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I am born.
Which came as a surprise to my parents. They thought they were done having kids after my older sister and brother. Surprise!
I’m told my first phrase was “I do it my ownself.” I learned to read early out of self-defense, because everyone kept secrets from me by spelling. Once I started reading, my older sister, Cathy, would sneak me into areas of the Helen M. Plum Memorial Library that were considered beyond my kiddie ability and she would check out more advanced books for me.
Charles Dickens has a lot to do with my becoming a writer. He used the word unctuous to describe Uriah Heep. Unctuous. Doesn’t it make you shiver? Me, too. And, boy, realizing words were so powerful ignited my desire to sink my hands into them, pour them over my head and let them stream all around me.
I have promised my mother that I would tell you all that the families and childhoods and traumas of my characters are not self-portraits. That’s true. I had a great childhood and have an even better family. Sure, there was youthful angst, but I only ran away from home twice. Once, Mom didn’t realize I’d gone, so maybe that shouldn’t count. The other time, I took the two girls who lived next door along with, and it was a righteous cause. Tuna fish – my sister was trying to feed me tuna fish! The two neighbor girls and I were striking out for Hollywood, having packed dolls, doll clothes and one pair of underwear each in my red wagon. Alas, the Dairy Queen came before the train station and our capital was seriously depleted before we were found. Otherwise I surely would have been the only Oscar-winning screenplay writer under ten.
Instead, I followed the normal education track through high school in my hometown. Then I went to Northwestern University, where I got a BA in three years in English Composition and added a Masters in Journalism in the fourth year. (If you’re wondering why the masters, check out the want ads and see exactly how many jobs ask for someone with a degree in English Composition.)
I wanted to write novels, but practicality demanded something a little steadier. Especially because, while I wanted to write novels, I didn’t actually write any.
I became a sports writer. It’s great training for a writer – dialogue, character, motivation, conflict, goals – they’re all there several times over in each event. Plus, I didn’t have to get up early.
After being a sports writer for the Rockford (Ill.) Register Star and assistant sports editor at the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, I moved to the Washington Post. That’s when I really started writing. And it all has to do with dried wallpaper paste.
I’d bought a house with 50 years of wallpaper-paint-wallpaper-paint-wallpaper-paint layers. Sometimes four, five layers of wallpaper, always topped with paint. On every wall surface in the entire house. The only way to get it off was to chip at it with a wide-bladed putty knife. Chip after chip after chip.
Under the influence of the chipping and the desiccated wallpaper paste, I started having a story idea. I’d type until I didn’t know what to say next, and then I’d chip. Pretty soon I’d have more ideas and I’d go back to typing. I thought it would be a short story, but it kept growing. There was something very inspiring about that dried wallpaper paste.
From a kind librarian I heard about a talk by a writer who introduced me to the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Romance Writers of America, and I started to truly learn about writing.
The wallpaper dust story is still in the closet, but the first romance I wrote came out in 1990 as a Silhouette Special Edition, HOOPS.
After serving as an assignment editor and copy chief for the Post’s sports department, I went part-time to write novels. Several years ago, I switched to editing for the Post’s news service.
There is no more wallpaper dust in my house (though plenty of other projects if anyone’s volunteering), but the story ideas keep coming without it. Lots and lots of ideas. Way more ideas than there is time.
So maybe the ideas didn’t come from dried wallpaper dust. Maybe they came from dog hair. There’s lots of that around here, too.
Yup, that’s got to be the answer.
Now, how do I end this thing? It’s an ongoing story. I’m hoping for a happy ending eventually, but I’ve got plenty of pages left to turn … ah, so there’s only one more thing to say:
I am writing.
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