(Or someone who looks sufficently similar.)
Welcome, those who clicked on the link from the list of contestants on The Real LJ Idol!
Shalanna Collins is a novelist, pianist, and dilettante. She maintains this LJ in order to have someone to talk to. She is from the planet Mongo and has three heads, two of which constantly bicker with each other . . . no, no, this isn’t working.
Let’s do a short question-and-answer and try to rescue the intro.
*Q* How did you start to write? Did your interest grow out of your love of reading as a child?
*A* I started reading before I can even remember. I mean, I can’t recall a time I couldn’t read. I remember our family driving up the old highway between Houston and Dallas to visit both grandmothers, and I remember pointing at the billboards and saying, “Schlitz! Stuckey’s!” I also remember having the entire collection of “Peanuts” paperbacks, which at that time were on the grocery store racks and cost sixty cents or so; my parents had bought some of them, and I stole them and colored the cartoons. There was one strip per page back then. (Speaking of Peanuts. Isn’t Charles Schulz the perfect example of the consummate creative mind? When the strip ended, it ended him; he’d put all of himself into its creation, and when he tied it up, that was his time to leave this earth. Charlie Brown and Snoopy going up there to live on their own cloud, a doghouse-shaped cloud. I think God has a special love for those of us He makes into creators of worlds and people, because of course that is what He did when He created us. And of course God is a writer, and He can’t get people to read His book, either. . . .)
I had a huge collection of Little Golden Books that were in Mama’s attic until her house burned down in 1986. Before school started, I had (and had read) all the Bobbsey Twins books; the children’s classics like Peter Pan, Mary Poppins, Wind in the Willows, Little Women, The Five Little Peppers, Doctor Doolittle, the Oz books, and others you could get at the time (including fairy tales); and the Donna Parker series, which was my favorite because she was already a teenager and I could project myself into a time when I’d be grown-up enough to do things I could not yet do. I’ve always liked to feel prepared for what is probably going to happen next, and reading about others’ experiences helps me envision what could happen and plan what to do. I guess many people read for vicarious experience, because that’s one good way to learn, as well as for escapism. (Of course, I’m sure that the series books are so dated now that they’d be period pieces, but I actually learned lots about the locations those books were set in. For example, when Donna Parker went to Hollywood, I learned about Olvera Street’s market and Pacific Ocean Park [now gone] and other landmarks of Los Angeles, not to mention all about the Indian ghod Ganesha, because she’d lost that figurine.)
You could also learn something from the Bobbsey Twins books, because they were always traveling somewhere and discovering something about the place they’d gone to and about what their father’s associates did for a living. The Bobbsey series has now been re-edited, and I recently picked up a very disappointing “new” edition of the first three books in a store and started to cry. They had rewritten them in modern terms and taken out all the charm, very effectively. I realize they might have needed some “political correctness” editing, but this went too far. The first three series books were written near the turn of the century originally, and the ones I had were that version– they showed children of my generation that wonderful life in America before the wars, before technology. It was a lifestyle grand (a word they removed from the books) and gay (another doomed word– like “aid” and “aide” now. What DO they call teaching assistants and library or congressional helpers now? Pages?) They showed us a world that is now lost, the way old movies do. Sad to see them “improved” and ruined.
Anyway, when I was a child, it was rare for a family to have just one child. Since I was a “lonely only,” I grew up as a little adult, participating in or at least sitting quietly (coloring or reading or putting together puzzles or playing) among the adults’ kneecaps as they talked. My father was a professor before I was born and became one again later on, and so my parents had lots of intellectuals as friends. They would smoke and talk and listen to old records (often the Brother Dave Gardner or Bill Cosby comedy albums that I still have someplace) into the wee hours. I went to bed late, and often I could sneak back into the room in my pajamas to hear what was going on. So I was an odd chick for those days (the early to mid-1960s, to confess my ancientness.) Nowadays, I’ve noticed, *all* the kids are precocious and adultlike, or at least adolescent-like, very early, so they’re all like I was. If only I’d had the computer and the Internet and the cable television and all this technology back then. . . . Wow.
Anyway, yes. (Does that answer your question . . . what was the question again?)
I just always knew that I would be a writer. Originally I thought I would start out as an actress, because I believed that the actors on TV and in plays were making up the dialogue themselves. Once that was straightened out for me (and if you don’t realize it, writers create *everything* that you see on the screen or hear on the air . . . the performers generally aren’t the writers, except in the case of songwriters, and sometimes not even then), I stopped worrying so much about getting on television and started observing people and how they talk and act so I could make the books and TV shows and movies happen myself. (I also defied conventional attractiveness measures, so it’s a lucky thing that I didn’t have my heart set on being a teenage sweetheart.)
The first book I wrote was a coloring book that I drew and colored in on tracing paper while I was in my father’s office one day. I guess I was about three or four, just barely able to handle the pencil and crayons. (Nowadays, I think kids start earlier, but back then that was about as early as you started coloring.) Mother had it until her fire. I’d done quarter sheets of paper and then taped them together for a binding. I remember one was a ladybug (“BUG”), one was a car (based on my daddy’s b&w Nash Metropolitan), one was a cat, one was a cloud (“SKY”), and of course one was a house, the basic kid house. That book has been lost to posterity.
The next serious effort I made towards writing a novel (that I recall) was when I was eight and had just discovered the Narnia books. This piece of juvenilia has also been lost, but it was a bunch of stories about a girl who could heal with her hands and (something or another.) Soon after this had been turned down by just about every teacher as “silly,” my best friend and I discovered books like The Egypt Game and Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and me, Elizabeth, and began writing witch-type stories. (It helped that her older sister was rehearsing a production of “Macbeth” at the time. More on this later.) When we entered fifth grade and “The Godfather” was all the rage, we tried writing a mob book. To give you an idea about that one, it had illustrations!
The woman who was our speech and drama teacher, visiting once a week, discovered us working on that during homeroom one day and picked it up, then tossed it back into my face in disgust. “Why are you wasting your time on that junk,” said Ms. Moore, her nose wrinkled, “when you could be working on something useful, like a piece for the UIL contest?” The whole class stared at us, and Teresa, my friend, promptly ended her career as a collaborator/illustrator. I learned to hide my work from all prying eyes (for many years after that, in fact.) I did return to the fantasy milieu, though, realizing that the mob book was, in fact, derivative junk.
Looking back on this event, I suspect Ms. Moore wanted us to win some trophies at that UIL speech contest because it got her brownie points when her students won those trophies. However, how many people are still carrying around trophies they won in elementary school? If they are, they need serious psychological help. I’m still writing, and I believe *all* the time I’ve spent writing has helped me improve. So shame on you, Mary Ann Moore, you rude teacher. That was not the only rude thing she said to me about my writing during free periods, either. Nor was she the only bad teacher who said that sort of thing to people who were focused on events beyond their little principalities (classrooms) and that particular year. But that has all changed. I am pleased to report that nowadays, journaling is often assigned as part of a learning experience, rather than being a target of hassle. I know that writing about experiences can really help you understand those experiences, even if you never let anyone else read the writings.
I hid the writing from then on so people around me wouldn’t hassle me, but I used to send the New Yorker every short story I wrote. This was from about the age of eleven or so. I really believed I’d eventually hit. I put my age on the cover letter every time (and I was borrowing Daddy’s portable Royal typewriter to type them with–remember, this was 1970 or so.) I got some really nice personal rejections from them as a result. Some poor editorial assistant, bless him or her, wanted to encoureage the pathetic critter who kept sending epistolary tales about baby-sitting crises and boys passing notes in class. I thought I sounded just like Robert Benchley.
*A.* And you do! Well, that’s all the bandwidth we have for today, folks. Catch you next time on our search for the next