Who, What and Why I Write…and a Hurricane
I’ve mentioned before that I write in my spare time, so I thought I would dedicate a post to my writing journey, for those of you interested or for fellow writers. No doubt this post will bore the life out of a lot of you, but hopefully it resonates with someone out there!
Since I was seven years old, I have written stories, poems, books. I wrote 10-page long books on my mom’s electronic typewriter (that’s right, even before we had a computer! And I’m only 26, people – this was in 1992). The books were called The Shooting Stars, based on my group of friends and me. In the books, my friends and I formed a “club” called The Shooting Stars. We had really, really tame adventures (hey, I was seven!). As in: the plot of a book would cover how we met up after school to go for milkshakes and talk about what to wear to school the next day. And I think my characters were aged 12 or so and I thought that was so old in my little seven-year-old mind.
But the funny thing? Those characters somehow stuck with me. The main character is no longer based on myself, but the friends have stuck around and I’ve since given them pseudonyms. The series is still called The Shooting Stars but the books are now 200-300 pages long, are written on my Macbook and The Shooting Stars is now a charity run by the 16-year-old friends rather than a club formed by 12 year olds.
I took a break from the characters when I was 10 or so, but when I was 14 I let out all of my teenage feelings and confusion in writing. I read vociferously, but when I’d read everything I wanted and couldn’t be bothered to wait for my favourite authors to write more, I went into my room and pounded out more Shooting Stars books filled with the characters and storylines I wanted to read. Why wait for the authors to write them? I just wrote them myself. At that point I was the books’ only reader, so who cared what I wrote, really? And I could control the ending entirely, so I would always be satisfied with how the characters’ lives turned out. This phase was totally about creating my own entertainment (this was definitely a shy/awkward phase – as you can tell, I didn’t get out much at 14). The wonderful author Toni Morrison once said:
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
My writing career has been entirely dictated by this quote – even before I had ever read the quote :). If you don’t want to read it, why write it? And if it’s already been written, why reinvent the wheel, right?
Well, as I said, I was a crazily productive writer when I was 14 and by the time I was 16 I had written 32 Shooting Stars books which were at least 200-300 pages each. Yeah, it was a long series!
Being careful, I transferred the electronic copies of my books onto my mom’s laptop when I sold mine before going off to university. And I also spent a lot of money printing those books – lots of paper and ink needed! – and stored them in the bottom drawers of my dresser in my bedroom. Once high school exams and college applications – and my first relationship – came along, I was way too busy to write, so they stayed safely stored away.
In September 2003, I left Cayman for the University of British Columbia where I would pursue a Bachelors degree in English Literature.
Just mere days after my second year of university started in September 2004, Hurricane Ivan hit Grand Cayman as a Category 5 hurricane. That summer my family had just seen the completion of the first house we have ever built. Everything was brand new. See? (Click on collage to enlarge).
The photo below is from the only family photoshoot my family has ever done – in front of our newly completed house in the summer of 2004:
The hurricane tore off roof tiles, flooded the house (the water level was at thigh height) and destroyed all of our furniture. Our house swam in muddy rainwater for days after the hurricane, until the heat and sun finally allowed it to evaporate. My parents were the only members of our family on island at the time, and they waited out the storm by sitting on our kitchen countertops all night after lifting everything valuable that they could find to safety. My cat Mango had escaped to the top of the kitchen cupboards.
At some point, when the wind had died down a little, my parents crossed the flood waters in the yard and were pulled to safety by a human chain to our next door neighbours – a two-floor apartment building on higher ground than us, so they were dry, Hallelujah! There they were able to get one phone call through to my aunt in England who was able to call me in Vancouver and my sister, who was travelling, and assure us that our parents were safe. Pretty soon after that the phone networks died and no contact was possible for a while. (Click on collage below to enlarge).
I didn’t experience the hurricane firsthand, so I should let my mom write a better post for you on her hurricane experience some time if you are interested in hearing more. The point of me telling you about this is that I never even thought about what we lost during the storm. You don’t, when it happens. You just think of the important stuff. But later, much later, it emerged that many of our childhood and baby photos had been ruined (they were in storage in my mom’s classroom – she’s a school teacher and was storing some goods of ours in her classroom as we were still slowly moving into our new home). And then I found out that my parents had had to throw away the contents of my lower dresser drawers as they were flooded. They hadn’t known my books were in there.
This only seems like the disaster it was when you I explain that the month before the hurricane, my mom’s laptop (holding my only electronic copies of the books) had been stolen. That’s right. I lost every one of those 32 books.
I quickly realized that this was God’s way of telling me that they sucked :). Or maybe not that they sucked but that the basic ideas and characters were good and I needed to work on them from scratch and take them in a different direction – and once I have something written I rarely rewrite it. It feels so pointless. But now I had to. So perhaps that was the kick in the butt I needed.
So, fast forward a few years, and I’ve finished my degree and have some time again to write.
I have now written an adult nonfiction book, several poems, a couple of short stories, the beginnings of an adult fiction novel and…yes, the first three of the Shooting Stars series from scratch (with several edits along the way). The plot of the second one centres around a hurricane – go figure :).
I feel like the first two books are at a point where they could be looked at. I have tried querying agents but without much success, as is often the case when doing unsolicited submissions to agencies. So I think I’m ready to try some more aggressive approaches to getting published. But sharing what you’ve written with anyone other than close friends and families is scary. I’ve already taken the first step, but I’ll write more about that soon as this post is 1300 words already and that is 1200 words too many for a lot of you. My apologies!
If I can work up the courage, and if I think anyone cares :), I’ll post an excerpt from some of my writing on the blog. That would be truly terrifying, but perhaps a good way of facing the fear. One thing I do know, though: you must pursue your passion. It is the only way to truly live your life. So go for it! All of you! Let’s all be brave together :).