When I was at Emerson College, I took a course called "Writing for Magazines." This was back when magazines had real pages and paid good money for articles. I got an assignment to pitch a story to a national magazine. So, I wrote about the previous summer when working at a country club and having trouble stacking plates, my male 30-something manager asked me, "What are you gonna support those with, your titties?"
I put that story in a manilla envelope, along with a query letter that I'd just learned how to write, took it to the post office, and mailed it off to the editor at SEVENTEEN Magazine. About two months later, I got a letter from the editor. She said she wasn't going to publish that story, but that she liked my writing and to keep querying her with ideas.
I smoothed the creases out of that letter, hung it on the fridge, and looked at it every single day. I pitched that editor story after story until three years later, after I'd graduated and moved all the way across the country, I got a phone call from her saying she wanted to publish my story, "The StepPeople."
I screamed, thank her effusively, got off the phone, and cried.
At the time, SEVENTEEN had a column called Voice, where writers shared personal stories. "The StepPeople" was about what happened when my mom married my stepfather and he and his kids moved in with me, my, mom, and my brother. Here's a quote from the story: "Unsurprisingly the four of us could not agree on any issue. Whether it was a debate over the length of the Vegetarian’s showers after a day of swamp work or someone thinking someone else’s music sucked way too much to be that loud, we were always at war. Our parents must have dreaded the hours we were all at home. It was just minutes before doors would slam and curses resounded over the disappearance of expensive hair products or the heinousness of heavy metal rock." While the story didn't have a totally happy ending, it did have a hopeful ending. Readers wrote letters to the editor saying my story gave them hope that they too might be able to deal with their stepfamilies. That was when I realized how much power stories truly hold.
I formed a relationship with that editor. She would call and say, "Do you have any stories about summer love?" Or "What can you write about going away to college?"
It was a dream job. I shared stories about my experiences and I got paid really well. (My first story, "The StepPeople" paid three months' rent!)
Eventually, my story about my stepfamily became the basis for my novel FINGERPRINTS. My first published novel (there were two before it that might be a floppy disc somewhere), FINGERPRINTS, is based on my experiences with the StepPeople and my first boyfriend who was abusive.
I somehow managed to write FINGERPRINTS with a lot of humor so that the heavy subject matter doesn't make it unbearable. Over the years, I've gotten reviews and messages thanking me for exploring both stepfamilies and dating abuse because it made readers feel "less alone."
There's really no greater gift than that.
1.) Cover of the SEVENTEEN issue in which "The StepPeople" was published.
2.) Shot of the first page of the original article. (Yes, I still have it!)
3.) Photo of the original artwork of the StepPeople I purchased from the artist which hangs on the wall at my mom's house.