This month our blog is taking a walk down memory lane and writing about anecdotes that influenced us as writers. Several of those memories come to mind, but one in particular stands out because it was the first time I ever thought about being a writer.
And it came from a teacher.
It’s no secret that I began publishing with a memoir rather than a novel. Now I’ve moved on to fiction, but anyone reading both books will probably say my “voice” sounds very much the same. Perhaps it is part of a hangover from my teaching life. When a person teaches high school and college students, she has to be as authentic as she can be. That doesn’t mean teachers reveal personal things about their lives, but they do try to come across as genuine people who have joys and fears, concerns and happy events, and difficult days and easy ones. Students need to see their teachers as human.
I think the “voice” in my memoir and my mystery is similar to that teaching voice. In fact, many aspects of my teaching life are similar to my writing life. The story that I remember about my early thoughts concerning writing happened when I was in graduate school.
Most people go to graduate school when they finish their undergraduate years, but I waited until I was fifty years old.
Yes, you read that right. 5-0.
I had children to raise and put through college first. So, having been out of the classroom as a student for twenty-nine years, I went to the University of Illinois for three summers to get my Master’s degree in Secondary Education. It was a little scary at first, but once I got into the zone I was fine. Most of my professors had not been born when I started teaching. I signed up for a class on Reflective Teaching and it was one of those decisions that changed my life.
Several of the assignments in that class called for me to connect my teaching career with what I believed long before I started teaching. How did my philosophy of teaching connect to who I was on the inside?
I remember writing a paper about growing up at the Drive-In Theatre. My uncle built the drive-in movie theatre in our home town shortly after World War II. My dad managed it, and I literally grew up at that magical place. Some movies I saw seven or eight times, like “The Greatest Show on Earth” or “The Spirit of St. Louis.” That place and time had a profound influence on who I am. I wrote a post about growing up at the drive-in on my own blog, and you can read what that time was like here. It has been one of my most popular posts.
It was a great place for parents to take their children to have a kid-friendly activity and their kids’ tickets were free. While my parents taught me many, many good values, I also learned much of what I came to believe as true from those 1950’s movies. Accepting people who aren’t exactly like me was one of those values. When I began to teach, I felt it was important to teach all my students, not just those who might be like me or share my beliefs.
I turned in my paper about growing up at the drive-in. I will never forget what that professor wrote on my critique: “You have a unique voice and a riveting way of telling a story. Have you ever thought about writing books?”