When I started this blog, I mentioned that I came to romance later than most romance writers. When it comes to writing, I’ve been doing that a lot longer, but I still started later than many. When you read author bios, so many say that they’ve known they wanted to write since they could hold a pencil. No so for me.
I remember walking around with a clipboard and stack of looseleaf when I was ten. I was writing a short story. A really bad short story. And now that I think about it, it wasn’t so short either. It wasn’t until high school that I really fell in love with writing, but I wrote poetry. I gobbled up volumes and loved to toy with language. I could spend a week thinking about the best way to craft one line.
Writing poetry was therapeutic for me. I was always writing something. I was published in our school literary magazine, but it wasn’t until I won a contest that I knew I was good, that I had talent.
I was 16 and I can’t remember if my English teacher mentioned the contest or if I just saw it in the newspaper, but Gwendolyn Brooks, Poet Laureate of Illinois, held an annual contest for kids. I had a week until the deadline and had nothing written. I flipped through my English book during study hall and came across a list of writing prompts. One stood out — Write about one of your earliest childhood memories.
It stuck and a poem was born. I was named a winner for my age group. I got to meet Gwendolyn Brooks, shake her hand, and hear her read “We Real Cool.” I received a $50 money order that I didn’t want to cash because it had her signature. She also gave us each a book. I had to read my poem in front of the group of winners and their families. My anxiety at having to do this prevented me from paying attention to the other winners.
It was an amazing day for me. I continued to write poetry throughout high school and college. Some of it good, some not. But it was having Gwendolyn Brooks choose my poem that made me believe in myself.
Here is that poem, written last minute (as usual) by a 16-year-old Shannyn. I read it now and consider changing it, but I always stop myself.
The Final Good-Bye
Watching from knee-height,
She sees many tears shed.
In the distance, a statue, a religious statue,
Surrounded by flowers.
Do the flowers live forever?
Green grass as far as the eye can see
periodically interrupted by engraved gray
slabs of cement
The sun’s glare on the glistening bronze box
makes her eyes tear, so she turns away.
Men in black suits and white gloves stand silently.
Faces, vaguely familiar, look upon her with pity.
The final “Amen” is said and delicate rose petals
are thrown to the box.
Not quite tall enough—the child is lifted
off the ground by hands unknown to her,
To toss the petals and say good-bye to her father.
When did you know what you wanted to be? What happened to help you believe in yourself?