Just the Facts
Buried somewhere in a box in the basement of our house is a spiral-bound book of tan envelopes, 12 in all, held together with a rubber band.
Each one is meant to memorialize a school year—in fact, the cover of this book says “My School Days” or something similarly obvious, and sports a caricatured drawing of a red schoolhouse, circa 1920. The idea was for moms of the 1960s to save and preserve report cards, artwork, homework, and other school memories—for what, I’m not sure; wasn’t elementary school embarrassing enough without having reminders of it?
Anyhow, the envelopes were meant to be a guide for Mom, in case she was too clueless to know what might be Maximum Embarrassment in later years (side note: she wasn’t). There was a place on the front for a school picture (Oh, Lord, deliver me from third grade!), teachers’ names, favorite classes, and best subjects. On the back of the envelope were spaces for personal things like height and weight (no problems there, right?) and a section entitled What I Want to Be When I Grow Up.
Boys got all the good choices: fireman, policeman, cowboy—things like that. My choices were that I could grow up to be a nurse, housewife, or mother.
No insult to nurses, housewives, or mothers, but...yee-haw.
Along about second grade, there was a line for “other.” Thank heavens: that was the year Mom scrawled “WRITER” on my wanna-be line.
‘Tis true that I had “published” my own book by then, something about horses and riding. I was writer, illustrator, and clumsy page-stapler, and it was one of a long list of things I’d written. Someone told me I could write poetry, and so I did. Teachers were impressed by my essays. I was told that I could write scary stories, and so I did. Nikki Giovanni, David McCullough, and Stephen King have nothing to worry about.
And then I found other things to “be” when I grew up. A farmer (check). A veterinarian (nope). A radio DJ (still have my FCC license, y’all). A bookseller. A TV control room tech. And I wrote, idly, to get it out of my system, for whatever, for activism, for the amusement of others, but never for myself.
When the millennium changed, so did my life.
Tired of banging my head against a wall, facing an unhappy existence at a job that was making me eat Tums like potato chips, I ultimately applied for a position as a radio ad copywriter. I had done that work before, sometimes, whenever I needed to, back in my DJ days. I remembered it being fun, like playing with words—definitely not like work.
And they’d pay me to do it! Sign me up!
At the interview, I blurted a truth that I had never realized until that very moment: all I ever really wanted to do was write.
And so, I did. Forty hours a week, I churned out ads for several radio stations in one building, for more than a dozen salespeople, for hundreds of clients, and dozens of station promotions. I got to play with words and ideas, and they let me do it. Encouraged me, even. But sometimes, I had little to do. So I volunteered to do a brief radio books show downstairs.
It wasn’t anything earth-shattering. Publishers sent me advanced copies for my radio bit and I’d talk about books for a few minutes. It was something random and it wasn’t that good, but one day, I realized that there was probably another outlet for this odd thing I’d found. Specifically, nobody was doing a books column for the average reader.
So I started—stumbled, really—into a career I made up. Today, armed with five years of sales training and a lifetime of reading, I review books for around 160 newspapers and magazines in the US and Guam.
And because I’m immersed (quite happily) in books, I get to meet publishers—one of whom told me one afternoon that he wanted me to write for him. And I did, not for the money but because I’d contributed to several short-trivia-type bathroom books through the years, and I’d enjoyed the process. It was time to see what I could do with a whole book.
Time to write for me.
When you are an author, you get a handful of copies of your book before it releases. The box arrives and it’s supposed to be some sort of celebratory thing. Yes, it was exciting to get a big stack of pristine copies of The Big Book of Facts—and it was kind of anticlimactic, too. I’d seen the cover already. I knew what was inside.
It was the kind of book I’d want on my shelf.
My second-grade self is still smiling.... ▼
The Big Book of Facts is available now in bookstores. Terri’s next two are in progress.