Friday, August 21, 2009

When I Grow Up I Wanna Be...

... wait a minute.

Nobody said anything to me about growing up! I'm not signing up for this! Call my lawyer - his name is Peter Pan.

Seriously. Ask anybody who knows me. Ask my mother (especially my mother!). They will all tell you the same thing. Growing up is a feat I simply have not managed. Nor expect to. Not in this lifetime. No way no how.

It was a decision I made quite deliberately at a very young age. So, of course, I was destined from that very young age to be a writer!

Well, actually, it was never quite that cut-and-dried. (I mean, for a few years there, I read nothing but Walter Farley's Black Stallion books and therefore was convinced that I would wind up with a wildly successful career as a jockey. Never mind that I didn't own a horse or live on a farm.) But let's just say that my raging defiance in the face of actual grow-up-ing-ness meant that I was destined to make my vocational way in a field that would probably be strange, unconventional, and heavily based on the time-honored childish (and I mean that in the positive sense) tradition of Making Stuff Up.

That left me three choices, much to my parents' chagrin.

I would be an Actor, an Artist, or a Writer.

I have, at various and sundry times, been more than one and sometimes all three. All very romantic sounding, these choices, I know. But they are none of them for the faint-of-heart or thin-of-skin. I fact, for awhile there, I was starting to question whether or not I was just some kind of rejection-junkie or something. It also meant that I've pretty much always had a day job as a consequence. The whole 'starving artist' thing? Not so much a stretch of the truth if that's your only gig, and you're not Evangeline Lily.

Eventually, as time went on, the Artist thing sort of fell to the side of the road - I still love to paint and draw and, for awhile there, it was a toss-up as to whether I go to art school or theatre school (heh - in retrospect, I may have been misguided on that particular decision...) but I stopped entertaining capital 'A' Art as a career choice. I still wasn't going to grow up and get a real job, though, no-siree (of course - as I mentioned - all this time, I always had a real job of one kind or another. Call it 'denial', okay?).

Anyway, with the demise of the Artist, that left Actor. And Writer.

I'm still both. Although, as luck and Fate and the good graces of the universe would have it, after calling myself a professional actor for years, I now call myself a professional writer. And not just a writer, an Author. Which is really-and-for-true the place I've always wanted to be. Playing in that great big sand-box of "what if" that I so loved as a kid. The one that I'm never never ever gonna outgrow. Not if I have anything to say about it!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My Search for a "Real" Career

I’ve known I wanted be a writer since I was in fourth grade. That was the year my humanities teacher. Mrs. I. gave our class the assignment to write one short story every week for the entire year. I was hooked! I proclaimed to everyone who would listen that I was going to be a writer when I grew up.

At around the same time, my best friend decided she was going to be an actress when she grew up. In the years that followed, we spent countless hours talking about our adult lives – I would be a bestselling author and she would be a famous actress. And we would live next door to each other in matching side-by-side beach houses.

Right after I started high school, someone told me that I should decide on a “real career,” that I could always write on the side, but I should think about choosing a “real” profession. I heeded the advice and thought maybe I could be a doctor, so I took a human anatomy class in 11th grade. It was the hardest class I ever took, and I remember, even to this day, the trauma I felt the entire year at having to dissect a cat and take tests where we had to identify the pins in its organs. I did tons of extra credit by making “edible” models (including a brain out of Twizzlers) and managed to squeak by with a B-, but clearly I was not cut out for that line of work. Then I thought maybe I could be a health care administrator – why – I have no idea – but it sounded good at the time. I tortured myself by doubling up on the science classes and suffering through microbiology my senior year. Luckily, I had a nice lab partner who wasn’t as grossed out by the bacterial cultures as I was.

In my senior year of high school, I also had a really amazing AP English teacher, and I sort of snapped out of my healthcare fog and remembered what I really loved to do: read and write. I decided to major in English in college, and I reasoned my “real” job could be journalism. One semester on the college paper and one hideous summer internship of covering school board meetings and graduations later, I knew journalism wasn’t for me. And that’s when I decided to throw caution to the wind and just admit to myself and everyone else that I wanted to be a writer, a fiction writer, and that that was going to be my “real” career.

The interesting thing is that my best friend followed a similar path to me but eventually ended up going after what she always wanted, to be an actress. Check out her cool website about her one woman show about Amelia Earhart! Of course, we haven’t done everything we set out to – we don’t live in our matching side-by-side beach houses. Not yet, anyway!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Writing: You're the One For Me

I was never a kid who grew up wanting to be a bunch of different things. I never dreamed about being a famous actress or a rock star, probably due to my insane stage fright. (Although the money wouldn't be so bad...) I didn't consider being a doctor, lawyer, politician or businesswoman. All I've ever wanted to be is a writer.

In fact, a friend in high school remarked, "You're the only person I know who has had the same dream." And that dream was to publish one "beach book" a year and actually live, um, ON the beach. I might be on the road to achieving the first part of that dream, but Chicago's lakeshore hardly qualifies as a beach.

But, I digress. I remember thinking as college neared to an end that I better write and sell a book so I wouldn't have to get a real job. But, sadly, I never even attempted that book because I didn't think I had anything to say. So, after graduation, I sucked it up and got a "real world job"--all with the idea that I would simply work in the corporate grind for a few years before I got my sure-to-be-fabulously-lucrative author career on track. Of course, when I finally did get published, fate laughed heartily as it told me all about advances, payment installments and reserves against returns.

So maybe it's a bit tougher to have a writing career of the "fabulously lucrative" variety, but that doesn't mean I'm going to ever stop trying. See, I have a wonderful opportunity right now in that I'm going to be writing full-time until next summer. And after only two months in, I'm HOOKED. You can bet that I'll be doing everything I can to continue this sweet setup for perpetuity.
Maybe I should just follow my sister's advice: "Why don't you just write the next Harry Potter?"

Monday, August 17, 2009

What do you want to be when you grow up?

As I've mentioned before, I have four children. The oldest is starting college today. Her plan is to become a graphic artist. My second oldest graduates from high school this year, and he is thinking along the lines of a journalism career. My youngest two are about to begin second grade, and right now, they answer the above question with a variety of answers:

"I want to be a rock star!", "I want to be a fireman!", "I want to be a doctor!", and "I want to be a scientist!" are all the most recent lifetime goals for my seven year-old boys. However, no matter which answer they give me, it is always followed up with, "But I'll live with you forever!"

Ahh, isn't that sweet? Of course, they don't believe me when I tell them that their older sister and brother used to have the same sentiment, and that someday, they'll be looking forward to moving out of their parents' home, just as their older siblings are.

But the topic today isn't about what my kids want to be when they grow up, it's about what I wanted to be before I became a writer. I'm sure I had all sorts of interesting thoughts when I was as young as my boys are, but I only remember one of them: I wanted to be a figure skater.

Yes, really. This came from a girl who had never ice skated in her life, but that didn't stop me from dreaming big. Because, you know, the figure skaters on TV were so graceful and so beautiful, that I wanted to be just like them. Obviously, that young dream never came true--in fact, to this day, I have never worn a pair of ice skates!

Later in life, I gave up on my figure skating dream. Which, seeing as I am not, nor have I ever been, the most graceful of girls, is probably (no, definitely) for the best! Somewhere toward the end of elementary school, I decided I wanted to be a nurse when I grew up. I kept on to this dream through most of high school, but somewhere along the way, gave that one up too, and instead, focused on marketing and business, but at the same time, the writer dream began.

And honestly, from the day that dream started, it's the one that has never left. Writing is my true calling. It's the one thing, besides my family and friends, that is a constant. It will always be a constant. And guess what? In my stories, I can be a figure skater, or a nurse, or anything else I dream up.

For my little boys who want to be a rock star scientist and a fire fighting doctor, I say more power to them. Because I believe that the real power of the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" is wrapped up in dreams.

Keep dreaming. If one dream ends, a new one will take its place, and you never know which one will come true.