Sunday, November 30, 2008

My Writing Journey -- The Early Years

In first grade, I wrote and illustrated my first book titled Billy Goes to the Hospital. It was a gripping tale of poor little Billy who breaks his leg and ends up in the hospital. The nurses and doctors take good care of him, and soon he goes home with his mother and father. My first grade teacher helped me write out the letters for the text. Not bad for age six.

Back in my very young years, I was obsessed with all things "hospital". I wanted to be a nurse. By the time I was in the first grade, I'd had already had my one overnight stay in a hospital to have my tonsils removed -- that was all the rage back in the late fifties and early sixties -- so most of my early writing involved hospital stories. I then moved on to stories about school and camp. Having attended overnight camp at the age of eight, I was on my "summer camp" kick for a couple of years.

After all, we writers usually write what we know. :)

I was extremely lucky growing up. I had a mother and father, two older sisters, and a younger brother. I had a built in set of friends, and we all shared the thrill of creating stories in common. (see my earlier post A Family of Writers) There were many weekends that were very "Little Women" in our home. We would spend all day Saturday and Sunday writing a play, choosing the roles, memorizing the lines, figuring out the props and costumes, and then by Sunday afternoon or evening, our very supportive and patient parents would sit down and endure whatever production we presented to them.

All through junior and senior high school, I wrote short stories and poetry -- almost always keeping it private. At fourteen, I wrote a play for my ancient history class. I wasn't doing well in the class so for extra credit I decided to write a play. My teacher seemed to love it, so the next thing I knew I was in charge of producing, directing and acting in my own play. I had been taking acting lessons and had been involved in several plays (our home theater included) since I was six, so I embraced my production. After several weeks of rehearsals, and along with five of my classmates, my play was performed in front of an assembly of classes at school. Very cool. I do believe I received an A in ancient history that term. :)

My favorite writer when I was a teenager was YA author, Betty Cavanna. She wrote nearly a hundred books from the 1940's all the way into the 1990's. She was a wonderful writer of stories involving young adult women. Her stories were filled with beautiful prose capturing the emotional essence of struggling to grow up in middle-class American society. Her characters always felt like real breathing young women dealing with a myriad of problems and conflicts. Her stories reached beyond the ABC Afternoon Special pap. They were filled with vibrant emotions, endearing characters, stunning settings; heart-wrenching stories involving everything from racial tensions, sibling rivalry, school, death, divorce, and teenage romance.
Her books (many I still own and read again on occasion) also always have an emotionally optimistic ending.

I decided I wanted to write a book as memorable and poignant as Betty Cavanna!

So began my journey as a writer for young people. I became a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. Something I highly recommend for anyone interested in the pursuit of writing for young people. I worked for years on short stories for children and younger teens. Now they call them tweens, I believe. I also began to write my young adult novel, Backstage Summer.

Backstage Summer is about fifteen-year-old Jamie Sims who moves to a new town in Massachusetts and becomes involved in the local summer stock theater. She develops a friendship with the theater owner's teenage son, and a desire to perform in one of the summer productions. The plot thickens with the discovery of a mysterious boy hiding out in the theater attic.

My time (when not working at my day jobs in retail or banking) was filled with learning the skills I needed to write and complete Backstage Summer. I took writing classes, joined critique groups, attended conferences and retreats, and read a variety of books on writing. For years, I wrote and revised and rewrote the first ten chapters of Backstage Summer. I worked hard toward understanding the development of characterization and the complexities of writing a longer story. Although I continued to work on the book, I had trouble bringing it to completion.

I finally realized that I either had to finish the darn book, or reevaluate the kind of writing and stories that truly inspired me.

There was a current of change blowing on the wind...


Houston A.W. Knight said...


What a great blog about your writing journey - very insightful!
Loved it.


Cynthia Sherrick said...

Thanks, Hawk. There's more to come... :)

Anonymous said...

Cindy -- I loved reading about your "early" writing years. I was there but don't remember everything although I do remember our epic plays ("The Wizard of Oz" stands out) performed in the backyard of our East Orleans house. I never knew you wrote poems or plays. That's the fun of blogging -- it brings out long-held secrets from the past! I can't wait to read part 2. Robin

Dell Smith said...

Was I around during this play stuff? I kind of remember. Of course I remember the Arena Theater in Orleans.
It's always interesting to hear of a writer's beginnings. Every writer has them, and they are always unique and can serve as a learning tool for aspiring writers.

Liz Smith said...

Fascinating journey! I love reading about your early experiences with writing. You are all very inspirational :)