I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was a little kid. I’m sure a big part of that can be attributed to the women in my young life. To my mom, for telling me tales that featured my stuffies as the fearless protagonists. Softina the rabbit and Bluey the blue bear, Lightning the giraffe, and even my sister’s Licky Licky Pink Teddy Bear all frolicked together happily in my bedtime stories. And to my Granny, for reading fairy tales with me, using a ruler to underline the sentence we were on so I wouldn’t get confused.
I can even probably thank my two older sisters, because they were reading big kid books and, dammit, if they could do it so could I. Nothing can inspire you so much as some friendly sibling competition.
All this no doubt helped to turn me into a prolific reader. But there was someone very special who nudged me over the line from reader to writer.
Her name? Lurlene McDaniel.
I discovered Lurlene in the Sidney library when I was in grade five. At the time I was very much into pre-teen series like The Babysitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High. Lurlene’s books looked like typical young adult fiction. They were in the same section, and had nice pictures of teenagers on the covers. But they were so very, very different.
They were all about teenagers dying.
They would start with happy families: mom, dad, a few kids, all living normal lives. Then, someone would get leukemia, or a brain tumour, or brain damage in a car accident, or something equally medically horrible. I’d read on as the kid struggled with her illness, or as her family struggled with her death.
It was crazy. Here were these dark, depressing books right in amongst the girly lets-all-be-popular-and-happy stories that I was meant to be reading. They had these fantastically obvious titles like Too Young To Die, Why Did She Have To Die?, Time To Let Go, and When Happily Ever After Ends. And they were pretty graphic in their descriptions of sickness, pain and grief. But because the covers looked like pretty, harmless stories, no one noticed.
Lurlene McDaniel led to V.C. Andrews, who wrote disturbingly fascinating accounts of kidnapping, rape, abuse, and all sorts of insanely screwed up families. Andrews then led to Stephen King and Anne Rice, who need no introduction.
It was during this time that I learned something very important.
Books can be twisted.
I mean, really, truly, deeply twisted.
It wasn’t all fairytales and magic and happy endings. Here were real people, grownups, using their imaginations to come up with some really horrible stuff. And this was okay. Their books were getting published. They were making money off of it.
I had to try it.
Being a writer didn’t start out as a career choice, or even really a calling. It was more of a challenge. To myself. It went something like this.
Dear Self: I promise to practice really hard. To never give up. To eat all of my vegetables and go to bed when Mom tells me to, even if I’m in the middle of a particularly funny The Cosby Show episode. In exchange all I ask for is the hope that I can one day come up with a story that will, if not beat (let’s be honest – someone like me could never be that good), then at least match the beauty and tragic heroine-ism of Lurlene’s ‘Somewhere Between Life And Death’.
There I’d be, locked away in my room, scribbling away in Hilroy notebooks and worrying my mother sick. I was pretty sure that my young age wouldn’t prevent me from starting a lucrative publishing career. No one need know that the new hot author of death-obsessed teen fiction was still in elementary school. If I could only get beyond the first chapter…Hey, mom, how do you spell d-i-s-m-e-m-b-e-r?
I’m happy to say that my obsession – yes, it’s fair to call it that – with these dark, twisted, violent stories ended around grade eight. And I like to think that my writing style hasn’t been forever tainted by my early attempts at writing stories involving the death of my friends and family (write what you know, that’s what they all say).
But as my writing career continues to grow and evolve, I can’t help but look back to where it all started, and pay homage to the woman that got me started on this crazy, twisty road. Lurlene, I tip my hat to your deeply disturbing body of work. And if I ever have a little girl, I promise to never, ever, let her near your books.
“Til Death Do Us Part” Wikipedia.
“Lurlene McDaniel” Wikipedia