Hello everyone! I hope you're all doing well. In one of my writing classes at school I was recently asked to write and hand in a memoir. I've decided to share the memoir here, as a small memento of my incredible joruney so far. Feel free to read it at your leisure and find out a little bit more about me! I'm greateful for each and everyone of you!
The Calm After the Storm
In my experience, we only find out what we’re made of after a storm. But unfortunately, when it rains, it pours. Four months ago, my storm ended and when the sun finally came back out – I was a whole new person.
The hallways seemed a lot more intimidating the last time I walked them as a grade school student. Now I walk them with confidence, smiling at the group of seventh graders that are staring at me. I follow the librarian as she gives me instructions, the excitement on her face nearly matching my own.
“Alessia,” she tells me as she swings open the gymnasium doors. “They’re ready for you.”
Inside, the gymnasium is packed with students. As I enter, their conversation turns to silence and hundreds of eyes watch me as I make my way to the front of the room. A technician hands me a microphone and behind me, a giant screen rolls down, projecting my website for everyone to see. I wipe my clammy hands on my jeans and begin unloading stacks of books from the box. More people pile into the gym and I watch, as the doors finally slam shut.
“We can start now,” I tell the librarian who takes the microphone and introduces me to the crowd.
The audience is so quiet that I could’ve heard a pin drop. The person I used to be would’ve been quaking with nerves, but the person I am now is filled with nothing but joy.
“Hello everyone,” my voice comes out strong and calm. “My name is Alessia Dickson and I’m the author of the Crystal Chronicles.”
I waste no time, diving into the presentation I know like the back of my hand. I came up with it seven months ago, wanting to spread a message of hope and to shape the minds of the future generations.
I move to the left side of the room calling out for the fifth graders and they raise their hands, blinking up at me curiously. First I explain how my novel was born – seven years ago, out in a schoolyard, back in fifth grade. It was long ago, but I remember it so well.
“I want to write a book about the elements,” I say one day, to my best friend Gregory. “But I don’t just want to write one book. I want to write a series.” He smiles at me as we make our way around the schoolyard.
“I’ll help you plan it out. You’re a good writer and I’m good with ideas. We’re a perfect team.” He’s right and we are the perfect team. So as the other kids play tag and soccer at recess we walk around the schoolyard, bouncing ideas off each other.
“I think the series should take place in different parts of the world,” he tells me. “And they should find a magic crystal in each book.”
“Yeah, that’s a good idea,” I smile. “And I want the villains to be an evil group... we could call them the Society.”
“That works,” he nods as the bell rings, and we start to line up with the rest of our class. “But we need to name the main character first.”
“I want to name her Alyssa,” I say as we head inside.
“Alyssa sounds too close to Alessia,” he shakes his head at me.
“No it doesn’t!” I argue, defending my choice.
“Yes it does!” he fights back.
I blink once and I’m standing back in front of the huge crowd. I shake my head and bite back a grin. Gregory’s right of course, annoyingly, he’s always right. Alyssa sounds way too close to Alessia but it’s a little too late to change it now.
Next, I ask for the grade sixes and they all raise their hands, their attention clearly caught. Grade six is a special age to me, the age I started the first draft of my book.
Suddenly it’s grade six again, and the entire planning stage of my series is complete. My teacher is droning on and on about math and I act like I’m listening. When I’m sure she isn’t looking, I open my black book and start writing. I left off at chapter two and I’m not too sure if the book sounds good so far.
“Greg,” I whisper sliding the book over to his desk. “Read what I have so far. I’m on chapter two.”
He takes the notebook from me, the pages already starting to curl. He reads chapter one and I wait patiently, hoping he likes it. He slides the book back over to me, and I hold my breath.
“I like it,” he says, clearly approving. “But what does incredulous mean?”
“It means doubtful,” I laugh. “It makes sense don’t worry!”
He stares at me for a second, and I wonder if I said something weird. “You’re a really good writer Alessia. This book is going to be published one day.”
“Really?” The thought sends a thrill racing through me.
“Yeah,” he assures. “But you got to write the rest of it first.”
So that’s what I do. I go home that night and type the first few chapters out and the computer keys feel foreign beneath my fingers. The weeks turn into months and as the rest of my friends play video games and watch television on their free time – I write.
It is June by the time I finish the first draft of the book. As I read it over, I realize something and it horrifies me. The book is bad. Terrible actually. I don’t understand, I worked so hard on it for the entire year! But even as I realize this, I don’t care. I can fix it.
The next day, I ask my dad to print my book at work. I want to show Gregory, and I don’t want to wait any longer.
“How long is it?” my dad asks me in the morning as I hand over a USB key.
“500 pages,” I say. He stares at me for a few seconds and then smiles.
“That’s a lot of paper. It might break the printer.”
“Really?” I ask worriedly. “Will I be able to staple it?”
“No,” he laughs. “But I’ll still print it today.”
I smile at the memory as I tell this story to my audience. Their eyes widen in horror at something so long. I assure them the real book is only three hundred and sixty pages long and they breathe a sigh of relief. The teachers are smiling as I move on to the writing process. I teach my audience how to write, how to build plots and create characters that people can fall in love with. I tell them things I’ve learned firsthand through years of rewriting.
It is grade eight again and Gregory and I are arguing about developing my characters.
“I’m taking out the prologue Greg,” I tell him as we make our thousandth lap around the schoolyard.
“Why?” he frowns. “Keep the prologue. It sets up the story.”
“It needs a total rewrite,” I argue. “A good book hooks the reader within the first few sentences.”
“You already do that pretty well,” he assures me.
“No,” I shake my head. “I’m going to write the prologue in the villains point of view, so this way the readers will meet him first. Alyssa is a good hero but she needs an equally good villain.”
He doesn’t say anything to my proposal. It means he likes it.
The audience is growing restless so I walk down the aisle trying to catch everyone’s attention, not wanting anyone to miss the next part. I tell them about the importance of passion and experience, my two biggest teachers. Even though I tell people, many still don’t understand the love affair I have with the written word. I honestly believe writing is the only way to truly be immortal.
Suddenly I’m back in grade nine and my parents and I are talking about the future.
“Writing can be your hobby Alessia,” my mother tells me. “You’re going to go to law school.” I look down at the table, trying to hold my temper.
“I want to be an author,” I say firmly. “I already have a book.”
“Don’t let your mind go to waste,” she shakes her head. This comment angers me and I jump out of my chair.
“Writing makes me happy! Don’t force me into a career I don’t want to go in!” I am half shouting but I don’t care.
“Do you want to be a starving artist?” she argues. She doesn’t understand and I look to my dad for help.
“We’re going to publish the book.” He finally tells her.
“You’re going to do what?” she is in shock. I don’t blame her. “You don’t know anything about publishing!”
“I’ll do research,” I say. “I want this more than anything.” She looks at me for a long moment, her mouth drawn in a hard line. She knows I speak the truth. I want it more than anything, and I don’t care how hard I’ll have to work.
I pick up one of my books off the table and show my audience; glad I followed through with my promise three years ago. I dive into an entire summary about my series, speaking of magic and a great journey across the world. I mention Brazil, Bermuda, Italy and Asia, all the settings of my future books. I’m smiling like an idiot as I watch the excitement fly across their features. They don’t just like the storyline. They love the storyline.
Finally I move on to my publishing experience and begin to explain what it’s like. The endless hours working with an editor, the fun in designing a book cover and a website. I also mention of course, how it feels at the very end.
It’s February of grade eleven and the first shipment of books are in my front hallway. I rip open the nearest box and stare at my book. After seven years, here it is, in my hands, at long last. I open the book carefully, flipping through the chapters, remembering when I wrote each page. Two seconds later I realize I’m crying but I don’t care. I grab my phone like a crazy person and text my closest friends to get my house. They show up fifteen minutes later, looking just as excited. Gregory arrives last and I can hardly contain my excitment.
“It’s finally here.” My voice is shaking. “After all this time!”
“I told you it would be published one day,” he smiles, looking at the book in awe. “It took seven years but you did it.”
“It was worth it,” I laugh as I pull him inside, running to go sign his copy.
I almost feel powerful standing up in front of this huge audience as I remember my favourite memory. For a moment I almost slip away, caught up in the palpable energy of the room. But then my dad motions to me from the sidelines and I come back to reality. I remind myself what to talk about next and I take a breath.
Obstacles are always my hardest things to talk about because they were plentiful. I don’t want to give anyone the illusion that I live a picture perfect life, not when the audience deserves the truth. So I tell them.
I start with the obvious things. I tell them about editing and how I had to constantly go back and rewrite.
“My writing got better as I grew up,” I say. “And as I matured, my characters matured with me.” Their faces are blank and I am not sure they understand, but I press on. I talk about editing and how I never had enough editing. I edited the book a thousand times but it still wasn’t enough. Editing drives me crazy, I think it drives everyone crazy, but it’s the most important part of the writing process.
Next, I decide to speak about the infamous writers block, the question I get no matter where or I go.
“Writers block doesn’t exist,” I smile and the audience laughs. “Real writers write even when they don’t want to, even if they think their writing sounds bad. That’s how books are completed.”
It’s what separates an amateur from a professional. Besides, nothing I write down is ever set in stone. I can always go back and fix it later. That’s the beauty of writing; it’s why I love the craft.
I take a few deep breaths before continuing. It’s what I always do before I speak about the last thing.
Finally, I tell them about not giving up when things are difficult. I try to focus on the audience because if I look away for a second I’ll remember. The memory still comes anyway, and emotion rises in my chest.
Suddenly, it’s late June and I’m withering in pain on the floor of my room, calling out for something to save me from the endless cycle of chronic pain. I stand up to make myself look presentable again but I don’t recognize the person in the mirror. She is hollow, a ghost, someone who looks like me and wears my face and my smile. I drop down to the floor and try to swallow a sob. The pain is relentless and has been there for the last eight months, twenty-four hours a day, all day every day. It is my darkest hour and I only want to write again, but the lights are too bright and the computer screen sends shooting pain into my skull. I want to give up, to give up on my life and my flawed body. But before I act on the dark thought, I pause, remembering my doctor’s words.
“The pills aren’t the cure Alessia. They will take down the swelling in your brain but you have to manage your pain in other ways, like doing things you enjoy.”
She is right and I’m stupid to forget her advice. So instead I ignore the pain that feels similar to a hammer smashing my head into a thousand pieces, and to vow to fight back with everything in me. I think about Stephen King’s memoir, where he said that writing is a way back to life. He discovers this after he was run over by a truck, and I didn’t understand this until now. So instead of wallowing in a deep depression, I turn to the only thing that brings me joy – writing my book series. My readers are waiting for the second novel and I don’t want to let them down. I remember their love for the characters and the story and I let it fuel me forward. Finally, I decide that I’m writing my second novel and I’m not going to let chronic pain win. I write a page, before I stop to wonder if my experiences in life ever bleed into my story while I write my main character – Alyssa. I hope it does, it makes for great character development after all. A second passes and I know that I spill my heart onto each page I write, and hidden in between the lines, is my own story.
“Writing not only saved my life,” I tell my audience, looking straight at the back wall. “But it also brought me back to life.”
As soon as I finish speaking, a slew of hands shoot up. It’s not just one or two hands it’s thirty. I waste no time and soon I’m running around the room trying to answer each one. They want to know everything about me, stuff about my book, publishing, writing, my life as a normal teenager and everything else in between. I’m absolutely humbled by this outpouring source of love and support, and I blink back tears.
I continue answering questions for what feels like hours. Eventually I answer everything, and I return to my spot at the front of the room. I thank everyone for listening to my story for over an hour. The moment I close my mouth, the entire room erupts in applause. The sound feels almost deafening, even though I know that it really isn’t. I wasn’t shaking before but I’m shaking now in absolute shock. I want to freeze this moment in time somehow, so I can go back to relive it again and again.
I am suddenly swarmed by hordes of children, all with this same awestruck expression on their faces. I don’t know if I’m deserving of such an expression but I do know that each kid is equally precious to me. They shove pieces of paper into my hands and the sweet librarian is back again, leading me out of the mob and towards the table.
Someone throws a pen at me, and before I know it, I’m somehow forced to sign everyone’s slips of paper. Someone makes me sign his shoes and I laugh, as he proudly shows them off. A huge line grows out of nowhere and twenty minutes later, all the books I brought had been sold, and dozens of kids leave the gym with slips of paper with my signature. I’m still not exactly sure if this is all a dream, and I try to coherently express my gratitude to the staff. Their support is priceless, and worth more than what any amount of money could ever give me.
When my dad finally leads me out of the school, I feel like I’m floating. We get to our car and he pulls out his phone, smiling as I realize he filmed the whole thing.
I watch the video with some sort of weird fascination. When I’m speaking in front of an audience I’m hardly conscious of my body, but watching myself on film is different. In the video I look truly happy and confident and the sad, bitter, girl I used to be is long gone, replaced by someone I am proud to be. Someone who’s suffered long enough to know life is precious, and a single life force has the power to create change.
I don’t know what the future holds but I am no longer filled with fear, instead with hope. In life, we either take what’s happened to us and let it tear us down or we let it make us better people. It’s not up to some higher being and it does not lie in the hands of fate. It’s much simpler than that. The choice is ours, and only ours to make.
I’m glad I made the right one.
About the Author
Alessia Dickson is the author of The Crystal Chronicles series. She lives in Toronto, Ontario, where she is hard at work on her next book.