|John at his senior prom with the cane he designed and painted.|
Thirty-three years ago today, my oldest son, John at age eighteen died of cancer. I wrote about his death on Writers Who Kill last year. But I didn't write how his death led me to become a writer.
All writers have a back story of what led them to become a writer. This past weekend I went to a writers' workshop event at Lakeland College with my friend Laura. One of the workshops I attended was on writing mysteries. The presenter was a young woman, who admitted in her introduction that she'd never read books until someone gave her a copy of the first Twilight book. Then she saw the author being interviewed on Oprah, and saw a similarity between the author and herself; they both had three small children. Her next thought was this could be a way to earn money while staying at home with her children. So she went to Google to find out how to write a book since she had no idea how to do that. I'm not sure why she chose cozies instead of paranormal, but apparently the instructions were to read everything you could on your chosen genre. Once she thought she knew all there was to know about writing a book, she started writing. She admitted to getting lots of rejections, but finally one of the four or more books she wrote got the attention of a new small publisher, who said they'd take it if she made a lot of major changes. Now her first book is out and she feels qualified to teach a class called "Cozy Mystery Writing." Can you see my eyes rolling?
My back story is quite different. I've been a life-long voracious reader of books of all types, but especially mysteries because I like trying to solve the puzzle of who done it. But I hadn't thought of actually writing a book until some years after John died. His death was the catalyst that led me to becoming a writer, but I went down that path slowly.
Harriet Sarnoff Schiff, author of The Bereaved Parent writes "There appears to be a great need to create something after a child dies . . .In general, most men and women, even those who have done nothing of the sort before, turn to some creative endeavor to help ease their grief . . ." I decided to become a teacher, a profession that involves creativity. So twenty-five years after I graduated from high school, I entered college for the first time. Schiff also writes of herself, "I was no longer afraid to attempt things . . . after all I had survived the death of my son." I wouldn't be honest if I didn't admit to some trepidation, but that soon passed, and I found the academic world exciting and gratifying. My first English professor, Vivian Pemberton, suggested I submit an essay I'd written on the death of my son to the campus's literary journal. I did and from then on I submitted poetry for each issue and it was always accepted. I took an overload every semester after the first one so I could fit in extra literature and writing classes not required for my degree. I wrote a lot of poetry in those years and also enjoyed writing essays and research papers. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that while teaching I went on to get a Masters in English, not needed for anything but my enjoyment and a slight raise in pay. And when that was done, with the encouragement of one of my sisters, I started writing a mystery. I'd been considering it for quite a while, but never got around to it since teaching requires a lot of time and energy. It wasn't long before mystery writing became much of who I am. If it's not actively on my mind, it's still lurking on the edges as I plot and create characters. Yes, I still write poetry, especially one for my son each year to be placed in our local newspaper in memory of him.
It's a cliche' to say "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade," but sometimes a cliche' says it best. John's death wasn't the only lemon that's come my way, but once I get over the devastation of whatever awful thing happens (not that I ever forget it), as a survivor I somehow manage to overcome it and make metaphorical lemonade through my writing.
What led you to writing?
If you're not a writer, what led you to what you're doing now?