Why I Write…
March 12, 2013
My grandpa died when I was 3 and my grandma when I was 5. I was too young to understand the loss I was feeling, too young to cope. For the next ten years, I was plagued by recurring nightmares. They kept dying on me, in my dreams, and I was forced to go through the loss all over again. I’d wake up crying and heartbroken.
The summer between my freshman and sophomore years in high school, I had the nightmare for the last time. I wrote a short scene between a character and her grandfather. They said goodbye for the last time, not knowing they wouldn’t see each other again. That short scene made the nightmare go away. It also inspired me to start what would be the first draft of Gagen’s Place, which was titled Memories or Memories and Dreams at the time. I finished the first completed draft during my senior year at Nerinx Hall High School.
By the time I started college, I had also written about half a dozen short stories and started my first screenplay. I still struggled with what I wanted to do with my life in college. I started a second novel, completed two screenplays, and wrote a pilot episode. But due to a series of “bad decisions,” I doubted myself and my future as a writer.
The truth is that if I’d made “better” decisions, I’d probably be a paid writer by now, as a published novelist and/or a screenwriter. But I wouldn’t be the writer I am today. If I had been published earlier, as a romance novelist, would I be writing Mad Dog Chronicles now? Probably not. My struggles and frustrations have shaped my current characters, making them far more interesting than my early characters.
When I completed the final draft of Gagen’s Place, nine years after that last nightmare, Juliane Winthrop was the main character and that famous scene that kickstarted me as a writer was long gone. Juliane was a Gagen grandchild, with 16 cousins, and she lost her grandparents when she was very young.
My main characters are always at least partly based on me. They allow me to cope with loss, rewrite history, and “deal with people who piss me off.” I am the writer I am today because of all the (good & bad) decisions I’ve made, and the loss I suffered at a young age.
My grandpa would have been 104 today, if he was still with us. I write because he loved me so much in those 3 years. His memory has haunted and inspired me since then. I’ve been told he used to read to me all the time. Unfortunately, I don’t really remember much. He died 2 months shy of my 4th birthday.
I’ve often said I’d give up this “gift” I have if I could have had more time with him. The reality is that if I had that time, I probably would have never known I had the gift. I wonder if he had any idea who I’d become.
The truth is that I write because of heartbreak. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him. Happy Birthday Grandpa. I am the writer I am today because you loved me.