When I was in sixth grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Beal, gave our class an assignment to write and illustrate a short story. I enjoyed stories quite a bit, and enjoyed creating them even more, so I dug right in.
I imagined a fantastical tale of Dr. Drake, the dastardly (female!) space villain who was forever eluding the hero, Dexter. In my mind I could see grand adventures, intrigues, cliffhangers, romance, and epic set pieces. I composed heart-wrenching, poetic lines of dialogue and evocative description in my head. It would be the Great American Space Opera, if only I could get it down in my Lisa Frank notebook.
In the end, the short story I turned in was about four pages long, largely filled with exposition about what it’s like up in space. I spent hours agonizing over an illustration of someone kicking a soccer ball (have you ever tried to draw a soccer ball?). On the last page and a half I threw in the scene where Dexter finally catches up to Dr. Drake—and learns that she’s a woman—in a harrowing climax. A few poetic lines, and violá! a true masterpiece.
To make it seem even more impressive, I added a subtitle: An excerpt from The Many Adventures of Dexter. I was proud of knowing and correctly using the word “excerpt” and doubly proud that my teacher would think I was so clever to have written a whole novel. Surely she would assume that the rest of my alleged book was just as compelling, just as brilliant, as this teaser I had casually pulled out.
Whether out of pity or irony (remembering her crusty sarcasm, I would guess irony) she gave me an A and added a note: “I expect you to win the Pulitzer someday.” I was a little pleased, but mostly confused. Puli-what? What was that? Who cared? What did she think of that brilliant line I had carefully crafted, when Dr. Drake realized escape was futile?
While I didn’t understand or fully appreciate her (possibly sarcastic) praise, it did give me confidence that perhaps I had some writing chops. Over the next many years of school, I fell hard for English and literature. It was intoxicating to realize the power of words, in just the right setting and just the right combination. I gasped in delight at the words of others. I yearned to make others gasp the same way.
These days I’m not aiming for the Pulitzer, but I would love the chance to get a book (or forty) published.
Mrs. Beal, be sure to look for your name in the acknowledgements.