I probably started writing at around the age of 12 or 13. I vaguely remember writing about a girl named Tony, which I thought was really clever. A girl with a boy’s name. Oddly enough, as I write this, I just realized that there is a woman named Tony in my novel Life is But a Dream: On the Lake (Grace Adams Series). Until this moment, I never connected that Tony with the other Tony. But, I digress…
I started writing at about the age of 12 or 13. I think I had just recently read My Friend Flicka and was caught up the writing of that novel – how Mary O’Hara had described the beautiful and rugged Wyoming landscape, how she had written about the characters in such a way that I felt that I knew them. I was so enraptured by that book that for many years I harbored the notion that someday I would build a small model of the ranch home so that I could “see” it for myself. What can I say – I was a weird kid.
Somewhere along the line I then came across Harriet the Spy by Louise Fletcher and fell in love with that book too. I loved the idea of writing everything down. Harriet wandered throughout the halls of her school and through her neighborhood and wrote down every detail about everyone. I started doing the same in a cheap spiral notebook. Before long I had a lot of notes, some of them very mean spirited – about a certain girl’s weight or another girl’s terrible acne problem. Then I made a mistake. I shared one of my entries with another girl from school. She then promptly told everyone about my “book”. It wasn’t long before the mother of one of those girls was calling our house to speak to my mother. I listened as my mother assured her that she would check into this so called book.
When she questioned me, I retrieved the book and gave it to her. I told her about Harriet the Spy and how she had inspired me to write my own book of observations. She went through the notebook, and began to tear out any of the pages that had any unkind references to anyone. One by one, she tore them out, even being sure to tear out the tiny pieces that sometimes get left behind in the wire spiral. The next thing I remember was that she was showing my book to this mother. Telling her that I had never written anything unkind about her daughter, or anyone else for that matter. The pages that were left were the harmless ramblings of a preteen girl. Probably lots of stuff about Donny Osmond and what I might be wearing to school the next day. I sat silently and watched my mother lie about my writing. A victim of censorship.
Even at that young age, I knew this was wrong. My imaginary mother would have defended my right to write anything I wanted in that notebook. She would not have even asked to see it. She would have told that woman, “My daughter is a writer and she can write anything she wants to.” She would have bought me a new notebook. Perhaps advising me to keep my writing to myself and explaining that the reading public can be fickle and cruel. And maybe even buying me another Louise Fletcher novel for further inspiration. Instead, she threw my pages in the trash and told me, “Stop writing in that notebook.”
I did stop writing in that notebook.
I bought another notebook the next day.
Cheryl Shireman is the bestselling author of several novels, including Broken Resolutions, the Life is But a Dream series, and the Cooper Moon series. She is also the author of ten books for toddlers including the eight Let’s Learn About series focusing on different animals and I Love You When: For Girls and I Love You When: For Boys.