I wasn’t a big reader as a kid. Not like some people I know whose parents read to them every day and they grew up familiar with Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Nancy Drew or other series of books whether they be mysteries or Stephen King. I read a few books that I remember such as “The Outsiders” when I was a kid, but not much other than that. I don’t think any of my immediate family members were big readers actually. I’ll have to ask them.
My local public high school’s biggest challenges for the readers and non-readers was to fill in the blanks on Q&A sheets about our reading assignments. Basically, if you could search through a book fast for answers, you could pass those quizzes, which were all open book as far as I can remember.
It wasn’t until I started going to private high school that I really began to be required to read. They could tell I wasn’t a reader, too, because we had to read three books over the summer and do a report on them just in order to be accepted to the school. They suggested I go back a year and go there for three years instead of two. My family and I insisted that I go for two years. Well, I ended up failing junior English miserably and having to go an extra year to make that up anyway as I had to go home for the summer to work. I think that was part of my family’s ethic, though it was never presented to me in that way. It was just something I had to do. “Don’t go to summer school, you have to come home and work.”
I eventually learned how to write an intro paragraph and three supporting paragraphs and a conclusion, which got me through most English classes. It was my senior year that I got to take a class in Autobiography with Mrs. Schwingel, I think was her name. I remember “This House of Sky” and Frank Conroy’s “Stop Time,” being the most influential books I read that semester.
Part of the class was to keep a journal. I got an A+ on my journal. My teacher loved it and I loved writing things in that journal that weren’t necessarily true, but were modelled after the best writing that I read that year. If I could impress my autobiography teacher as an 18-year-old writing stuff I was just making up off the top of my head, and telling other stories about things that were going on in my life at that time, then I was off and running. This is what I wanted to do.
While I’m still working on my creative writing pursuits, I’ve had my writing published around the world as I did go into journalism to support myself while I tried to write that next Great American Novel. I’m now in a different career, but I’m doing more writing that ever before and learning more than ever before reading such books as The Portable MFA, Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, Creating Fiction (ed. Julie Checkoway), and DIY MFA, by Gabriela Pereira.