My goal for this blog was to have every post related to writing and publishing in some way. I’ve been mostly successful I think. When I was pondering what to write about this week, Maria suggested a post about me. I thought, “But that’s got nothing to do with writing.”
But you know, it sort of has everything to do with my writing. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.
I’ve been working on my author bio for the Writer’s Companion, the release of which is approaching faster than I expected (yikes), and I spent hours trying to make my very basic publishing experience sound fantastic and grand. Then I realized that it’s not my published work the reader cares about, it’s what makes me the writer I am today. What gives me my unique voice? What inspires the ideas for my work; the characters and the setting?
So, here it is, my life condensed into a blog post. My early life was chaotic and sad and I won’t share it here. I consider that life to be sort of like a past life, non-existent anymore and unimportant in the grand scheme of things.
At the age of three my mother moved us to Tweed, Ontario. I left briefly in the late nineties because I was young and stupid, but came back because I’m a redneck at heart and you know, it’s inspired many favorite characters. So, yay Tweed!
I started life as a fat kid. No, seriously. Look.
I was painfully shy and would cry if strangers even looked at me. But it got worse. When I started school, I got chunkier. I couldn’t play tag with the other kids because my thighs were so chubby I tripped when I ran. In Kindergarten, was too shy to let the lunchroom monitor (a snotty 12 year old from the school across the road who I secretly hated) know I had to pee, so I just wet my pants in front of the entire class.
|Yeah, this kid peed her pants. Laugh it up.|
By the age of 10 I acquire this baby mullet:
|By the way, this was my Princess dress. I wore it every other day for weeks because it was swirly and pretty.|
I also discovered books. For hours on end I’d lose myself in stories far too adult for a 10 year old. But because I selected books my mother would never read in a million years (she’s a Harlequin romance devotee) and then concocting the bald-faced lie that they came from the school library, I was able to devour most of the works of Stephen King in a single summer. This is where the passion to write began. I promised myself that one day, I’d write like that.
Of course, now I realize that promise was a bit impossible to keep. I have my own voice, and while I may be no Stephen King, I think I’ve got a good thing going on.
Things got better as I found my voice in other ways as well. This was largely due to my father.
He might be a redneck, but most of my personality comes from him. Oh, and this dress:
Of course, up to that point, I had very little life experience. I was a shy, awkward kid who preferred to stay inside reading rather than do the insane things her friends liked to do, like breathe fresh air. I mean, who would play with a kid with hair like this?
|I loathed pink. Despised it. Yet, my mother insisted I wear it. Even worse, she put teddy bears dancing across it.|
Later, I dutifully went to college, although I was so terrified that for the entire month before orientation, I became physically ill each time I thought about it. I cried the morning of my first day…and the second day. Probably the third too. I have this fear of meeting new people. I also have a fear of driving, (actually, just being a passenger terrifies me too) and a phobia of feet. Blech.
In college though, I fell in love.
Okay, I fell in what I thought felt like love as I imagined it would be in my head. Turns out the feeling wasn’t anything close. But I’ll get to that later. We dated, moved out and got married the summer after I finished college.
|It was 90 freaking degrees outside, okay? You try to keep makeup in place and hair from wilting in that kind of heat. Also, it was 1997, everyone was doing poofy.|
I got married the day before Princess Diana died. We came home from the reception, turned on the television (yes, a honeymoon that involves television is a bad sign) to see the news coverage of the crash. That wasn’t the only bad omen that day, but when one is young, one ignores the signs of bad decisions hammering her in the head.
Besides, that mistake gave me this amazing gift:
|Me & Courtney, July 1999. Again, the nineties, folks. Also, I had less fashion sense than I do now. Such a mess.|
The marriage dissolved rapidly after my daughter was born. Why? I realized what love really was and admitted that the feeling in my gut was unhappiness, not love. (cue the tiny violin)
The next three years were spent in a haze of making ends meet because my ex apparently had better things to do with his time than, oh I don’t know, support his kid.
I worked several jobs at once for most of that three years. I was a waitress and a bartender at the Tweedsmuir. Oh, those were good times. For those of you that missed the Halloween post, this is me at the Smuir, October 31, 1999.
I also worked as a gas station attendant. People trusted me to check their oil and the air in their tires. They also trusted me to put highly combustible material in their cars. Luckily, I managed the year without major catastrophe.
Later I worked in a lumber yard/building center. I started as cashier and worked my way upstairs into inventory control and about a million other little jobs that had no title. In that job I learned that sometimes, people can’t handle that you’re honest. Sometimes, people are idiots. Sometimes, you’re further ahead to give into the urge to slam someone’s face off the sales desk and call it a day. I didn’t do that. Instead, when told I had to pretend to get along with a certain personality or get fired, I left.
In the early days of that job, I met Kurt. Yeah, he’s still around. I only keep him because he gave me this:
And here’s all my gifts together:
My pregnancy for Kennedy was a nightmare early on. They discovered there was only a two vessel cord, which is so rare that they can’t really tell you anything at all about it without scaring the shit out of you. You’re supposed to have three vessels in a normal pregnancy—for those that have no clue what I’m talking about—one main vessel, one taking things into the baby, and one taking things out. I was told horrible tales about babies born and dying within the first year, or born with severe deformities. They offered to do an amnio to determine if she was “defective” in any way and I could abort if I chose to. I didn’t have to think about that one. I declined the amnio. I couldn’t terminate the pregnancy even if I am pro-choice. (Go on, you bunch of freaks, send the hate mail.)
When Kennedy arrived, she had some issues. She had a heart murmur caused by two small holes. (These are now closed) She also had enlarged ventricles in her brain with too much fluid passing through. (Still there, but causing no problems) The most significant issue to me at the time was that her hearing in both ears was impaired. I know now it’s not a big deal but we didn’t see the bigger picture at first. When they throw this stuff at you all at once, you kind of focus on a single thing and freak out over that.
But then, at three months old Kennedy started crying one day. She cried all day, stopping only to sleep for about ten minutes because she’d exhausted herself. I took her to the hospital. They said it was gas. I took her home. She cried all night and all through the next day. I took her to the hospital. They said it was gas. I took her home. Her temperature spiked to 102 a few hours later and I took her back to the hospital. They tried to say gas and I lost it. Then, when they “humoured” me and began to remove her sleeper, we saw a rash all over her body. This was not there when we left for the hospital, although try to tell those idiots that.
Six medical personnel later, a pediatrician arrived. He promptly quarantined the staff and us. She had meningitis. Scariest moment of my entire life. We waited a full week before we could be assured she would make it. Suddenly, all that other stuff didn’t matter. Hearing loss? Big fucking deal. We’ll deal with it. Heart murmur? Nothing. She was sick every other week for the first two years of her life because her immune system was so badly damaged. But she was still here and I have never been more grateful for anything in my life.
My older daughter, Courtney, lived an interesting life then too. Mom would vanish in the night on yet another rush to the emergency room. When I was home, I was so tired I couldn’t pay much attention to her. I’m lucky I have such an awesome kid. Not once did she voice or act out any resentment she might have felt during those days. She would just be her happy self and do whatever I needed her to do. During this I was trying to work 40 hour weeks too and I have to say, even working three jobs at once to support myself and Court was not as hard as those two years.
One day the backbone I fought so hard to develop when I was on my own with Courtney suddenly reappeared. I’m not sure where it went or what made it come back, but I quit the job I hated where I put up with constant bullshit from a single person day after day because I thought I had to, and took a job at Tim Horton’s. I can’t really say anything bad about that job. It was kind of fun. The drive-thru was insane. I spent more days cursing people in my head than I did actually enjoying myself, but you meet all kinds in a coffee shop. I quit that job after two years because while it was a better atmosphere, I was still dealing with a sick child and trying to help her manage in a world not used to accommodating her needs.
This was when my passion for writing came back. I hadn’t written a single word since I got married. I lost the urge to write when I lost my self-esteem. It still tickled my brain now and then, but I often pushed it away thinking “What’s the point?”
Then, one day while my daycare kids were napping, I scribbled a scene in a notebook. The next day I scribbled another. By the end of the month, I had a children’s book finished. Of course, I made yet another mistake and believed that I could publish said book. I didn’t consider it might be shitty writing, a rough draft, because that would mean I wouldn’t be published, right?
Publish America took two books from me. I’ve been paid very little and doubt I’ll ever see royalties for actual sales anyway. What hurts the most is knowing I cheapened something that was special to me and my daughters in my desperation to be published. It was my fault, my bad decision, and now I can’t even look at the books without feeling nauseous and angry.
I’ve busted my ass to learn this thing called writing. I freelanced for a local paper where I got to cover fascinating news stories like the goat/sheep farming seminars, flower sales and the fire that happened before I got there. This was fun. I can’t say it wasn’t. Sadly, that didn’t last.
Currently I freelance for online media, writing exciting articles about bedbugs, rose kingdoms and botrytis blight. It doesn’t matter what I write about. They pay me. Also, I learn more about writing with each article I publish and I move one step closer to having my books in a reader’s hands.
I write monthly challenges for Open Book Toronto as well. If you all want to check them out, I urge you to do so. Each month’s winner is published in the e-zine.
Anyway, there’s my ridiculously long post about how I came to write fiction…and how-to articles. Fascinating, aren’t I? Actually, there’s a whole history I didn’t include because it might bother/hurt/anger people involved or incriminate me. (I jest.) You’ll find bits of that in my writing. Someday.
6 thoughts on “Everything You Never Wanted to Know about Me, and a Few Things You Didn’t Know You Did”
Holy moley, woman. When I said to tell us a little bit about your early life I meant one aspect of it. Now I'm tired. I feel like I've lived two lives. But what a life!Perhaps most striking to me is when that poor baby got meningitis. I cannot imagine anything scarier. But I can see it also galvanized you. Some people fall apart after a tragedy. Others get stronger. I'm so glad to know you're the latter. You need that kind of persona if you're going to be a writer–especially now.Writing is such a ball-busting job. For every person who loves your writing, there are two more who run you down. It takes guts to be published. And even more guts to keep writing after the fact.I truly loved your life story. It confirms what I've always speculated about you. You're one tough broad with a marshmallow center.I am very proud to know you.
Ah, you're making my eyes leak, Maria. Actually, I tried starting at the middle, where I found my backbone, but it seemed… incomplete. Like I just said one day, "Hey, I think I'll write." and I didn't want to leave that impression. Writing is something that can't just be picked up one day, IMO. And hey, let's not let the marshmallow center go too far…I have a reputation to maintain. 😉
I was going to wish for all your challenges to be over but that's not quite right. I hope, in future, all your challenges are those you wish for yourself, Renee.
Ah, I think my challenges have been pretty minor and totally surmountable. And a life without challenge, much like a novel without challenges, would be pretty darn boring. But I do hope they're ones I've created myself, that would be a nice change. 🙂
Renee, you're awesome. I knew most of your story anyway, but you're still awesome.Let's just wish each other a few days here and there without challenges.
You're pretty awesome yourself, Paul. Thank you. And yes, our wish for this year will be fewer unplanned challenges, and more of the ones we choose for ourselves. 🙂