Recently it has been brought to my attention that some persons of my acquaintance are under the impression that I intend to grow up and earn my living as a writer. (Wow. That’s what they call “one gadawful” sentence. I solemnly swear never to write it again.) If what one means by “writer” is someone who pokes insistently at ideas and stories and words and phrases till they learn to do his bidding, then I suppose I already am one. If, however, one means someone who has a desk and a computer and an agent and a publisher, who lives off of royalties and, with shining eyes, tells interviewers that this is all he ever wanted to do, then I will never be that. At this point, I would only strive to get published to earn the pleasure of writing an acknowledgements page. Let me tell you about it.
Here is an exact transcript of my very first story, written at about age five and magnanimously typed by one of my parents:
Casha and Hantum
By Alice Hodgkins
Casha was walking on the street and she saw…a handsome young man. And he looked at Casha. Then, when the cars went, he walked across the street.
“What is your name?” he said.
“My name is Hantum.”
“Hi, Hantum. Can you come in my vehicle to my house?”
“Yes, I can.”
“Into the car.” said Casha
“Here we are! Let’s go to a dance.” said Hantum.
“I agree,” said Casha.
When they came home, Hantum said “I love you, Casha.”
“I do too.” said Casha. And they got married.
You can see that even then I had talent. Such grasp of plot—the conflict of the moving cars solved by mere, raw patience. Such intriguing characterization—Casha’s mobster sensibilities and ardent self-love. Such mastery of symbolism—glorification of those virtuous descriptors, Casual and Handsome.
I don’t remember writing much more than that as a young kid besides a romantic farcical drama called “Cambino and Calabria,” and another slighty trippy work entitled “The Baby,” but by eighth grade I considered stories appropriate Christmas presents for my friends. As I remember, Sarah Tate got one about a Dodo bird. Sorry, Sarah. That year I also wrote a short story which I originally named “Nanny Arp,” but in ninth grade I retitled it “How Nanny Went on Holiday and What Came of it,” and sent it into a contest for high-schoolers at nearby Salem College. I won first prize. They published it in their literary magazine, and gave me a certificate, $100, a t-shirt, and a lifetime supply of admissions mailings. The News and Record interviewed me and wrote a human interest article. Fred Chappell, the poet laureate of North Carolina and a friend of my parents’ sent me a congratulatory post card with a cow on it, which hung on my wall till I took it down two weeks ago to repaint. It was so great.
On a contest-high, I found something called The Tweener Time International Chapter Book Contest. High-schoolers writing for tweeners. Hooray! I entered it both freshman and sophomore year. My first entry was called The Everyday Kind of Magic, and was a very free retelling of Hansel and Gretel, involving a sandbox. I wrote it while going through a phase when I capitalized all Truly Important words, but every chapter was lovingly titled and epigraphed. It made it to the semi-finals, and I’m still quite fond it.
It was at about this point, that I bought myself a 2008 Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market. It still sits on my shelf, but I’ve become very good at forgetting its existence. Besides, I only have one rejection letter to show for my pains.
My second submission to Tweener Time was called The Society for the Previously Lost. I may rework it sometime just because the title’s so darn good. My favorite scene involves a little street girl drowning in a mountain of flour, and being rescued by a formerly whiny no-good named Leland who carries her nearly lifeless body home across half the kingdom. The chapter is called “Of Dungeons, Towers, and Peril.” I bet you wish you had written it. In any case, this one didn’t advance past the first round and I decided I didn’t need any more extra-large t-shirts proclaiming “I Wrote a Book for Tweener Time International Chapter Book Competition.”
But junior year I took creative writing as an elective. Because I was already so used to writing novellas I wrote a third entitled Jenny at Theodore House. It was a very sixteen-year-old sort of story, but it had some nice passages, and the house was truly magnificent. I love houses.
When I write stories, you see, I write not what I know but what I want. I look back on all the shabby notebooks containing plans and half-plans for stories and find multiple family-trees, maps and floorplans. The Ptomeys, Ingotville, the Kimbles, the Hardisons, Ecnelis, the Bonglers, Earickson School, and the Macreadys. It doesn’t just take a village to raise a child. It takes a village to do anything of worth. I think back to my high school writing efforts and I remember the hundreds of times teachers turned a blind eye when I wrote during class, the insistence with which Brittany demanded to read every story though she never liked any of them, the eagerness with which Tim marked up each of my sixty-page novellas, the passion with which Hannah asserted that I was her favorite author, the patience with which my sister typed even the stories with the weirdest names, and the care and brilliance with which my parents gave feedback. They all loved that I was writing—friends urged me to “put them in.” Even those who weren’t readers understood the way in which story was a portal to elsewhere, to more, and they wanted to stake their own small claim in its creation.
Late in high school, maybe senior year, I began a new story which included a couple of my more persistent characters, Michael Dies and Happy Eve. I wrote up a few pages of planning which included every detail of the animal population, prepared myself with a little Langston Hughes, and then began.
When Someday Came
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
It was certainly not Miss Prentice’s doing that Michael ever read the poem, so, to be sure, she cannot be blamed for everything that happened. It was not her fault that Lena came to town or that Ernestine spent three days in the marshes, and it certainly wasn’t her fault about Mrs. Herbert’s petunias. The petunias could be traced directly back to Linus, but nobody could be mad at him anyway.
I suppose I shall begin at the beginning or it shall be confusing. This story takes place in the little village of Shepland up in the mountains. Nobody knew for sure why there was a town there at all. All the mountains had to offer were thin air and lots of trees…
Now that’s a story I ought to finish. You see, writing is not the distant pipe dream. Writing, itself, is dreaming.
So–you’re free not to become a professional writer; just as, someday, you’ll be free not to marry the man you love, because you don’t want to be told to. Which will make your eventual free choice to marry him all the more loving, won’t it? Anyway, dear, you are a writer–whether or not you make a living at it, you’ll always live through it, I think.
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