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.
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.
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.
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.