Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Journey to Planet Write: Lost and Found

by Lynn Mundell

Bed Is for Reading

Squashed between warm bodies, I listened to my parents read to me in their bed. Soon, I read to myself. In public school, we all pored over the Scholastic Book catalogs and filled in order forms. I would order 10, 20 books. School was very dull. Then the delivery came, and a high stack of books bound together with a jumbo rubber band landed on my desk, and I was saved by Amelia Bedelia, that fantastic blockhead.

When I was 9 my teacher announced a writing contest sponsored by the American Legion. We all wrote about what it meant to be an American. I was a so-so American, so got third prize, a small bronze medal hanging from a heavy red, white, and blue ribbon. I wore it constantly until my older sister asked me to please stop.  If you were a writer, you were pretty much a dignitary. Practically royalty. Who wouldn’t want to be a writer?

Youth Was for Writing

I wrote poetry and newspaper stories in high school and college, while working a series of weirdo jobs — toy store clerk, men’s clothing saleswoman, failed florist (I was fired after sending the funeral arrangement to the baby shower, and vice versa), trailer cleaner, preschool flunky. A boyfriend asked me what I planned to write about. I told him I wasn’t sure, and he scoffed, fueling my doubt.

Chico Senior High newspaper staff. 
Lynn is second from the left, seated.
In the midst of being in big trouble at my newspaper internship for accidentally deleting the entire issue of the weekly during production, I was accepted to graduate school. At 20, I moved East to earn my MFA. More jobs. Hat shop worker. Postcard saleslady. Frank Conroy shredded my prose, then once gave me a friendly ride to class in his old station wagon. I wrote at odd hours and went alone into dark places in my head and wandered out again a little bit stranger and worse for wear each time. I worked at papers, and one sent me to St. Louis to interview U.S. Poet Laureate Howard Nemerov, simply because I was the closest thing to a poetry editor they had. I won a prize at the university. It felt almost as good as the one from fifth grade.

Throwing in the Towel

In my 20s I tried valiantly to be what I thought constituted a writer. I taught at a college, and whether due to circumstances (grammar night class) or myself (uncertain), it wasn’t for me. I chased literary magazines. The fat, healthy envelope would go off in the mail with a poem and an SASE, and a thin, pale one would return, sometimes months later. I stopped writing creatively. I thought my professors’ belief in me must have been misplaced. I threw myself into work life, married, moved home to California. On a whim, I took a creative non-fiction class from columnist Adair Lara, a wonderful teacher. An essay was published in The Sun, then another in The San Jose Mercury News.  The morning I went to a Merc box on Market Street and bought 10 copies of the issue with my essay, I broke down and cried. Somewhere in my now 32-year-old body, the writer lived.

Awakening

Also growing in that body was a baby. Then another. Nothing had prepared me for just how hard it is to be a working mother. Years passed in a blur of commuter trains and playgrounds. I read aloud to my sons in bed. I volunteered at the schools. (My favorite gig was  … the Scholastic Book Fair!) While I wrote for a lot of people and places, I never wrote for myself. I had given up.

One day my old friend Grant Faulkner invited me for a drink and asked if I would like to start an online literary journal with him. I didn’t understand the term “flash fiction” that he kept using, but I said yes. If I wasn’t a writer anymore, I could be a publisher. That invitation to start 100 Word Story five years ago was pivotal. Early on, we didn’t have enough stories for an issue. I sat down, wrote a trio of Halloween-themed “scairytales” in the proverbial flash, and was hooked. I interviewed masters of flash, who sometimes became treasured friends and teachers, and read thousands of story submissions over the years — seeing what worked and didn’t. Eclectica accepted a largely autobiographical story. Then Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine took another. I got word over my iPhone en route to a family vacation. Instead of tears this time, I gave a whoop of joy.

Stay with the Page

With time, I developed an actual writing life. Before going to sleep or when I awake, I write longhand in journals. (Bed. Again.) Stories are anywhere from 50 to 1,000 words and may take up to 30 drafts. After one is about 95 percent done, I type it up and keep it in my purse or pocket for a while, pulling it out at odd times to reread it and change it until I feel it is finished. I keep a long list of journals, alphabetized from A (The Adroit Journal) to Z (Zyzzyva) and spend a lot of time trying to find the right place for each piece. (I much prefer the age of online submissions, although I recently mailed a story in an old school envelope. Still waiting…) I’m grateful for every publication, heartened by the dedicated, generous writers, editors, and publishers in today’s literary community. I still have so much to learn, but I’m not giving up. At 51, I have a lot to say, fewer years now to say it, and I know what a very long time it can take to awaken the writer sleeping within.

___________________________________






Lynn Mundell’s flash fiction has appeared in Tin House “Flash Fidelity,” Superstition ReviewLiterary OrphansJellyfish ReviewThrice Fictionand elsewhere, with more forthcoming this year in Mulberry Fork Review, A3 Review, and Five Points. Lynn is co-founder and co-editor of 100 Word Story.


1 comment:

Jayne Martin said...

So enjoyed reading about your journey, Lynn.