Being published has led to the requisite notifying of former teachers — the ones who encouraged me to follow my childhood dream of being a writer, the ones who taught me to write, the ones who had a major impact on me as a person and who I grew up to be.
Now, I have *really* been tempted at times to send a former (mis)guidance counselor a copy of my book signed with “suck it”, but well, that would be a waste of a perfectly good copy, right?
I can trace my goal of wanting to be a published author back to the third grade (though my mom says it goes back earlier.) I distinctly remember wanting to write books that you could buy in book stores. (Most specifically, Changing Hands Bookstore, the bookstore I literally spent most of my youth in.)
There was nothing quite like my third grade teacher coming to my book signing for INNOCENT DARKNESS in my hometown (yes, at Changing Hands bookstore. Talk about childhood dream fulfilment.) He told me he always thought of me as a wordsmith, and that where his students had grown up to be many things, I was his first author.
Then…one of my high school English teachers came to another book event I did in my hometown several months later. I had three really amazing English teachers and was able to track down two of them. This particular one…well, he was probably the toughest teacher I had in high school. And the one I learned the most from (though I don’t think I realized it until graduate school). I had him for math, for Honors Sophomore English, then he “retired” from teaching to be the head library, and I was his TA my senior year. Talk about a Renaissance Man.
We talked, he bought my book, I very nervously signed it (To “Mr.” of course, I just can’t bring myself to call him by his first name), part of me hoping he never actually read it. Not only is there kissing in it (and who wants their high school English teacher to read that), but he was a tough grader. That inner-fifteen-year-old feared it wouldn’t be worthy of an “A.”
“This book is all your fault,” I told him, trying to get over my nervousness. Was everything grammatically correct? Had we found all the errors? Did I use parallel structure properly?
He looked at me, in that English teacher way. “How so?”
I told him.
It was sophomore year. I was reading a lot of romance novels, mostly because there wasn’t the YA selection when I was a teen that there is now. I can’t quite remember what we were doing in English. I think we may have been reading Encounters with the Archdruid or perhaps it was Plutarch. Either way, it wasn’t nearly as interesting as what I was reading. (I think it was a pirate romance novel.) So, I did what I’d done many, many times over the years, even though I knew it was wrong.
I read my book under my desk instead of paying attention.
This time, he took it away from me. After class he told me that romance novels were “garbage.” If I was going to read garbage, then I should read good garbage. He gave me a Piers Anthony novel (I think it was Ogre, Ogre.)
I’d read fantasy before, but this started a period of about a decade where I only read
good garbage Science Fiction and High Fantasy. I laughed at all the puns in the world of Xanth, went into space with Sassinak, flew dragons in Pern, wished I lived on Darkover, traveled with a space suit, and went to many, many far off places. I read books that later I’d learn were “Steampunk” and became obsessed with faeries and fairy tales. This binge of SciFi and Fantasy really impacted me as a person and a writer.
It also left me terrified of romance novels.
In hindsight, I think he was joking, but as a young teen, I really took it to heart.
When I began writing seriously in 2007, it took me well over a year to work up the nerve to join my local chapter of the Romance Writers of America. It took me longer to actually buy (and read) a romance novel without feeling like a traitor to the cause. It took me even longer to acknowledge the fact that I liked writing romance. Romance mixed with Fantasy, SciFi, Paranormal, or all of the above.
In many ways, The Aether Chronicles series in a culmination of those events. There’s SciFi, Fantasy, and a dash of romance, (okay, maybe more than a dash), all rolled up in a YA book. I’m not sure I ever would have written that (or anything else I write), without that particular set of experiences. Experiences set into motion by my high school English teacher.
When I told my teacher, he nodded. “I’d totally forgotten about that.”
But he seemed to smile in a way that meant that perhaps he liked the idea of a book being his fault.
He didn’t make it to my signing for CHARMED VENGEANCE. But he did send me a very nice email, wishing he could come. He also told me that he’d really enjoyed INNOCENT DARKNESS and to let him know if I’d like to hear his thoughts.
Part of me went ‘Yes, please” wondering what he’d think of my strange little book.
Then I remembered what I tough grader he was.
Nevertheless, I’m glad he read it–and, where I’d been really mad that day in high school, now I’m glad he took that book. Otherwise, who knows what stories I’d be writing now.
Suzanne Lazear is the author of the Aether Chronicles Series (YA Steampunk Faeries). Innocent Darkness and Charmed vengeance are out now. Learn more about the series on the series website.
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