"Fatso!" "Heifer," and "Lard *ss," were names that followed me through school hallways, the playground and even the classroom growing up.
"Why are you so fat?" a girl asked me one day on the playground. I mumbled something about being big boned and got out of there fast, cheeks stained red, our game forgotten.
Growing up as "the fat kid," was a fate I wouldn't wish on anyone. My heart was broken over and over again when others--especially friends and once even a teacher--commented negatively on my weight.
It did, however, give me two gifts that I'm still grateful for.
The gifts that being "the fat kid" gave me
Firstly, it allowed me to feel complete empathy for others who were left out, picked on, or made fun of. Even after I went through my "transformation," in junior high and lost 60 pounds in about a year, I have never, ever lost that righteous anger I feel for the underdog.
Secondly, it brought me my true passions: reading great books and writing stories. When I read a book, I was no longer the fat kid. I was the hero. I was sometimes beautiful, always strong, and often funny. By putting myself in the place of protagonist, I worked through challenges and hardships. This helped me see some of my own problems in new ways. Or at the very least, helped me to see that other people had it as bad, if not worse, than I did. Their stories provided me with a sense of solidarity.
Stories were important to me. They offered me an escape as well as adventure, love, freedom, hope and power. They're still important to me for these reasons today. I'm guessing that's why they are important for most of us.
I've been writing for as long as I can remember. In my books there is often a theme of social justice or of the empowerment/growth of a particular character. I don't do this purposely. It comes from the way that I've always lived my life.
If I had it to do all over again, would I choose to grow up as the fat kid? If I said "no," then I wouldn't be the person I am today. And we don't get a chance to go back.
So, I'm taking the lessons that I've learned and using them to make my life richer. And I hope that along the way I've encouraged other misfits like me in ways that are real and meaningful to them.
If you aren't a newsletter subscriber, you may have missed today's big announcement: the winners of the (2) Amazon gift cards. Angela L., and Melissa B., were chosen at random from everyone who entered the "Sharing the LOVE" contest. Congrats, ladies! I'll get your gift cards out to you soon.
My Dream of Being an Author
"Did you always want to be an author?" People have asked me that question in recent years. The honest answer? No. But maybe not for the reasons you'd expect.
I dug out my "School Years" book today to see what I had aspired to be as an elementary student. You know, those funny little spiral-bound books where you glue a picture of yourself, along with the most important facts about yourself. Like, "best friends," and "hobbies," and of course the section for "what I want to be when I grow up."
While my book is somewhat ruined due to water damage, I could see a trend in my goals: a mother and a teacher (like my own mother). By about the sixth grade, I'd apparently lost interest in being a mother, and just wanted be a teacher. By high school I'd sworn off both. I was going to be a photojournalist for National Geographic who never married or had children...or a veterinarian.
As a kid though, no one ever suggested to me that I could be an author. In fact, the little boxes in the School Years book don't list that as a potential career. But I could have aspired to be a model, I guess, or an airline hostess (except I've never been thin or tall enough for either of those careers). Those options do have little boxes beside them.
Even though I've adored writing my whole life--starting with the stories I wrote in childhood, the "magazine" my friend and I created monthly, the embarrassing poetry I wrote in middle and high school and the constant, incessant journaling I've done since I can remember--no one ever said, "Hmm. Do you think you might like to write as your career?"
In fact, I never thought of writing as a way to make a living until 2007, when my oldest sister (who obviously knew something that the editors at "School Years" didn't), asked me why I didn't try freelance writing. Not as a hobby, but a job.
So, I did.
I had a writing business for nearly eight years and wrote hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, blog posts, website content for businesses and nonprofits, newsletters, four novels, and one non-fiction guide for writers.
I fell in love with writing novels
I'd love to tell you that once I wrote that first novel my path was set, the floodgates opened and the money and fame poured in. But that would be as fictionalized as my books.
In reality, it's been a long, slow, uphill climb. I nearly gave up completely due to a new, full-time job and the criticism of my books.
Thin skin + author = unhappy person.
Still, I've never given up on my dream. Someday, maybe five years from now or 10 or maybe 20, I want to make a living from my books. I can't imagine a better job than creating stories that transport readers. To bring readers to different times and places, and offer an adventure that they can take with them wherever they go? That's the best job in the world in my book.
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