Before I moved to Baltimore in June 2014, I had already begun Grimm and White. The idea was in my head and I was determined to finish. As most of you know I teach in the city of Baltimore. I love my students, but it is very challenging. Every day is an adventure with them that I would gladly take, but writing your first novel and being a new teacher is definitely a stressful, if not an insane task to undertake. In about October of 2014 I started grading and lesson planning until 10 pm and then I would write until midnight, or read, depending. That was my ritual for a while. Then I would get up 6 am and do it all over again. In November 2014 I participated in NANOWRIMO and finished the first complete draft of my novel. Throughout these first months in Baltimore, my relationship was deteriorating and I called my engagement off. In the end this was a blessing for the both of us. Love is more obvious then we all make it, but as Allie says, “If you lived in a world that rained all the time, would you believe in the sun?”
I remember one day in particular where I thought I was going to give up. One of my students had been being bullied. It was April Fools Day. I remember because he came up to me and said, “Can we pull a joke on the class later, Ms. Hansen?” In a rush I said, “Maybe another time, Q.” Didn’t he know that I only JUST had a handle on the class? My classroom management didn’t include April Fools jokes. So later in seventh period when he decided to walk up to a student and confront him, I thought he was joking. Then a fist flew and before I knew it a desk was being catapulted across my room. Kids were screaming and I … there I was feeling very very helpless. He told me later that the kid had taunted him in the last class. I wanted to cry for him when he started listing all the awful things he had been saying for weeks and weeks. What are you going to do Q? You’re just a B! You’re nothing. I mostly remember this fight in particular, because my student had been bullied to a point that he felt like he had to take actions into his own hands. Where was I? Where was the school? Why were we letting him down? I started feeling guilty because maybe the hour or so I took a day writing, I should have been using on my students. I went home that night and ran a six and a half minute mile. I need to tell you that I usually run a twelve minute mile. My frustration could have filled the world.
Sherman Alexie writes in his essay, Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood, “As a child, I read because books—violent and not, blasphemous and not, terrifying and not—were the most loving and trustworthy things in my life … I read books about monsters and monstrous things, often written with monstrous language, because they taught me how to battle the real monsters in my life.”
I have a student that has had both of her parents go to prison DURING the first semester of her high school experience. I have a student whose father doesn’t accept her because she is gay. I have students who go home hungry and their parents beg the school for supplies. I had a student whose father was shot seven times the day before he started summer school. I have students battling wars that I could never understand, but I want to so badly. Deeply and truly, I want to be able to take them in my hands and say, “It will be okay.”
I was a kid who never quite fit in. I was the girl who danced in the backyard with my dog and read Emily Dickinson poetry to my class. I was the girl who got bricks thrown into my yard because someone out there thought that I was too different. However, I never felt alone. I had my books.
This is why, that night, after my run. I picked up a pen. I wrote. I continue to write when things are hard, because words are a medicine for millions of people. When the cruelty of illness, abuse, and life gets to be too much, books will be there to sew the wounds of the heart. I believe that with everything I have.
I was more determined to finish Grimm and White than ever.
Even when in the summer I was working 70 + hours at two jobs, waitressing and teaching title one intervention, just to survive. At the same time I was navigating the world of being single and online dating. I was dealing with someone hacking into all of my private information and stalking people I was seeing. Yet, every night I would go home and I would sit down. I would put my life aside and fall into the world of my novel. I would let the worry I felt for my students and the anxiety I felt at my crazy predicaments go and I would type. Somewhere along the way I walked into a bar and fell in love for the first time. After that, there were lines in the novel that just came easier. I didn’t have to imagine the love that Allie felt for Kallin anymore because I finally felt it. That’s a story for another time.
In October, I began finalizing my document for publication, FINALLY. Can I tell you? Self-Publishing is not easy. Formatting, covers, publicity. IT is a lot! However my friend and editor gave me insights into how amazing the world of Self-Publishing is. I made the choice to go down that path because I didn’t want to send the project I had worked on for years into the void and not know if anything would come from it.
The past month has been especially hard. Uploading to Amazon was a big mess for me. I honestly thought I was going crazy at one point because I had stayed up for so many hours. Then, I did a very stupid thing. I uploaded the wrong draft to Amazon. By the time you are finished with a novel you have hundreds of drafts. I probably have two hundred. One of those documents was similarly titled to my final draft. I uploaded the wrong one and on top of that I didn’t format it correctly. I have never been so upset about something in my life. I called Amazon, but they lock you out of your account three days before. What was I going to do?
With the help of my friends, editor, and so many people: I have finally fixed my mistakes. Grimm and White is now live and ready to buy. The pre-orders will get the wrong copy, but Amazon will eventually push them the right draft. The right copy is already on the KINDLE store.
I have stopped beating myself up for my mistakes, because I never once gave up. I am a teacher, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and so many things. However, my favorite title that I have is Author. My book could be the worst book in the world and I would still be proud of myself, because I have showed my students that you are in control of your dreams.
Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down. –Ray Bradbury
So go… Jump. Tomorrow will kill us all if we let it. Start building your wings today.