Over on Facebook, fellow writer James Newman (if you're not reading his stuff, you need to correct that. Check out his works on Amazon!) shared his super-writer origin story today of how a teacher helped to encourage his endeavors in fiction back in the fifth grade. He didn't realize it at the time, but it just so happened that he was sharing this story on World Teachers' Day.
Like James, I owe an awful lot of who I am to two teachers. First off was my mother, who was a teacher in a neighboring school district. She did a lot for me, like working, alongside my telephone repairman father, to put food on our table, clothes on my back, and to keep a roof over all our heads. The other teacher, the one that I think I can pretty well trace my authorial roots back to, is Mrs. Lisa Hunt of Allen Park High School, circa 1997.
I was in my senior year of high school and looking to load up on a bunch of soft-serve courses before graduation and college. I did a year-long senior TA with Mrs. Murtha, who taught literature and let me spend much of the hour reading the authors that would help shape me as a writer in my own right. I took Creative Writing on a lark, expecting it to be a bit of a blow-off course. What I found instead was a passion for not just writing, but for storytelling. So much of my prior writing involved stretching out critical essays to hit arbitrary page length requirements, and although by 1997 I was a full-fledged Stephen King addict and plowed through his and Tom Clancy's tomes in a handful of days apiece, I hadn't given much thought to being an author. A lot of my public education had hammered it into me that writing was supposed to be structured and boring with its five paragraph acts and thesis statement right in the opener. If not for King and Clancy, my two big favorites then, school might very well have killed my passion for reading as well.
Lisa Hunt did a hell of a lot to save me as a writer and to help me find the joy in creating a story, building characters, developing story arcs, and crafting dialogue. Once I began writing creatively and started finding my groove, I realized exactly what I was meant to do with my life. I had found my purpose and discovered a need within me that I hadn't quite realized was there until that senior year.
Even if those early attempts at writing were half-baked and, let's just say, not very good, they were also cathartic for this formerly overweight and bullied high school senior. Stephen King gave me books I could escape into, but Mrs. Hunt showed me that I could build entire worlds to live in. She was always quick with encouragement, highlighting passages in my stories to let me know what worked and what didn't. I remember writing a series of short detective stories, and when she realized I was building a larger narrative and bringing in characters from the previous story, writing a great big red YAY! across the top above the circled name of my lead character. She always read my shit, even when I was turning in 80-page stories for assignments calling only for three to five pages. She never asked me to trim my work, or to write to spec. She never demanded that I be anything less than creative. She only asked me to be me, and only asked me to write. She let me know it was safe to follow the narrative wherever it led. And so follow it I did, sometimes through the darkness, and other times into the light. Mrs. Hunt read it all. She was my first Constant Reader, in King parlance, and no matter how strange things got, she stuck with me and kept on reading. So I kept on writing.
I've been writing in some form or capacity for twenty years now because Lisa Hunt helped me find that spark within me and set it ablaze. I wrote and trunked four or five full-length novels and dozens of short stories, and then spent several years as a freelance journalist and photographer for local news orgs and magazines before writing my first published novel, Convergence, and making a minor splash as a finalist and Publisher's Weekly reviewed author in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards back in 2013. I've been writing and publishing since, putting words on the page on an almost daily basis for the better part of five years now. I honestly don't think I would have gotten this far if not for Mrs. Hunt. She did for me what all great teachers do for so many others - she helped me find my path, and I haven't looked back since.
Thank you, Lisa.