Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Child authors versus myself

I've noticed lately that child authors have been becoming quite popular. Several years ago, Amelia Atwater Rhodes published her first book, a young adult vampire novel, written at age 13. More recently, Christopher Paolini started a hot new trilogy with Eldest, which he'd started writing at age 15. Just the other day, I heard about an 8-year-old named Adora Svitak, who recently published a compilation of her short stories.

It could seem like the work of the soccer moms of a new generation, except that it's not just recent times. For example, Louisa May Alcott was writing stories and plays for her sisters long before she published her first book, Flower Fables, at age 22. And the Bronte sisters (my favorite authors, by the way) were making up whole other worlds, writing stories and poems about them, as children. In fact, I have a short book by Charlotte Bronte, written when she was thirteen, which was published in the 1960s or 70s. The only difference here is that these writers were not published at these tender ages.

So maybe the involvement of mothers does have something to do with it. Clearly, born writers start early. I certainly did: my parents caught my first recorded story on tape when I was only a couple of years old. I vaguely remember writing stories during my elementary school years and wanting to be a writer when I grew up, but I think for the most part during these years my nose was buried in someone else's work. However, I remember being recognized in 6th grade for writing an exceptional poem about Thanksgiving, which I was then asked to read in front of the class. This probably stuck in my memory partly because I was so painfully shy throughout school, but now I see it as an indication that I must have been writing quite a bit before that year.

Throughout middle school, I wrote quite a bit of poetry. By ninth grade, however, my interests had turned to prose - short stories that progressively became longer stories. By the time I was 15, I had written three novels, and was at work on a fourth.

A couple of things happened around this time, however. For one thing, I started dating shortly before I turned 16. Boys proved to be a huge distraction from my writing. There were other factors, however, such as the growing push toward college and career choices (I was a junior in high school that year). I was getting accustomed to hearing that I couldn't depend on my writing, that I had to choose another job. I wasn't very good at dealing with criticism, constructive or otherwise, and a couple of friends hurt my feelings by criticising my writing, something I was generally unused to. All in all, I was getting discouraged.

In reflection, I think all of that could have been different. I think about how during those years, my mom was driving my sister, the gymnast, all over the state to be on the teams of the best gyms available (which the criteria for deciding changed regularly, as my sister changed gyms after any tiff between her or my mom and a coach). I can't help but think, what if she'd been spending an equal amount of time finding me an agent or helping me get a book contract? It's not like she directly discouraged me - sure, she bragged about my writing just as any other proud mother would have - but there was always that reminder that I wouldn't be able to make it as a writer, or getting yelled at to quit writing and do my homework, as if my writing weren't a valuable use of my time. Sometimes subtle discouragement is the deadliest.

Of course, ceasing to write was my own decision, regardless of the forces that encouraged me. Certainly, there have been no changes between me and my mother in the support department - when I first started getting published and send her my links, it often took her weeks to look at my article or my website, until finally I gave up asking - yet I'm still here, pursuing my dream at last.

Even though I know that it's my own determination and passion that has made this possible, I do have support now, in the form of a very loving boyfriend who volunteered to take on more than his share of the bills in the weeks and months when my freelancing doesn't make enough, partly to get me out of an emotionally abusive job and partly in support of what he knew to be my biggest dream. Although I had already been freelancing on the side for six months, it was his financial and emotional support that helped me to make the jump to full-time freelancer. The lack of direct support I experienced when I was a kid may have had a hand in setting me back a little, but hopefully Michael's love and support will help to make up for it.


Anonymous said...

Concerning wronged chld authors. Concerning being a child author who waas also a victim of abusive school homework, and the consequence of having the writing opportunity criminally destroyed. There is a stolen generation of child authors from the 80s and 90s, and the media has never shown any interest.


Katharine Swan said...

"Abusive school homework" -- are you serious? I'm not saying homework isn't excessive sometimes (there's a lot of busywork teachers assign that I see no point to), but abusive?

Can we say "victim mentality"?!

Comparing your "lost works" to the sacking of the Library of Alexandria is rather silly. I think perhaps you should read my posts about wannabe writers, here and here. You'd fit right in with those folks.

Maurice said...


This page at present is publicly accessible without having to log in to Facebook. It describes abusive homework, in Britain, in 1982. Would you ever tell teachers that working a child to mental breaking point and almost suicide, is not abuse?

The sacking of the Library of Alexandria, at least the point Carl Sagan made about it in Cosmos, was about destruction of rational information available to a society. Loss of a resource. This had nothing to do with assuming that all the lost writing was brilliant. It simply had a right to remain in existence and readers could decide for themselves on its quality.

Do you call all the writers who were suppressed in Eastern Europe under communism, or women who were never published in Victorian times just cos of their gender, "wannabe writers"?

Prejudice against victims, by clinging to straws to prop up a cosy wishful thinking that the victim was somehow unworthy anyway, is as old as history. It has expanded the reach and impact of every atrocity there has ever been.


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