By Jordyn McKenzie (Guest Blogger)
“Within these margins I find my serenity – armed with a blank page and a pencil, I am set free.”
I was recently asked, “Why do you write that shit?” Well, because I have to.
No, it’s not my means of income, not by a long shot. It’s far greater than that. It’s the sneeze I can’t stifle, the laughter I can’t contain, the tear that escapes the corner of my eye, no matter how hard I stare toward the ceiling. It’s the story that must be told. I feel the plot bunnies chewing away within the confines of my brain; the whispers, cries, giggles, and screams of characters yet unnamed.
One may think I take myself awfully seriously for someone who’s published only two stories so far, and in a genre that, while gaining acceptance in the mainstream, is still so widely overlooked and dismissed by the more conventional reader and reviewer. To me, this is serious business. This is the culmination of a years-long love affair with reading and writing, and taking it to the next level.
I began reading when I was four. I read my first Stephen King (my favorite author) novel, IT, when I was nine, and was immediately enthralled with his writing style. That marked the end of the Beverly Cleary, Laura Ingalls Wilder years for me. I also attended my first Young Author’s event that year, solidifying for me the notion that I was meant to be a writer.
This is the part where I’d like to clarify that while people can take a class to learn how to paint, mold clay, play piano, sing like Botticelli, or write well, there are people who are blessed to have that talent in them from the day they were born. All that is needed is the proper opportunity or environment to bring it out from within. I won’t say that opportunity is luck or fortune, because we all know that necessarily isn’t the case with an artist. And I sincerely believe that writing is an under-appreciated form of art.
For me, my books were my escape as a child. My home-life wasn’t the greatest – we were poor and rather dysfunctional and, being too level-headed to pack all my belongings and run away from home, I instead escaped to whatever world I could via the books I retrieved on my visits to the library or the bookmobile (God, how I miss those!). I made my way through the list of Stephen King classics, from “IT”, to “Cujo”, “Carrie”, “The Dead Zone”, and “Firestarter”, to “Stand By Me” , “The Tommyknockers”, and “The Stand”. Of course, all of these had fairly popular movies that came of these stories, but those films never compared to books. I also enjoyed his anthologies – the Richard Bachman (his pen name from the earlier years) books, “Skeleton Crew”, “Different Seasons”, and more, which ingrained in me the belief that just because a story is short, doesn’t mean it doesn’t leave its mark on its reader.
In my early pubescence, I began journaling. I wrote out my heart and soul on loose leaf college rule. Oh, I was still writing stories for class during that time. I always received A’s on my English composition reports, but never before had really thought about writing my personal thoughts and feelings. I was the kind of daughter who did as I was told, didn’t talk back, wasn’t allowed to act out in anger, and we didn’t discuss certain subjects, even though for some reason it was perfectly permissible for me to read graphic content such as that written by Stephen King. We moved a lot when I was young; I had few people I could really talk to and tell my deepest darkest secrets. I was bursting with repressed emotions. So I’d write them down. I’d most often tear those pages up and throw them away, or even burn them afterward, because if what I’d written was seen by the wrong people, the consequences would be unpleasant.
As I grew older, my tastes in reading matured. My love for Mr. King continued, of course, but I also began to borrow my mother’s and grandmother’s romance novels. My friends were beginning to be noticed by boys, even getting boyfriends, while I was plain, studious, and wouldn’t have been allowed to have a date at the time even if a boy was interested. I was cautioned, when I began borrowing these books, that if I came across “inappropriate” love scenes, I was to skip over those while reading. Of course, I did no such thing, and it absolutely warped me at such a tender age as to how love and romance should work in real life. Granted, I learned more about my own body’s reactions from those books than anything else, and I guess that in itself was a worthwhile lesson.
Five years and two failed relationships later, I swore off romance novels for good, deciding it was a waste to invest any further time or emotion into those stories. I ran back to the relative safety of the dark and macabre, journaling only when my mind was at its breaking point and I had no choice but to, as I call it, ‘bleed the vein’.
And then along came a ridiculous story about a broody vampire who sparkled and a silly girl who couldn’t help but love him.
I have no idea what it was about that story that drew me in, but it hooked me good and hard. It owned me for about two years, partly due to the rather handsome cast members of the movie franchise, but mostly due to my discovery of the fan fiction phenomenon. Where had this been all my life?! In re-working that tale into a continuation that went into a direction well-beyond what Ms. Meyers ever intended, I became addicted to writing, more so ever than before. Especially since what I was writing was being fairly well received, and the reviews! I didn’t have to wait months to get a review, or go begging for them – with a handy button at the end of each chapter, the reader clicks, type some words, and boom, a review! And not only that, the website would send a notification to my phone with every new review. Instant gratification. I compare it to a runner’s high, that’s the closest explanation I have for it. Unless, of course, it’s not a positive review, and then I’d want to curl up in a corner and seethe for hours, but thankfully in my case, those were few and far between and I have notoriously thick skin.
My first completed story on the fan fiction website was the equivalent of 321 printed pages, and I wrote it in three months. I still consider it one of my proudest achievements, to be honest, because I have yet to write anything else that long, but I’m working on it. However, since it isn’t comprised of characters of my own creation and premise, I yearned to write something that was mine that I could publish and share with a broader audience. I began to work on my own original fiction and it was something akin to giving birth to a child – joy, wonder, and fear, some nausea, and lots of sleepless nights. As luck would have it, one of my short stories met the description given in a call-for-submissions I came across for the “All Together Now” anthology, released last May by Total-e-Bound. “The Dare” was my very first published story.
It’s been a bittersweet experience, because while it’s the realization of a longstanding dream, holding a book in my hand which contains a story I wrote, I’m once again faced with a very familiar, dreaded situation: if the wrong eyes see what I’ve written, the consequences could be unpleasant. I love writing, I love my style of writing, and I think I’m damn good at it. But I have to be careful about it; out of respect for my family and to maintain respect amongst my colleagues in my profession (which actually pays my bills). I certainly won’t be shredding and burning what I write this time, but I hate that grey cloud stigma for pissing on my parade.
I don’t write to get rich. I do hope some success will come my way out of this, but truly, what I’m hoping is to provide someone else their escape. I want to be the one to provide that get-away, make them dive so deeply into a book that time is of no consequence, worries are temporarily forgotten, and, maybe, if they are unhappy in life and love, I can provide them hope that things still have a way of working out in the end. If nothing else, I can give them something to laugh about and leave them a little hot and bothered while I do so.
I’m hoping my next book, due out this November via Total-e-Bound, called “Tongue-Tyed”, is a step in that direction. It’s the tale of Jasmine, a woman who, on the edge of thirty, finds herself with a divorce on her belt, and a free weekend with naught to do but wallow in her shallow self-esteem until answering her best friend, Laurel’s, call. A weekend away at Laurel’s family’s lake house is in order and Jasmine begrudgingly decides to go, nervous about being reunited with Laurel’s younger brother Tyson, on whom she’s harbored an inappropriate crush since his late teens. Inappropriate in her mind, because she’s nearly eight years older than him. What she doesn’t realize is that recent college-graduate Tyson is not only a grown man, but he knows exactly what he wants and he’s been waiting a long time for the opportunity this weekend is providing him.
I’m really excited for everyone to meet these two and the rest of their friends. And there’s so much more I have to bring, to give, knowing that I can’t stop, won’t stop, and I can only circle back to the point wherein I began this blog post.
Why do I write this stuff? Why do I risk personal relationships, and my so-called reputation, for such tales that some in my life would deem tawdry and beneath me? When I write, I’m tapping the vein, bleeding my innermost thoughts, fantasies, and conundrums, real and imagined, onto a Word Doc. It’s cathartic and it’s necessary. Whether silly, sensual, or the most dramatic scene I’ve ever written, that reader has just gotten a glimpse of the inside of my soul. If you know me, there’s no denying you’ll find me within those pages. And if you don’t know me, I trust you’ll feel that you do by the time you’re done.
With heartfelt thanks to Lisabet for the use of her blog,