• Bex

It only took that first book

This was first published at the Calaveras Enterprise, my current place of work, with my column "Mother Lode Millennial". You can see more of my column here.


I’ve always been a booklover. Even back before I could read, I would pull books off their shelves and flip through them, telling myself, “Someday, I will read these.”


I remember the first book I read all by myself; I was in the first grade, and it was about a laughing spider. The spider was eaten by a bird, who then began to laugh, who was eaten by a cat who also began to laugh, who was eaten by a dog who also began to laugh, and pretty soon, they were all laughing so hard they were all coughed back up, and kept laughing. When I finished the story, I closed the book and it hit me: I had just read my first book.


After that, I didn’t stop. I read constantly, and was almost always in the Mokelumne Hill Elementary School library. A favorite of mine was “Little Icicle” by Lois K. Szymanski. I also read a lot of the “Junie B. Jones” series by Barbara Park, and anything by Beverly Cleary.


This love of reading eventually fostered a desire to write, and I began to write – or rather, attempt to write – my own stories sometime in middle school and high school. I did eventually self-published one story I managed to finish, but eventually took it offline because it wasn’t good, though one of the four people who read it may disagree. At the time, I didn’t know any writers, and my story really could have benefitted from a support network of professional writers, which I didn’t have at that time.


How was I supposed to make a living as a writer? How do I get a publisher to look at my work? What the heck is a query letter? What about self-publishing? Did I take the easy way out, or is there a way to self-publish and actually deliver a quality book?


The only writers I ever knew of were in movies and, ironically, who lived in big cities writing for big publishers, or were starving artists. How was I, a rural country girl, every going to become a published writer? It just seemed like a whole world away. Maybe I wasn’t meant to be a writer at all.


Little did I know, right down the street from me for many years, a conference for local writers called the Gold Rush Writers Conference was staged.


It wasn’t until I was 23 and considering going back to college after a short break that I stumbled upon it. I can’t remember how I found out about it. Was it a flyer at the library? Had I Googled “local writers” or “local writing classes” in desperation? Regardless, I found it and quickly signed up at the last minute; I was past the early bird discount, but I didn’t mind paying a little extra to attend.


I arrived early the first morning at the Hotel Leger on Main Street of my hometown Moke Hill, my heart pounding. I was in unfamiliar territory, an unpublished wannabe writer, and I didn’t know a single person there. Within minutes, another aspiring writer introduced herself to me, and then introduced me to her writers group, a lovely bunch of women who were part of the Amador Fiction Writers, who have encouraged me in my writing journey and offered incredibly helpful advice on self-publishing children’s stories. They also offered me a scholarship to attend the Community of Writers of Squaw Valley, where I got to see big name authors, including Amy Tan, author of “The Joy Luck Club,” though I didn’t talk to her in person. I did, however, get my copy of “Reliance, Illinois” by Mary Volmer, who was a speaker at my first Gold Rush conference. I had bought the book that day in Squaw Valley and was already four chapters in when I asked her to sign it. I think she took it as a compliment.


It was also through the Gold Rush Writers Conference that I became acquainted with Manzanita Writers Press, and members there later accepted a story I had written on evacuating cattle during the Butte Fire in the “Out of the Fire” anthology. I ultimately networked my way into helping the group with the “Voices of Wisdom” project, teaching one of the free classes for those ages 55 and older, with a book of their stories set to be published in June. I had never taught a class before, let alone a writing one, and was nervous. The other instructors and the students were very encouraging, however, and soon my nerves passed.


Had I not stumbled upon this conference three years ago, I believe I would not be where I am today as a writer. So I’d like to thank all the writer attendees who continue to encourage my writing and all the vital professional advice. If you are a young struggling writer in the area, I highly recommend attending the Gold Rush Writers Conference, scheduled for May 4 to 6 in Mokelumne Hill. You can find more information at goldrushwriters.com.

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