I stood in front of my seventh grade English class, cleared my throat, and began my book report: “Beyond physical reality, beyond ecstasy and pain to a dark netherworld of psycho-sexual truth . . .”
The teacher furrowed her brow. There were a few stray giggles.
I continued, “Ravaged night after night, against her will, beyond her understanding, violated by an enemy against whom there was no weapon . . .” The teacher interrupted, “Christine, maybe let’s move on to the setting instead of the plot.”
1. The wonder
I probably owe an apology to that teacher for choosing The Entity for my book report. But, you see, I just loved books. Every kind of book. I loved them so much that I had no idea that a book about a paranormal rapist would be inappropriate. It was based on a true story, after all.
The summer before seventh grade, I read the entire Anne of Green Gables series. Not so unusual, perhaps, unless paired with the rest of my reading list: Carl Sagan’s Contact, Stephen King’s The Stand, and John Grisham’s The Runaway Jury. I was lucky as a child because my parents had no rules when it came to books. When my dad would finish a book, if he liked it, he would pass it on to me. Simple as that.
Maybe the books were too mature for me, or maybe the YA genre at the time was underestimating what it meant to be a thirteen-year-old. (Would anyone bat an eye now about a Hunger Games book report, arguably just as gruesome as The Entity?)
I write to get back to that weird time, when I could daydream about being an orphan on Prince Edward’s Island and at the same time consider the possibilities of extraterrestrial contact. A time when I would blush while reading about Anne’s flirtation with Gilbert Blyth, even after reading all the terrible ways a spectral rapist attacked a single mother.
2. The connection with words
I went from being a reader to a writer after meeting Mrs. Heidi N. She was just as blonde and pure as the Heidi from the folkstory, but somehow she was teaching creative writing to Catholic high-schoolers in the suburbs.
Mrs. N found the feelings in our terrible poetry. She connected to the emotions that we were barely coughing up, but she made us feel like we had teased out the meaning of life. She wrote a novella’s worth of feedback in purple ink on the back of our assignments, her letters swirly and large, with joyful exclamation points all over the page.
It was like she never doubted that a poem about liking a boy was indeed the most important thing in the world, as if she were actually impressed by the gravity of our clichéd experiences, and she never implied that we would look back at our problems and shrug at their pettiness. I think it was the most respect I ever had from a teacher.
Mrs. N even agreed to participate in our Creative Writing Club, meeting us at a coffee shop and listening as we took turns reading Sylvia Plath out loud. We just wanted to cling to the glow we felt from her class for a little longer.
3. The connection with artists
In college, I signed up for the majors-only section of Introduction to Fiction and Poetry. I met the TA who was very thin and spoke with terse words. He wore round glasses and pencil suits, and somehow he strangled the joy out of words before he even spoke them; he made good writing seem distant and unattainable.
I dropped the class and found another, this one with a TA who paced around the writing table shaking the books in the air. He told me it was important to make each book I read my own, and he showed me his copy of Ulysses, where he had made his own cover by pasting ransom-style magazine clippings around in chaos. His excitement for the literature was magnetic.
Instead of making me feel like he was connecting with my work like Mrs. N, he made me feel like the great works connected us all; that he and I, and all writers, were part of a special club that felt the passion in words.
The class was scheduled three days a week, but he started hosting an optional fourth class. I was the only one who came, and it was the best class I ever took. When the semester was over, I asked him for a recommended reading list, and though I’m a die-hard library patron, I purchased every book he suggested to keep as my own.
4. Why I write
I write for the connection and the wonder.
I write for the connection that I saw for the first time in high school– the idea that if words fit around a feeling just so, they will zap that feeling into the gut of the reader, and he will remember the connection with the words rather than the words themselves.
I write for the connection in the way that my TA made me feel so excited to be an artist among artists. I write to be a part of an exchange of ideas, to live a deliberate life, and to fill my days with my own creations and the creations of other artists.
As a young adult, I was searching for a connection, and I found it in stories. I need to write in the YA genre because that’s the genre that selected me. It speaks to the time when books delivered irreplicable wonder.
Good writing flows more easily when you know its purpose, and when you have a passion for the genre. Why do you write?