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November 5, 2010

Lisa Klein: 10 Events That Helped Make Me a Writer

Posted by jordana
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Ten events that helped make me a writer (though I didn’t know it at the time): 

1.       Learning to read.  It happened before I went to kindergarten.  My mom swears she didn’t teach me, that I just picked up a book and started reading it.  As a little kid I never went anywhere without a book, and I still don’t.

2.      Getting hit in the head with a baseball bat.  I was maybe 8 and my brother was 9.  Rather than punishing my brother, my parents forbade ME to play baseball with the boys.  My first realization that life was unfair for girls.  The list only got longer as I got older.  So now I write about young women overcoming  constraints imposed on them.

3.      Spelling bees. When I was twelve I placed fifteenth in the National Spelling Bee.  I was a word geek.  I loved looking up words in the dictionary, saying them, and learning where they came from.  I still do!  My favorite book(s) is the Oxford English Dictionary.  (The word I missed was “syncretism.”  Go look it up!)

4.      Finding a stray dog with its head stuck in a large mayonnaise jar.  The dog did not survive.  It affected me so strongly I wrote a story about it in high school.  It’s now lost, but critics might describe it as “raw, immediate, and heartfelt.”    My first encounter with tragedy.CateOfTheLostColonyCMYK.jpg20101105210815.jpg

5.      A history class in college.  I took this class just for the professor, a wild man who got so excited by the middle ages that he paced the room as he lectured until his hair was disarranged and spittle flew from his mouth.  Wow, I thought.  I moved out of the front row, but I started to pay attention.  Now I am obsessed with history, too, but I try not to spit when I talk about it.

6.      Teaching .  Had I not taught so much Shakespeare, I never would have written Ophelia or Lady Macbeth’s Daughter.  I hated grading papers, though. 

7.      Losing my teaching job.  It made me realize I really preferred learning to teaching.  Now instead of writing critical theory about Renaissance poetry, I could study whatever excited me and then write about it.  Liberation!

8.      Having children.  I started reading picture books.  Then I rediscovered stories.  As my boys grew, so did I.  I started reading YA fiction and wondered why no one was writing this stuff while I was growing up.  I had gone directly from Beezus and Ramona to Pride and Prejudice.

9.      Breaking my leg.  A week after the surgery, I was pumped full of pain killers and not thinking clearly when I agreed to write a history of my church congregation.   It became a four-year labor of love that made me realize I loved telling stories about people.  OK, I know you’d rather hear about how I broke my leg—I did it trying to learn a backward turn on ice skates.  My skate blades tangled and the rest is too painful to recount.