Thursday, March 24, 2011
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
(My journey into the world of lesbian fiction, part 1.)
The principal looked at me with a fierceness I had not seen in any of our interactions before. I was sure it was simply a mirror of the same fire in my eyes. This was a standoff between two very strong willed women, both submerged in their own highly stressful jobs, just trying to keep the tips of our noses above water. After years of working together, supporting each other, and becoming friends, we were at an impasse.
I knew why she had sent the terse command to see her the next morning in the text message from the night before. In an attempt to save money, the board of education was pressuring the principals to curb teacher sick leave. I had been gradually getting worse since the first day I walked into that school and the last five years had been pure hell. I was sick. So sick that I had to take 8 pills a day just to put one foot in front of the other. I had come back to school at the end of summer vacation, yet again, healthier and ready to face the day after ten weeks out of the building. (Although, I made frequent trips in the summer into the building, so I never got all the way well.) By September 16, 2010, I had been out of school for more than a week with pneumonia and a full-blown sinus infection, this while I was supposed to be teaching and directing the one-act play for state competition.
I was frustrated, aching, unable to breath and pissed off for being questioned about my absences. After all, I had repeatedly told the administration that it was the mold that was killing me. No doctor would say, “Yes, it’s the mold.” I was misdiagnosed first with chronic bronchitis and depression, next with lupus, and finally they settled on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. I still said, “It’s the mold. Why else do I get better when I’m not at that school.” Diligently, I took their prescribed pills and progressively got worse. I had no immune system left. I caught every bug that made its way into the germ-infested halls of the high school. Standing in the principal’s office with a 102-degree temperature, I had had enough!
I was glaring at her, because the principal had just said, “If the building is what is making you sick, then maybe you shouldn’t work here.” I had built the drama program at that nationally ranked high school. When I arrived thirteen years earlier, they were making scenery out of cardboard. We were now known for our unrivaled productions of musicals in the area. We were doing $65,000 musical productions and paying for it ourselves. (We received less than $5000 from the school, which was to pay for all the productions in one school year. I know that may sound like a lot to a small school drama teacher, but I assure you it was a pittance in comparison with athletics in this affluent district.) I knew she wasn’t questioning my abilities, just my commitment. It hit me the wrong way.
Twenty-one days earlier after much prodding, I had self-published my first E-book on Amazon.com. I subsequently published two more just days after. At that point, I had accumulated less than one hundred dollars worth of sales. But, I had sold some and the reviews were good. Still, how could I make a living without my teaching job? It took a giant leap of faith and a high fever, but I opened my mouth and out came, “Fine.” I walked out of the principal’s office directly to the substitute teacher coordinator in the crowded main office, dropped my keys on her desk, and said, “You might want to get someone to cover my classes. I was just asked to resign and I’m going to do it. Ya’ll have a nice day.”
I made it to the parking lot before I completely broke down. There was the moment in the hall with my teaching partners, when I told them I was leaving and not returning. I cried. They cried. But it wasn’t until I shut the door on my vehicle that I truly lost it. I cranked the car, but couldn’t drive away. I loved those kids in that building. Hell, I loved my job. I was just too sick to do it anymore. I looked at the digital clock. My wife would be between classes at the college where she taught. I hit the call button on the hands free device, “Call Deb, cell.” The following conversation changed my life.
“Hey, honey. What’s up?” The cheerful voice on the other end said.
Even though I had not officially resigned on paper, I knew I was not going back. I hated to have to tell her what I had just done. I couldn’t speak. She must have heard it in my breathing, because I was quiet for a long time.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” The now concerned voice asked.
I tried to answer, but all that came out were sobs.
“Are you hurt? What’s wrong? Did something happen to Jonathon? Is it your parents?” She tried diligently to get me to answer her, but I just sobbed.
Finally, I managed to gasp out, “No, I’m not hurt and nobody’s dead.”
“Okay, then what’s the matter? Is this about the meeting with the principal?”
I relayed the whole incident, including that I had basically turned in my verbal resignation.
There was a short pause after I finished my tear filled confession. Then she spoke very calmly, “Honey, life’s too short to live like this. I’d rather have you healthy and happy. You don’t need to work in an environment that makes you sick. We’ll be fine.”
I had not expected that. I knew she’d be supportive, but I didn’t think I was going to get her approval for walking away from a tenured teaching position.
She continued, “You’ve always wanted to write. So write. Stay home. Get well and write. See what happens.”
“But the bills…” I tried to say.
“We will have to cut back on some things, but we’ll be fine. Go chase your dream.”
I don’t think I had ever loved her more than at that moment. We took a leap of faith together. I turned in my official resignation.
I went to work on the fourth novel. I had already written it, re-written it, and then re-wrote the ending again, but I spent ten days working with it, before I published it on September 26, 2010. In hindsight, I should have hired an editor for my novels, but that’s part of the learning process. I didn’t think my novels would be interesting to anyone but me. I certainly couldn’t justify the expense of an editor for a novel I was sure no one would read. I had just cut our income in half, how could I ask for that kind of money? I put a price tag on the novels reflecting how I thought they should be priced against the more polished, edited, publishing house books; cheap. I started writing again and watched, with bated breath, the sales reports each day. I was also looking at job openings at the 7-11. This was never going to work.
Something amazing started to happen. My novels began to sell. One in particular, The Girl Back Home, became very active. I remember Deb and I doing a little happy dance when it finally cracked the top 100 in the lesbian fiction romance category on Amazon.com. Additionally, the longer I was away from the school the better I felt. I removed anything from my home that had ever been in that school. I threw away cherished books, briefcases, drawing paper; anything that had crossed the threshold of that building went to the dump. By the end of November I was no longer on any medication, just an aspirin now and then, nothing more. I was even taken off of blood pressure medication. The doctors retracted their fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue diagnosis and declared me healthy and getting healthier everyday. Finally, they believed that it had been toxic mold exposure all along.
The vindication from the doctors was overshadowed by another event that was taking place. Miracle upon miracles, readers liked the novels. On December 1, 2010, The Girl Back Home was sitting at #1 on the Lesbian Fiction Bestsellers list at Amazon.com. The other three were not far behind. I had come out of the authors’ closet where I wrote, but never shared beyond a few close friends. I put my stuff out there and people liked it. My work was flawed and obviously unedited, but they read it anyway. I could write and people would read it. Life was just beginning again at age 49. I was now on the path I had dreamed of, happy and healthy, and looking forward to a future as an author.
Leaps of faith. How can I tell you how important and difficult it is to take that first step? I was lucky. I had a support system that believed in me, but still it took a lot to sign that letter of resignation with my then shaking hand. I am so glad that I did. My life has changed in the five months since I mailed that letter and it has all been for the better. I write this now to encourage people to take that path they’ve been thinking about for years. I know it's taboo to talk about money, but if this encourages just one of you to get busy writing, then I'll take the heat. I now make more money than I did teaching school. Now, does that encourage you? It should. Come out of the authors’ closet and share your work. You might just find that you do have talent and your dreams could come true as well.
I leave you with these parting words. I hope you have someone in your life that believes in you like Deb and our son, Jonathon, believe in me. I hope that you make the decision to get all the toxic things out of your life. Whether it is a bad relationship, a hated job, or a mold filled environment; take that leap of faith and divest yourself of those things. Life's too short to wait. Take that leap of faith.
This familiar quote from “The Sound of Music” says it all:
Maria: When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.
R. E. "Decky" Braadshaw
P.S. At least try to find someone to help with copy editing. If you don't have the money to hire a professional, find someone who is good with grammar/spelling to help you. The biggest lesson I have learned is you can't edit your own work. You just won't see the mistakes. There are Beta readers out there who can help. Look at web groups for the genre you write. Someone will know where to find a good Beta reader.