Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Writer's Trio: Reading, Stories, Writing

There are many facets to being a writer.  A love of words and story is the foundation, at least for me.  That began early in life as I was read to, listened to stories, and soon began trying to make-up my own.  I really can't remember a time when I did not imagine stories of my own and by the age of nine, I tried to write them.

Even my childhood games were creative.  Along with the traditional games like "playing house", I dreamed up scenarios and games that I forced my  brother and cousins to play that included "wedding" where I "married" my cousin each weekend in a shotgun mock wedding that probably still gives him shudders to this day, "Olden Days" which was like playing house but in an earlier historical content, "Western Days" which was the game of house transported to wagon trains and Western locales, the "Story of a Slave girl" that involved a lot of dancing for my "master" and other variations that included me in roles as a princess, an explorer, and even a ballerina.

I always listened to the old stories told by family members over four generations.   At a large family reunion gathering in Kansas City, I was the child who sat at the feet of my great, great uncle Paul as he told me tales of our family's past.   I listened to my Granny's stories until they became almost my own.
I could never get enough information about my great-grandfather Reinhard Sontheimer, locally known in my home city as "The Jew".  Although he was a stone mason by trade, he was indeed a Jew from distant Germany who left with his younger brother in some 19th century pogrom so that he would not die or so he told his grandchildren.   He often sold whatever he could. When I was about twelve,  one of my uncles summoned me into his bedroom - he was an invalid by that time and bed bound - to tell me about how after World War II, Reinhard searched for word of his family back in Germany.  My uncle cut to the basic facts when he explained that "all they could find were dead Jews".  I would later learn that my relatives died at Theriendstadt, one of the concentration camps Hitler created for the express purpose of ridding him of his Jewish "problem".

I heard tales of how my Granny's grandfather left Ireland in the great Famine and how, to the end of his life as a Missouri farmer, he would say "if prices get too high we can all eat grass", a reference to the Famine and the corpses with green-stained lips who ate the grass too late.   He and his father, the sole survivors of their family, didn't wait too long.

I listened to stories how some of my ancestors were headed west on a wagon train bound for California when they stopped in St. Joseph, Missouri so that one of the matriarchs could give birth to my great-great grandfather and she insisted that they stay.

Or my Granny's father, Benjamin Hayward, of Eckington in Derbyshire in merry old England who was pressed into the British Navy, served all over the globe before he jumped ship in Canada to come to his brothers who had emigrated and become railroaders.

My family tree and heritage are a patchwork quilt with many colorful characters and I could write a book about them all.   Suffice to say that I was captivated by the stories, all of them.

I devoured books and still do as time permits.

And then I began to write in my teens, write things that gained attention and praise from a handful of my teachers from 7th grade through college.   After that I went to work in broadcasting for almost a decade, doing freelance writing on the side, something that my bosses never were very fond of me doing but I did.

Reading, writing, stories, are all facets of being a writer.   Now that I have begun to sell a few novels to add to the list of short fiction, articles, essays, a few poems, and more that I've added to my writer's resume over the years, this trio is more important than ever.

I've had to learn to temper all of the above with promotion, often shameless and blatant but I have a knaack for sales (when I worked in radio, I often sold more advertising (which wasn't my job) sometimes without ever leaving the station than my sales staff co-workers) that may connect to Reinhard.  In his old age, living with his daughter, my great-aunt Bess then married to the father of the Kansas City mayor, he had a pushcart that he took out each day, selling things on the street.  When motoring with her high society friends one day, the ladies took pity on the poor old man selling his wares and Aunt Bess took out her wrath on her father.

I am what I am because of all I absorbed as a child, my life experiences and the foundation of reading, writing, and stories.

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