Monday, April 9, 2018

My First Time: Antoinette Truglio Martin

The First Time I Felt Like a Writer

In 1986, I had two small daughters and a very small home business called Playin’ Pal: Playgroups for Infants, Toddlers, and Moms. My husband, Matt, finished the basement, built child-sized chairs and folding tables, did the plumbing and electricity and sheetrocked the walls. He had painted a beautiful reading rainbow on the far wall. It was a fabulous playroom with a separate entrance, small library, a huge craft closet, and paint and dress-up stations. Children and their moms came to play and learn together. My daughters and I had a community of friends we enjoyed. It was a very fun business.

I worked the whole operation on a tight shoestring budget. I was the director, planner, go-fer, cleaning service, teacher, accountant (my weakest skill) and counselor. After my daughters had their bedtime stories and kisses, I spent nights prepping for the morning. There were always shapes to cut out, finger puppets to find, glue bottles to fill.

My advertising budget was extremely small. It was the 80s—pre-social media era. Creative advertising had to cost close to nothing. I made flyers by hand and copied them on an old hand-cranked ditto machine—ah, I can still smell the crystal violet. At the grocery store, I put my daughters in shopping carts and weaved through the parking lots leaving the flyers on the windshields of cars with car seats in them.

My best advertising campaign came from a freebie periodical called Parent Connections. The owner/publisher/editor/saleswoman/distributor, Gail Oberst, gave me a quarter-page ad space in exchange for an article on anything about parenting. The column was called In A Family Way.

I had always wanted to be a writer when I grew up. I jotted in journals and made up stories for my daughters and students. Writing personal essays for Parent Connections was my inaugural writing gig. Although I was not paid in much-needed money, I was compensated in advertisement and confidence.

The first time I saw my musings in print sealed my ambition to be a writer. It was a monthly assignment. I got lost in the craft of the essays and pulled a couple of after-11 p.m. nights to meet the deadline. I scribbled on legal-sized pads of paper, transcribed on a clunky word processor, printed on a dot-matrix printer and stored files on 5x5 floppy discs. I worried whether my essays rang true and that the themes I chose were universal. I wrote about how to prepare for a beach outing and rides to grandma’s house, who was the best children’s author, what game to play or song to sing in the car, where the best petting zoo was, and why reading a story to children every night was so important. I also wrote about the crazy juggling acts I performed each day in keeping my family humming along, the simple joys of toddler discoveries, the revelations that my mother’s words and wisdom were right, and the sweetness of raising my girls through the ups and downs of life.

I was not sure as to the extent of my following. Data collecting was not that sophisticated. Gail happily took everything I wrote. She edited my spelling and punctuation errors and somehow fit the articles in the required space. She was very kind and enthusiastic.

Playin’ Pals had to reluctantly close after two years due to little to no profits. I did, however, continue to write for Parent Connections. Gail frequently remarked on how well my writer's voice developed and said I had a lot of great ideas for young parents and a wonderful style of writing.

Alas, Parent Connections did eventually fold. It’s been a long time since I heard from Gail. But her kind words still ring in my memory. “Antoinette, you are a writer.”

Antoinette Truglio Martin is a speech therapist and special education teacher by training but is a writer at heart. She is the author of Hug Everyone You Know, published last year by She Writes Press. She is also the author of the children’s book Famous Seaweed Soup and was a visiting author in schools for several years. She was formerly a regular columnist for Parent Connections and Fire Island Tide. Personal experience essays and excerpts of her memoir have been published in Bridges, Visible Ink, and The Southampton Review. Martin received her MFA in creative writing and literature from Stony Brook Southampton University. As a Stage IV breast cancer patient, she does not allow cancer to dictate her life.

Author photo by Titus Kana

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.

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