My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands. Today’s guest is Rebecca Yount, author of When Half Spent Was the Night, the fifth book in the Mick Chandra mystery series. A published poet, Rebecca trained from childhood as a concert pianist and worked in education reform in Washington, D.C., but she always wanted to be an author. In 2010, Rebecca underwent open heart surgery which left her unable to write for two years. When she returned to it, she decided to publish the entire Mick Chandra series herself as e-books. She lives in northern Virginia with her husband, author and columnist David Yount. You can find Rebecca online at her website and on Facebook.
My First Advocate
“You will be a writer.”
Such was the prediction of my third-grade teacher who, unlike her predecessors, saw “something” in me. I will spare you the typical writers’ screed, such as: I was an unexceptional child, I was a troubled teen, I was a drug addict in my early adulthood, I suffered from middle-age angst, I robbed the Bank of England.
Just indulge me this one concession: I was a sickly, shy kid who was born with a heart defect that made my formative years a sloughing challenge. That dodgy valve taunted, “You think you can beat me? Ha! Take that.” It was like trying to shake off my own shadow.
My parents attempted to soothe and encourage me with stories about Robert Louis Stevenson and Teddy Roosevelt, both of whom had been sickly children who went on to accomplish great things as adults. After years of getting up only to be knocked down again, even those inspiring tales offered me cold comfort. So my teacher’s endorsement was a beacon beaming through the crack of a closed door.
“Can you deliver a collection of your poetry to me by the end of this term?” she asked.
“Sure,” I said, and meant it.
I delivered, and received an A+.
My fate was sealed. I was going to be a writer—a famous writer, swanning about the literary circles of New York, London, and Paris. Men would swoon over me and women would want to be me. I would be celebrated. People would seek my opinions. I would be on Oprah. I might even be featured in a commercial for my favorite vodka.
Of the few seminal moments I’ve experienced in my life, receiving my teacher’s unqualified approval was by far the most memorable. And then it all went south.
My situation became much like that of the pretty girl who posts the most fab photo of herself on Facebook assuming it will go viral, then waits for Channing Tatum to call. Not gonna happen.
At one point, when I was prepared to walk away from this madness, a friend of mine who remembers that day when my teacher sealed my fate, insisted, “You can’t do that! Our teacher said you’re a writer, so you’re a writer. You can’t let her down. She had faith in you.” My friend was right. So I prevailed, and have been successfully published in e-book format for three years.
Why do we write at all? I can’t answer for others, but I know why I do it. I write so I can make sense of the things in life that don’t make sense. In my genre, which is crime fiction, I create a fractured universe that can be pieced back together, if not entirely restored.
Thinking back on Truman Capote’s book, In Cold Blood, I recall the ending in which he is mesmerized by the sun refracting off of a young girl’s hair as she walks away from him. It was as if Capote acknowledged that we will never understand the senseless, brutal murders he wrote about, but even the simplest, most unexpected image can ground us to restore our sanity.
It wasn’t until I was well into adulthood that a surgical procedure was perfected to repair my damaged heart valve. I am the grateful recipient of a second chance.
And what of those A+ poems I wrote long ago? They faded into obscurity—literally. I had written them on high-fiber tablet paper with a #2 pencil and, over time, the fiber absorbed the graphite. Another lesson learned.