Confessions of a Part-time Reader by Sue Fliess
I have a confession—or five—to make. I do not have an MFA in writing. I am not going to get an MFA in writing. I did not major in English. I thought about it and majored in art instead. Then changed it to a minor and majored in marketing. I don’t have a degree in education and was never a teacher. I have not read all the classics. And some of the ones I did read might possibly have been the Cliff’s Notes version. (remember those…pre-Internet?) I am not the author who grew up toting a book with her 24-7 or one who claims to have ‘lived’ in the library.
But even still, I became a reader. My parents were always reading something. I remember the powerful moment when my dad was reading The Shining. He kept stopping and closing it, so I asked him why. He said, “Because it’s just. So. Scary.” That intrigued me to no end. I discovered Judy Blume who forever changed me with Deenie and Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret. One summer I walked to the used bookstore and filled my bag with Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, and Hemingway. But while I enjoyed reading, I also liked to draw. And sing. And write dreadful poems about how my world was crumbling because the boy I wanted to marry didn’t notice me at the 8th grade dance. I played first chair clarinet and got straight A’s. I was three grade levels ahead of my peers in math. Basically, I was a nerd. But I also played soccer, tennis, basketball, and softball (pitched a no-hitter in 8th grade!) and earned singing roles in the school musicals. I wanted to be an artist and a singer and a musician and a sports figure and a writer.
I tell you all of this because writing is about honesty. And there is nothing more satisfying than an honest book and a writer who stays true to his story. I don’t feel the need to shirk from the conversation if my writer friends are talking about their degrees. Even when I wish I could add, “I got my MFA in creative writing from Columbia” and recall a quirky professor, I am okay with the fact that I chose a different path. I’m not ashamed to admit that even without the coveted Master’s, a career in writing was still possible. I like to think it was hard work and persistence—and perhaps a wee bit of talent—that got me here.
Today I read all kinds of things—non-fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction. Mostly Young Adult and books on the craft of writing. In turn, I write about many different topics and draw on my life experiences to do so. While I primarily write picture books, I’ve written a YA, and am working on a middle grade. I write personal essays for magazines and corporate copy for a Silicon Valley company. My interests are still as varied as they ever were—but now I’ve chosen to play with them all through words.
I will never pretend to have read War and Peace. I don’t remember much about The Odyssey, and have only vague recollections of Moby Dick. But I am finally finding time to read Kurt Vonnegut, so that’s something.
As much as I would love to tell you I was content having an ongoing love affair with books, I simply had too many interests to settle on just one. I have always had to make lots of choices about what I did with my time. And those very choices made me the person, reader, and writer I am today. And that’s the truth.
Sue Fliess has written several picture books including the just-released Robots, Robots Everywhere! (illustrated by Bob Staake). She can be found online at http://www.suefliess.com and on Twitter as @SueFliess.
You can find out more about Sue and see the new trailer for Robots, Robots Everywhere! here.