When we talk about what writers are like, we’re polite. We don’t say, “They’re liars.” We say, “They tend to exaggerate.” We don't say, “They’re snoops.” We say, “They’re interested in everyone.” And we don't say, “They're fools.” We say, “They have such vivid imaginations, sometimes they just can’t tell what’s real and what isn’t.”
I grew up in the Midwest at a time when people spoke more plainly. And I knew from an early age exactly who I was. I was a liar, a snoop, and a fool; apparently, I was intended to be a writer.
I accepted my fate and launched my career with a blatantly criminal act: in grade four, I composed rhyming quatrains for almost everyone in my class to pass off as his or her own on their handmade Mother’s Day cards.
At the time, in the fever of composition and under the pressure of my first deadline, I didn’t stop to think about the immorality of passing off my work as theirs. And, as it turned out, since our teacher encouraged cooperation and failed to see the true scope of the deception being practiced, the project came off without a hitch.
In junior high, I wrote a long, melodramatic story about the evils of racial prejudice. The story won second prize in a statewide contest, and my name appeared in the newspaper. There was no turning back.
When I got to high school, I wrote a piece for Scribblers’, the creative writing club, and became—officially—a “scribbler.” Then I wrote a play, a column for a teen magazine, and a lot of prose poems about spring, love, and death.
In college, I wrote papers, usually for extra credit, which was the only sure way I knew to pull up my mostly sorry grades.
After college, I cheerfully entered the world of writing for a living at the bottom. I wrote advertising copy for such things as tires, electric drills, and lawn mowers. I advanced to writing public relations copy for an opera company. After that, I joined the ranks of the ultra-respectable, writing and editing encyclopedias and then textbooks.
In due course, I got married, had three children, and—though I remained at heart a liar, a snoop, and a fool—set aside my writing in favor of cookie baking, knee bandaging, car-pool driving, comforting, overseeing, and reading aloud.
Soon enough, the children grew up and went merrily off to do whatever they had to do, and I went back to writing.
In graduate school, I studied fiction writing and learned to write short stories, which got published in magazines and literary quarterlies.
Once again, I was fulfilling my destiny. I was writing, and my writing was even being published. Perversely, I began to regret the whole business and to think that if I could just get over being a liar, a snoop, and a fool, I could be something other than a writer.
Then one dreamy day when I wasn't paying attention, I sat down and wrote a story for children. I had such a good time doing it that I wrote another. And before I knew it, I'd become a children's writer.
They say that my tendency to exaggerate makes my books lively. They say my interest in everyone else’s business helps me create memorable characters. And they even say that my difficulty separating the imaginary from the real helps me write with conviction about almost anything.
I appreciate the fancy language.
But I know exactly what makes stories lively, characters memorable, and writing convincing: lots of practice, combined with being a liar, a snoop, and a fool!
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