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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Blank Page

Many of my friends and fellow authors have been blogging for quite some time and they've finally convinced me to do the same. Ideas for books flow to me like hummingbirds gravitate to flowers. Give me a computer screen and tell me to start a blog, however, and I'm clueless. I looked at other blogs; some humorous, some dark, some downright frightening. Others tend to be about the day's flavor of gum and others much deeper.

I decided to begin at the beginning.

This blog will give you a peak into my world.

I heard Carrie Underwood say that she wanted to be a singer "from the womb" and I identified immediately. I was born with an imagination that has been both a curse and a blessing. But it wasn't until the 4th grade when I really began to write.

I'd been born in Washington, DC to an FBI Agent and his homemaker wife. We moved around a bit during my first few years but in 1967, with the Civil Rights Movement in full swing, my father, a native Tennessean, was sent to the Mississippi Delta to help break up the Ku Klux Klan, search for Vietnam War deserters, and more.

By this time, I was living in New Jersey and had a pronounced northern accent. So on my first day of school, when the teacher told me to "open a winder" I didn't know what a "winder" was. I found out, after being threatened with a "paddling" that it was a window. Turned out, this teacher didn't embrace us Yankee upstarts coming down to Mississippi to tell them what they could and could not do. So on that first day of school, she threatened the other students if they had anything to do with me. Play with me, and get a paddlin'. Clear and simple.

I'd always had a vivid imagination, and now I was alone with whatever characters my mind could conjure. I have two brothers and two sisters, but we were a few years apart. I was the one in the middle. Too young to do the things the older ones did. And too old to do the things the younger ones got away with. So I dreamed. I dreamed of people who would play with me. Of places I would go. Things I would see. In the hot, humid summer of the Mississippi Delta, I thought of exotic, far-away places, cruises, castles, knights in shining armor.

My first "book" was written on the backs of white cardboard that came with the stockings my mother purchased. When it was done, all thirteen pages of it (thank God my mother's stockings "ran" quite frequently) I bound it together by sewing yarn along one side. It was about time travel to another world - a world where animals talked, where vegetables and fruits lived lives like humans, and a place where I was always safe, even if danger abounded around me.

Later that school year, I won a poetry contest. I don't remember the poem, but I do remember walking across the stage and being awarded a poetry book by the principal of the school. She was good to me, and encouraged me to write. She would be only the first.

By the time I reached the 8th grade, I was writing prolifically. Ms. Webb, my English teacher, was about 150 years old. She encouraged me to participate in a writing contest and I was astonished to learn that she'd been notified that I'd won. But our celebration was short-lived. It turned out, she'd written my name as "Pat" on the entry form, and the judges had assumed I was a boy. (To this day, I've never gone by that name, and I don't know what possessed Ms. Webb to write that name.) When it was discovered that I was a girl, they disqualified me. Turned out, they didn't believe girls could write as well as boys so the contest was only for the males.

I was disappointed but Ms. Webb was fit to be tied. She died two years later, and I felt her every time I sat down at my manual Smith-Corona typewriter. I'd buy a ream of paper and draw penciled margins around each page so I'd know when to stop typing each page. And I would bang on that typewriter, putting out page after page, for years...

Some people write off and on. Some tell me they want to write a book, but they never do. Others are like me. I can't stop writing. It's something I've been called to do. It's like water. Like food. Take the keyboard from under my fingers and you may as well chop off the fingers themselves.

And to me, that's what makes a writer: it's what you are when you can't imagine being anything else.