Monday, May 28, 2012

TOTW: Shades of Genius

As readers, many of us can point to the book or story that cemented us in the would-rather-read-than-eat category of humans (mine was my older brother's copy of Trixie Belden's Mystery at Mead's Mountain when I was five or six). As writers, I wondered if we had that same type of experience, where we scribble a few sentences and think That's it. This is what I'm going to do with my life. I rule.

Turns out, pretty much yeah.

Lena Coakley

When I was in junior high school I wrote a very earnest, very looooong play called Phaeton's Chariot of the Sun. It was about an ancient but advanced civilization on the island of Atlantis. When the island gets destroyed in a nuclear power accident, only a scholar and his daughter are left to rail about the dangers of nuclear power as they sail away from the sinking island in their little boat.

Ouch! Just writing the synopsis makes me wince-but at the time I thought it was utterly brilliant. I think it was the first time I wrote something that gave me that thrill of accomplishment all of us writers are addicted to.

Keely Parrack

The first time people told me I could write, at school, I guess I was about 13/14 and we used to have to write stories from prompts - actually I think it was part of the English exams. I wrote one about a ghost looking out at the sea from a window and remembering her youth, another about the end of the world when a guy woke in an alley way to discover he was the last person left in the world, and another on an old bed ridden man living out the remains of his days in a haunted bedroom.

Guess I was a fun child LOL - too bad it took me several decades to try again!

Ellen Booraem

The first story I remember writing was, I think, when I was seven. It was a day in the life of a Mexican cat. (I lived in Massachusetts, mind you, and had never been south of Maryland. I did have a cat, so I had that going for me.) As I recall, there was an evil dog involved. Also tortillas.

Anne Nesbet

I wrote a lot of stories when I was little, most of them gloomy or ridiculous or both gloomy AND ridiculous, but my first actual real novel was called "Liz in Artland," written when I was 11, and it totally took over my brain for some months. I had the whole story all worked out: Liz was going to be sucked into a museum catalog and find herself in a world where paintings by Paul Klee and Marc Chagall and Vassily Kandinsky had all come to life! and where monsters in Surrea, the dreadfully scary land of the Surrealists, were about to destroy the Castle of the Mind! which would mean the end of all painting and drawing everywhere unless Liz could SAVE THE DAY!! Which she was totally going to do in a really dramatic scene involving filing cabinets! You know what? Just thinking about "Liz in Artland" still makes me happy.

In real life, what happened was I wrote the first thirty-five pages and then the story got worn in a rain boot, which was completely my own fault in a very complicated way, and some of it was destroyed, and that was the end of "Liz in Artland."

Lia Keyes

I got busted for autographing the flyleaf of my parents' books before I actually knew how to read and write.

Later I got busted for writing stories on the paper lining my parents' chests of drawers, the inside of cupboards, and other such things.

I bought an old typewriter with my pocket money at an antique fair when I was eleven and started writing a novel. Only no one ever told me to write what you know. I wrote a cowboy story about taming a wild horse. I was a London schoolgirl. What did I know about such things? But there was a cute boy in it. I knew about cute boys.

Jacqueline West

For the final unit of my sixth grade year, my language arts class was given blank hardcover books (oh, the delicious blankness!!!) to fill with our own fiction. I was deliriously excited about this, having not known that such a beautiful thing as blank hardcover books existed in the world, and I proceeded to write a giant, ridiculous fantasy tale involving a rebellious princess, an evil enchantress, a golden eagle and a crystal orb, etc., etc. My handwritten story was much too long to fit in the blank hardcover book, so I had to type it (on a typewriter, as these were pre-home-computer days; lots of Wite-Out was involved). Even typed and single-spaced, it was still too long to fit in the precious book, so I had to glue in extra pages to accommodate the words and illustrations--but at long last, my work was finished.

During the final week of school, the sixth graders all brought in our books and read one another's work, which was thrilling and terrifying. And then, on the very last day, when I went to the language arts classroom to bring my work home, I discovered that my book had disappeared. The teacher and I looked everywhere, but it was gone. Someone else had taken it. Of course, I was disappointed that something I'd worked so hard on had vanished...but even at the time, I remember thinking that it was pretty cool that one of my classmates had liked my (terrible) book enough to want to keep it for him- or herself.

Dawn Metcalf

The first full-length novel I wrote was called "The Eye of the Ancients"--it was 365 pages long and probably had an equal number of various characters and subplots. It was a rambling, cliched, mess of a first-draft quest story starring a female heroine, Galena, and I was incredibly proud of it. It was printed on enormous feed paper on a Commodore 64. I was 11 years old. I still have a copy to this day.

Lisa Gail Green

My first story was about a talking giraffe. I was seven, and my mother, the librarian, bless her, thought it was a masterpiece. Honestly though, it was her encouragement, legitimate or not (ahem) that gave me the confidence to go for it so many years later. :D I suspect she still has it. Let's hope it never mysteriously surfaces anywhere!

Leah Cypess

The first story I wrote, in first grade, was told from the point of view of an ice-cream cone being eaten. And my parents still DO have a copy of that one.

The first full book I wrote, in third grade, was about a girl who got trapped on a desert island with her faithful and loyal collie dog. It was basically a mash-up of The Black Stallion and Lassie. Only, a lot less sophisticated than that sounds. I hadn't quite mastered breaking text into paragraphs yet, so I figured I would have to hire someone to do that for me before I got it published.

Can you see the genius fairly sticking out of all these early masterpieces? For my own part, my first story was about a Very Friendly Monster who had to take over the class when the teacher ran away screaming at the sight of him. She had very little imagination (unlike me, obviously).

What about you all? Do you have special first stories that clearly marked the path you were to take? Please share!


  1. This was wonderful to read. My first real novel is about a frienship between two preteen girls, and one of them is a cait sith. I really need to go back and rewrite it. It means so much to me :)

  2. I don't mean to speak for Leah, but I feel it's pretty safe to assume that not ALL ice cream cones have the presence of mind to know they're being eaten. Probably all the ones YOU eat, Ellen, are just the regular kind: blissfully ignorant. So feel free to eat with impunity!

  3. And how great to keep putting those ideas into words, long after we've stopped being kids!

  4. Thanks, Keely! And I agree; I want to read these stories, too! Princesses and aliens, diamonds and bird-spirits...writers are sometimes just the raddest people.

  5. Odd kids are my favorite. And odd not-kids-anymore are even better. :)

  6. Plotting can take a while. Your teacher should have recognized your genius and given you more time. It sounds like a rad story.

    Glad to see you're still writing, and about things you like to read!

  7. And look where you are now! Yay, courage!

  8. That is GENIUS. Our kidlet selves were so clever! Good thing cleverness is not a thing we have to outgrow.

  9. Your second-grade self was right. You ARE a writer. And I sincerely hope you are writing down some of your epic dreams. They sound amazing!

  10. Love the ice cream cone idea. Here's what I want to know: Does an ice cream cone feel pain? (Maybe you shouldn't say, Leah--that could really screw up my summer.)

    Amy, we all have times when we question the point of being a writer. Hang in there, and know that all your journaling etc is teaching you valuable skills for when you get back to fiction. (I gave up fiction for twenty years to write for newspapers, and discovered I'd learned A LOT when I started up again.) Also, if you haven't already, read BIRD BY BIRD--might help turn off that radio station in your head that says you're not a writer.

  11. I loved reading about the early stories and I'll bet a lot of untutored talent lies inside them. How great to have put ideas into words in those early years when you see things with such fresh eyes.

  12. I wrote poems and plays when I was in elementary school, and I recall writing a very long--let's call it an homage--to Nancy Drew in about third grade. But I wrote a short story in high school about an alien encounter, and it's not till the very end of the story that you realize the arriving alien is human and the narrator is what we would call an alien. Plus I wrote a lot more poetry. I remember thinking I'd better stick to poetry because I didn't have enough ideas for short stories, and a novel would be too hard. Took me a few more years to come up with lots of ideas and the courage to write a middle grade fantasy novel!

  13. I love this!

    The first story I ever wrote, I wrote at the age of seven. It was about a dragon that kidnaps a princess. The prince goes to rescue her and fights the dragon. In the process, the dragon is pricked and deflates like a balloon. The princess decides the dragon is mean because he's empty inside, so they fill him with good things and he becomes the castle pet. There were illustrations too. :)

  14. I've been going through a bad period the past few years, where I've lost faith in myself/the point of me being a writer. I'm still not at the point where I feel brave enough to seriously take on writing something REAL (as opposed to journaling and blogging and letter-writing) again anytime soon. But the one thing that keeps reminding me not to give up hope entirely is the epic, delicious, brilliantly-narrative dreams I still have at night-- when all my mental-and-emotional-baggage gets out of the way and my subconscious just happily CREATES. That's how I started writing, or at least really identifying as a writer: all my early stories were based on dreams I'd had. The first one was in first grade, and it was about a disgruntled Santa's elf who took everyone in our church hostage on Christmas Eve. Because he was disgruntled. And there was like a Find The True Spirit of Christmas theme to it I guess. Anyway, I distinctly remember then, in second grade, we had a poetry-writing assignment, and I thought, "Well, I should be good at this, because *I* am a WRITER." That's the first time I remember seriously putting it into words for myself, identifying myself AS a writer. And I have ever since-- even now, when I'm so terrible at writing, I will identify as a writer if only in the sense of "I communicate best through writing, and I have to put things down on paper/screen just to organize my thoughts. So that makes me, technically, a writer, even if I feel unable to DO anything with it at the moment."

  15. OMG! I just want to  read these stories so badly!! They sound so creative, talking ice cream cone POV, the world of surreal art, ha ha! And who says you can only write about what you know? No wonder we all write fantasy! Thanks for sharing! Great post Amaris :-)

  16. My first story, which I started and stopped more times than I can remember was about a boy who moved out west (American west) to the desert. There was an oddly shaped box canyon with a legend about giant bird-spirits which had flung themselves from heaven to crash against the rock, leaving the crater which became the canyon. There were artifacts and spirit-guides and ancient mysteries. I don't know what happened to copies I had, though.

    It was followed by a weird sci-fi / portal tale about a group of non-friends pulled into a conflict involving a gateway between the "Nine Worlds," as there was life on a different planet in our solar system in each of nine universes.

    I was an odd kid. Actually, I think I still am. :-)

  17. Oh! I loved reading this. What similar experiences these authors had. My earliest work was about an Eagle and a Fly who were buddies. I never finished the story because the teacher was ready to move on to the next activity and I was still developing my plot. I also wrote and illustrated a series of books about an anthropomorphic diamond. No idea where I got that one..? In high school I wrote series and depressing ghost and espionage/assassin stories. It wasn't until a decade later that I started a story for something other than a school assignment, and then it was finally about the sort of things I liked reading about.

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