From There to Here
by David L. Harrison
As many of you know, today marks the first anniversary of my blog. My thanks to Kathy Temean for creating the space, nudging me forward, and always being there to catch me when I fall. Kathy, I owe you a lot for your many great ideas and enthusiastic support of my efforts.
I don’t know how many individuals have visited my blog during its first twelve months. The total number of visits stands at 38,600. To each of you, I am grateful. As a fulltime writer I approached the idea of blogging with concern about its impact on my work. The number of hours this venture has taken from my writing schedule has been enormous and my output has suffered. I told myself I’d give it my best effort for one year before evaluating the situation. I haven’t addressed the issue yet but I’ll get to it before long.
What I did not expect was that I would make so many new friends and take so much pleasure in sharing in your joy and excitement about your accomplishments. Through June, 68 adult poets and nearly that many students shared their work on Word of the Month Challenge. Comments of support and encouragement have become important aspects of the blog experience as many of you have expressed.
During this first year, I’ve enjoyed introducing 26 respected professionals as part of my Friday Featured Guest series and eight additional poets during this summer’s Guest Reader series. Your comments have demonstrated your appreciation for both series. I want to express my gratitude again to each of my guests. I’ve had a fine time getting to know new friends and sharing the comments of old friends. These experiences have been unexpected bonuses.
As I wondered how to celebrate this day, one year since Kathy posted a test on August 9, 2009, I asked you for suggestions. The one I chose was to simply step on stage to tell you how I became an author. My journey began long ago so there’s a lot history, but I’ll keep it short.
I was an early observer; an early reader; a thinker; a collector of rocks and bugs and such. My first poems: age five. First jokes: age six. First illustrated comics: age seven. At Drury University I majored in biology and spent the first seven semesters in laboratories. My last semester was given to courses in unrelated fields. One class was creative writing. I wrote a couple of stories and my professor said he thought I had the talent to become a writer. For reasons I can’t explain, the suggestion stuck. I wondered if I really could learn to write.
During graduate school at Emory University, I specialized in parasitology and received the year’s Alpha Chi Award for excellence in research. I had no time to write but neither did I forget the English professor at Drury. My first job was at Mead Johnson in Evansville, Indiana. I was a pharmacologist assigned to CNS (Central Nervous System), the group that helped seek future cures for human ailments by studying the effects of newly formulated organic compounds on lab animals including mice, rats, cats, dogs, and monkeys. I did well, was promoted, flew off to a couple of pharmacological conferences to make presentations, and had two opportunities to earn doctorate degrees at company expense.
By then I had begun writing short stories at night. They were awful but I thought them grand and it fell on the shoulders of Sandy, my beloved wife, to find ways to break the news that I was showing no immediate signs of brilliance. My first story (1959) was “From Day to Day.” Nope. I followed that with “The Night to Forget.” Forgettable. I wrote “Lazarus.” I wrote “Helen.” I wrote “Our Baby Came Home.” I wrote Grandpa Webb, a novelette. Others kept coming: “The Shopping Trip,” “When a Cat Comes to Campus,” “Trip on a Bar Stool.” And more.
Awful. All of them simply awful. This wasn’t working. I was wasting my time. I was never, ever, ever going to make it. I had no background. No understanding of the craft. No training. It was hopeless. There was only one thing to do.
I changed jobs. Left science, my education. I wasn’t wild about what I was doing anyway. Maybe it was interfering with my writing career. Worth a try. I sent out resumes all over the Midwest and was hired by Hallmark Cards. They put me to work as the editor of children’s cards. By night I continued my quest to become published. I had been trying for six years and rejected 67 times.
I wrote “Julie Learns to Ride,” a children’s story. It sold but I wasn’t convinced I wanted to write for children. Still, that check for $5.03 from The Young Crusader Magazine wasn’t exactly chicken feed.
Back to writing for adults. I wrote Tell Them They Can Stop Worrying, a novel. Nauseating. I wrote another story, “The Enlightened Few,” and it sold to a men’s magazine. Hooray! I could so write! I sold “The DC7 Man,” “The Bowling Ball Salesman.” I was on my way.
But in 1967 something unexpected happened. I tried another children’s story, a picture book in rhyme. I called it The Boy With a Drum. The first submission was rejected but it came back with a wonderful letter of encouragement. On the second time out, it sold. Western Publishing paid me $350 for it, four times what I was getting for my short stories. Ca-ching! Besides, I liked the feeling of writing that picture book. I decided to try another.
Within two years I’d sold children’s stories to Random House, Childcraft, Western, Golden, Reilly & Lee, and American Heritage Press. When The Book of Giant Stories (American Heritage) came out in 1972, it received the Christopher Award. I had no idea what it was but my New York editor got really excited so I became excited too. Later, when I finally wised up and started paying more attention to my recently adopted field, I kicked myself for skipping the award dinner in NYC. I’m sitting here now looking at the medal they mailed to me and feeling grateful that my work caught someone’s attention early enough to convince me that I had found my calling.
I remained at Hallmark for ten years and became editorial manager with the responsibility for approving the editorial content of roughly half of all cards the firm published. In 1973 I returned to my hometown, Springfield, Missouri, to take over Glenstone Block Company, our family business that manufactured concrete blocks. After 35 years I sold the company in 2008. For a lifetime I squeezed my writing into late nights or early mornings.
If you have visited my website, you can see most of the rest of my story there. I’ve had a good career, published a lot of books, made good money, won awards, given eighty conference talks. Mammoth Bones and Broken Stones, which comes out in September, will be, I think, my 80th title. It’s a nonfiction book. Over the years I’ve written more fiction than anything else but poetry and nonfiction aren’t far behind. I didn’t write my first poetry collection until my 50s but I’d been thinking about it for nearly twenty-five years.
My first poems, some 100 of them accumulated over three years, included a mix of stinkers and good ones. From that stack Boyds Mills Press selected enough to make my initial collection, Somebody Catch My Homework. Kirkus doesn’t always like my work but they gave that one a starred review. Other books have followed and others are in the works.
Kids sometimes ask how many more books I plan to write. It’s a sobering question to ask a man drawing social security. I’ll write as long as I can. I feel fine. This is what I do. These days I’m usually here at the computer shortly after 6:00 and on good days I don’t shut down the hurdy-gurdy until the hands are back on 6:00. I love to write. I’ll keep doing it if you will.