PRAIRIE WRITERS ASSIGNMENT, APRIL 2017 - HAZEL JEAN SPIRE
CURSE OF THE DAMPENERS
Jean loved to write. Jean lived to write.
That was before the voices began.
From the time she discovered the power of words, essays and stories poured from Jean’s pencil, earning stars of red, blue, even gold, from her teachers. Hearing of Jean’s prolific output, Mr. Carter walked across the playground to lend her a book with a turquoise cover— Let’s Write a Story—about how to become an author!
A dream was born. Poetry flowed from Jean’s fountain pen, and found a place in the school magazine. But then the Dream Dampeners moved in: insidious, naysaying voices that cramped her style for decades to follow.
"Those whimsical tales might suffice for grade school, but this is College."
"Your syntax is all wrong."
"Will you ever get paid for this?"
"Boys don’t like stories about girls."
"You can’t get your foot in the door without an agent."
"An agent won’t take on a writer without a platform."
"Your zip code is too obscure. You must move to New York City."
When she was not writing, Jean loved to draw. Jean lived to draw.
That was before the voices began.
In grade school, her stories were embellished with colored pencil scenes, which Miss Cassell allowed Jean to outline with Indian ink in her secret cubby behind the 5th grade classroom. With the encouragement of Mum, Dad, and Miss Wheeler, she entered her seascapes in the Baptist Festival.
That was before the Negatories took root: niggling questions as to whether Jean was wasting her time.
"What good is art to you?"
"Artist is such a pretentious word."
"I could show you someone with REAL talent."
For a while, these ruthless intruders drove out all hopes of success in the arts, either visual or literary. So many of them took up residence that she could no longer pinpoint the source or validity of the voices. People who knew what they were talking about, or those who knew nothing? Her own deep-seated insecurity, or sheer laziness?
At each stage of life, with each relocation, Jean’s passions resurfaced. She would dust off her sketchbook, buy a new journal, and seek out kindred spirits. In due course, she learned how—and where—to prepare manuscripts to submission and paintings for exhibition.
That was before the voices returned—with a vengeance.
"Rhyme doesn’t sell."
"Kids want to read about today’s time, not history."
"Memoirs by unknowns are hard to sell."
"Agents only take on young authors, for career-long relationships."
"Top houses want attractive faces on their book jackets."
"Never write without an outline."
"You don’t have an art degree, or backing from prestigious galleries."
"Editors are looking for a something fresh, something edgy."
"This is too quirky, too controversial."
"Cozy stories are passé."
Jean took the hurdles in her stride. She decorated her gigantic trash can with rejection letters, and won a string of awards.
The Dampeners and the Negatories went on murmuring.
"It’s a local contest, not a Pulitzer Prize."
"There were only five entries."
"Sure, you sold a painting, but only to someone who knows you."
Eventually, Jean racked up credits with magazines.
"Just Sunday school take-home papers and regional rags," the voices countered.
Finally, three years after signing a contract, Jean’s first middle-grade mystery came out. Now would the voices let up? Not a chance.
"One spouse and two friends make a poor showing at a book event."
"Did you see the lines round the block for that other author?"
"Your little paperback will get lost among the hefty stacks of the latest Harry Potter."
"Chain bookstores won’t place works by small presses, and Indies are going out of business."
Nevertheless, Jean kept writing--and painting. She invited the voices of Discernment to take up lodging instead. She acknowledged the truths about mergers and budget cuts, with gratitude for the emergence of self-publishing options.
She did it for the adventure, finding her place in the fellowship of writers and artists, who graciously shared the benefit of their experience. In due course, Jean would do the same for the students following in her footsteps.