and naïve, emphasis on naïve. I like music. I get along with the music kids. “Will you sponsor our band when we play in the theater during Homecoming,” they asked. “Sure,” I said. “Why not?” When I showed up to a packed room, I was horrified to see 500 kids in gothic attire. Then they turned the lights out. In the front I saw what appeared to bodies thrashing about, flailing wildly into one another. (I don’t know what they were doing in the back. I don’t want to know!) I thought they were possessed. I was terrified. I worked myself into a frenzy, ready to take on any evil doer. That’s when I saw the guy with the cigarette—or what I thought was a cigarette. I tackled him from behind and pulled him over the back of a seat. He was surprised but not as surprised as I was. I had just manhandled my camera guy from the newspaper staff. The red light I saw I saw was the light for his flash, not the end of a cigarette. And speaking of red, my face was about a thousand different shades. Thank goodness it was dark.
I think I’ve figured out why I write what I do. Because I get it. I am the queen of awkward situations, the one with the shirt on inside out, the one with the paper stuck to the shoe, the one going the wrong way down a one-way street. I write what I know. And I want to encourage others like me, especially those struggling through their teen years, those who always seem to find themselves in the most awkward of situations. It’s not all bad. We do survive. These crazy moments of days gone awry are what make life a story, something to write about.