After my mom died, my siblings, my husband and I had the heart-wrenching task of cleaning out her house, the house I grew up in, the house she lived in with my dad for 32 years until he died, and then 20 more years. My husband and I emptied the bookshelves, filling over 50 boxes of books. My parents were great readers—classics, mystery novels, Shakespeare’s plays, a collection of books on the Antarctic, and Jane Austen. I grew up around books and have been an avid reader for as long as I can remember. I have also turned to the pen, then the typewriter, then the computer to express myself. I am a writer.
Although I have been writing for decades, I have not always been comfortable identifying as a writer. In my mind a writer is someone who writes well, who writes for a living, or who has gotten paid for his or her writing. It seems presumptuous to call oneself a writer—it seems to be a moniker only others can apply.
My first attempts at writing were in school, the requisite haiku's, essays, and short stories. I made my first attempt at serious writing after I got married and decided to explore my Irish roots. After reading Leon Uris’ Trinity I decided to write a novel about an IRA soldier (terrorist) and the troubles in Northern Ireland. After about 25 pages I gave up on that novel.
Subsequently, I worked on a novel about a young woman who lived in Manhattan in the early 80s (or was that a memoir?!). I spent a bit more time on that, worked up an outline and a few chapters before that too went into the circular file. Writing took a backseat to motherhood, but after my second son was born I decided to try again. This time I decided to follow the advice to “write what you know.” Both my young sons had asthma, so I worked on an essay for parents on coping with chronically ill children.
I figured I would start small, and write about something I had experience with, and then branch out to more creative writing. For over a year I worked on this short piece. The first step was deciding on a topic – caring for chronically ill children. Then I created an outline, using my own experience to guide the main points. After I had a rough draft I identified and interviewed experts in the field. Articles in popular parenting magazines typically include quotes from experts. My own personal experience would not carry enough gravitas to sell the article. The interviewing process was long and sometimes frustrating, but very rewarding. I distinctly remember interviewing Leo Buscaglia on the phone – back in 1992. He is a psychologist who works with disabled kids and their parents, and a very wise and sweet man. His quote contributed to the section on parental guilt: “After thinking logically, parents will realize they would never have planned anything to hurt their child,” Buscaglia told me on the phone. After I finished the article and incorporated the quotes, I added a box of helpful organizations parents could contact for help.
The money was not significant; the magazine was not prominent; the article was not long. But an editor had determined the content and quality of the writing was sufficient to pay me to print it in their magazine. Ten years later I co-wrote a book, and the advance was $2,500. Although it was ten times as much as my first check for writing, nothing could match my euphoria when I received my first check for writing.
In addition to 50 boxes of books, I cleaned out my dad’s 10 file cabinets in his office and the garage. I went through all of them, file by file. As a college professor, he had files on almost everything—think “Google” in file cabinets. He also had a lot of personal files, including files on the children and grandchildren. I kept a few of them. I found my first published article in one marked “KT Writing.”