Whenever I speak about going after your dreams I make people close their eyes and remember what it was like to be a little kid and answer the question, "What do I want to be when I grow up?" I love this story by Sharon Short about how she took her childhood dreams and made them reality.
My little-girl dream was the same as my grown-woman dream now: create stories that move readers, that make them laugh, and cry, and want to read more.
Of course, I didn’t articulate it that way when I was six. All I really knew then was that I loved to read. Reading a story, even a simple picture-book, was akin to falling down the rabbit hole, into another world, escaping away from the chaos of my family’s home life and into some other wondrous world. Reading seemed like a natural extension of the stories I made up in my head, and very quickly, writing stories seemed a natural extension of reading.
My first book was called The Fireman, and it was about, well, a fireman, saving a girl’s kitten from… a fire. (Hey, I was six.) I wrote and illustrated the book on school wide-rule paper, bound it with red construction paper and staples, gave it a price of 1 cent (dutifully written in the upper right corner of the cover), and proclaimed it, on the inside front cover, as having been published by Little Golden Books since all my books, in fact, were. I then promptly sold out the entire print run (of one) to my aunt, who proclaimed it wonderful. Not bad for a first book—sold out, and to a rave review!
Frankly, though, I forgot about that until after my first grown up book was published, a mystery novel called Angel’s Bidding in 1993. (That one was not such an easy sell.) By then, my aunt had died, and my uncle remarried. His new wife found The Fireman mixed in a box of cards my aunt had kept, and she returned the little book to me. I was, of course, touched by my aunt having kept my little book all those years, and also surprised, bemused and enchanted by it. Seeing it, holding it, brought back the memories of ‘publishing’ it and ‘selling’ it, and reaffirmed how much my dream of creating stories meant to me.
Since 1993, I’ve had eight other mysteries published (in two series); after the last series wrapped up, I was in search of another project. Nothing seemed to feel quite right, until along came the idea for My One Square Inch of Alaska.
I attended a book club gathering several years ago, and during the chit-chat before the book discussion, one of the women asked if anyone remembered the deeds to one square inch of Alaska that used to come in cereal boxes in the 1950s. (The question wasn’t related to the book we were discussing.)
The 1950s were before I was born, but my imagination was immediately taken with this compelling concept… the desire for a deed to one tiny bit of land in a vast frontier, and what that could symbolize. As I worked on the novel that grew from this concept, I realized (several drafts later, mind you) that my novel was really about the power of dreams: why we need them—real ones, that is, ones from our innermost selves and hearts; why it’s important to embrace and pursue them; why it’s just as important to encourage others along the way; and even the consequences of denying them, or pursuing dreams that are really illusions (for example, status for its own sake, or a lover who we see as a ‘type’ rather than as a real person.)
I think, in many ways, this was the novel I needed to write because it was the story I needed to hear. Sure, I’d published novels before this one, fulfilling my little-girl desire to tell stories, but I think I needed to remind myself, through telling this story, how important this dream still is to me: creating stories that move readers, that make them laugh, and cry, and want to read more.
It may sound funny, but with this novel, I feel more committed than ever to my writing dream. But what’s fun is that writing it, and hearing from readers now that it’s out in the world, has awakened me to other dreams I’d like to pursue with baby steps.
For example, I love to hike on nature trails. Now, most people who know me would chuckle at that, and for good reason. I’m rarely to be found on nature trails. I always seem to be busy with work or a social obligation; I tell myself that I’m not fit/athletic enough to really spend time walking/hiking nature trails on a regular basis. I seem to keep finding reasons to deny myself this pleasure.
But… when I do spend time walking nature trails, I find such peace and joy in it. It’s starting to feel more than just a little silly to keep putting off this simple dream… walking/hiking nature trails on a regular basis. And then, maybe, someday taking an extended multi-day hike on the rails-to-trails paths we have in abundance here in my home state of Ohio, or even on a portion of the Appalachian trail.
And I’m slowly, intermittently, starting to give myself permission and time to actually use them!
It may be awhile before I’m a regular hiker or ready to start training to hike for a few days, but that’s OK. Dreams—writing and otherwise—as I seemed to intuitively know as a little girl (as perhaps all children know) begin coming true with the courage of a few, first small steps.
For more information on Sharon and her novel visit her website SharonShort.com