It’s always interesting to me how many of we writers started in our teens. Missye K. Clarke is yet another one. Here’s how it happened.
My writing life began with my coming into the world a true smartass. That happens when you’re born and raised in old-school New York City. Flushing, Queens to be precise. Strong assessment? Sure. But it got your attention. And, hey, old-school Big Apple residents often use strong anything.
But first, a bit of backstory.
I remember, for as long as could remember—with family stories backing said recollections—I started writing when I was four, that word “Freedom” in a fat green crayon on orange construction paper. Between that moment and when my being that smartass got me suspended for a month from riding the bus one way and in school, I hated writing.
Okay . . . hate’s too strong a word, as my late Granny would say. More like detested and dreaded writing. Book reports, that is (Aha! I see heads nodding in agreement and hands shooting up in solidarity with me!). Don’t get me wrong—reading was my strongest suit, my vocabulary reflecting as such in those school percentile tests and when I read the Macmillan Children’s Dictionary during weekends at my Granny’s whenever I got in trouble or told her I was bored. I loved getting lost in stories of boys watching an independent mouse work his toy motorcycle, or a little shy black cat with a red scarf discovering she had a skating talent to be part of her neighborhood cat club—or a sweet little girl channeling a jealous dead girl similar in age because the girl’s ghost was restless, the connection, a glass globe on a stone pedestal. What I didn’t like was summarizing these stories in writing, jotting my thoughts of said stories in these essays.
It wasn’t so much the writing that bothered me; if that were the case, I’d hate drafting sentences to use my newly-learned vocabulary words in. It was the drafting book reports of someone else’s imagination that, as a teacher discovered, was what I argued hard what the point was to prove I’d read the book. She tried an experiment when I didn’t turn in said detestable assignment: she let me orally summarize the story I’d read, since I was more expressive in this vein than most. And in other aspects, I couldn’t shut up.
The first oral report worked. A dozen others followed. She graded me in her marking book, happy for one less thing to read from a class of twenty-something students, sending my book report writing days to the cartoon graveyard at the ripe old age of eleven.
“And this all has to do you’re being a smart-aleck lead to writing, how, exactly Missye?”
Patience, Grasshopper (**she says sarcastically through a wry smirk**). Every good storyteller has a decent setup before the payoff.
Fast forward five years. I’m sixteen, well ensconced in northern Arizona—another blog post for another day, perhaps—and my younger sister and I are on the bus on a typical school day, which quickly went atypical.
The driver, an angry lumberjack bull lesbian female (which she honestly was, but insensitive to say nowadays), was either tired of trying to antagonize me or fed up with not breaking me with her instigation, began to pick on my sister. Sister started crying, the other kids were laughing at her for the rain, and I got super-pissed from this (only I’m supposed to pick on her, nobody else is! I’m kidding, but you know what I mean). So while “Marie” was still driving, I popped such a hot remark to and about her of her girlfriend dumping her, I think I saw cartoony sparks fly from me that could’ve set her plaid shirt on fire.
“Marie” slammed the brakes, radioed dispatch she’s not moving that bus one more inch until this kid—me—is off her bus IMMEDIATELY! In crocodile tears, too, I’ll add, but hey, I was in the wrong for wising off to somebody in authority. But she’d antagonized me one time too many—and as an afterthought too late to head off, that was her way to antagonize me. Adding insult to injury: not even my sister came to my defense in my defending her. Such was the hell of high school life.
Ironically, my sister got to stay on the bus, but while one of my parents drove me into school that morning, the kids whooped and hollered over so what I’d said, it hit the gossip mill all day plus two more. I was an anti-celebrity of sorts—then tagged a smartass and since—until one of my favorite people in authority—Assistant Principal James MacLarney–really lowered the boom. The impact his truthful statements made while he yelled at me in the first place, and his intoned, truly-giving-a-damn words broke me. I always hated on myself when people I liked and respected a whole lot did that, and I sure did then.
Sigh. I faced a choice: in-house suspension of one of my favorite music classes for a month, since my parents had to work when school let out and they weren’t making an extra stop for my butt to get home—morning bus privileges and weekend babysitting privileges concurrently suspended, too—or hard labor for three hours a day after school for a month on someone’s nearby horse and cattle farm.
I opted for the in-house.
Homework completed the nights before, all the books I had were saved for home, forty-five minutes of the first two days dragged—until I began writing longhand on day three. Something clicked. Now again, don’t get me wrong, I liked writing—loved it, actually. Just not summarizing somebody else’s imaginative results; if that wanted to know about it, as I often wrote at the end of those silly reports, READ THE BOOK! And I wrote two pieces, two long-shorts when I was fourteen and fifteen based on writing prompts from an English teacher at the time (I was the lone one in class taking all three prompts, since they individually weren’t calling out to me).
But the study hall time opened my untapped strange new world in a wardrobe. First person, Le Pen in left hand to spiral-bound notebook, my MC was a guy named Alex “Ponyboy” McCormick, blond, grey-eyed, my age, and he and five other buddies—three dudes, two females, one of which he was interested in, but she was one of his wingdude’s boo—found themselves in a Josie & The Pussycats In Outer Space-type situation in then the Space Shuttle Challenger. Admittedly, I borrowed heavily from everything I’d read, absorbed from Saturday morning cartoons, dreams, and made this rough start of a novel into the gumbo of my imagination. But it was those “But what happens next, Missye?” moments every day and every night that pushed me to keep writing. It made the forty-five prison minutes of daily in-house speed by, my grades improved . . . and I kept writing over the weekends to divert my mind from losing out on extra babysitting cash (my parents relented occasionally when the family needing a sitter didn’t want my sister minding their kids due to her being twelve to my sixteen. She howled a pluperfect fit, but couldn’t do much more past that.).
Find the magic, however you can, if it’s gone wayward or long asleep. It’s inside you, but will surface with the right scent, or touched by the perfect angle of sunlight, or maybe free-writing by full moonlight or firelight to gently coax Mr. Sandman from its eyes. Or, as was my case writing during that in-house of hell, I did to stave off sheer boredom; they wouldn’t let us even sleep then, can you imagine? But even through all this, my mind, imagination, curiosity—alongside Alex, Zak, Little Joe, Allyson, Kris, and Mickey at the time–never quit asking what comes next. Even my present Casebook and Threesome of Magic mysteries, the same “what comes next” drumbeats come from Casper, Logan, Alex, Missye Maroon, and Jay Vincent today. And I don’t believe I, or they, ever will stop asking. They know where the magic truly lies. They and I all know even the snarky smart-alecks have that glow of story-magic, too.
Time to dust a new trail of imagination fairy dust and plumb more magical lands of possibilities.
Did I ever give “Marie” an apology? Sort of. I was wrong for wising off, I told her—and dropped it. Once school authorities realized the technicality I exploited—I never said I’m sorry for what I’d said, because I genuinely wasn’t—there was little they could do to remedy it.
Happy writing, everybody. 🙂
Missye K. Clarke’s novel JERSEY DOGS, the first of the McGuinness/Pedregon Casebooks, is set for release this spring in e-book and print editions.