By Steve Hooley
It was college prep English class, junior year, in a little high school in rural Ohio, when I was first infected with the virus.
We had a new teacher that year, Miss Linda Warner, fresh out of college with a degree in English and teaching. She was only six years older than we were, which is probably why the boys paid such close attention. Plus, new teachers were supposed to be tested. Right?
We soon discovered that we weren’t the only ones paying attention. A new student, John Kauffman, showed up that year. We had never seen him before, and have never seen him since. In fact, we didn’t see him when he was with us. He was either invisible or a ghost.
He had to have been present though, because he turned in assignments on time and on topic. Somehow, his papers became shuffled in with the other students’ papers and ended up on the teacher’s desk. We didn’t actually know John was in the class until Miss Warner began reading his papers.
Apparently, she fell in love with John’s writing, because she read his papers to the class nearly every day. John pushed the boundaries of acceptability with his writing, and the class loved it, laughing and cheering. Junior English became a favorite class that year.
John stayed for the whole year and got an A in English. He apparently enrolled in band as well, where a new teacher gave him a B for the year. The rest of us never heard a note he played or saw his instrument.
By the next year, our senior year, John had disappeared. The mystery of his identity was never solved. I often wondered what became of him. I say John was real, and he was sent there to infect us with the bug, the virus, Scribophilia (the love of writing). Some of us never recovered and now have the chronic disease, Scribophiliosis.
For me, the disease went into remission for decades, as I studied math and science, medicine, and finally woodworking. But, in 2009 the virus recurred when I edited my father’s memoirs of his service for the United Nations during WWII. He was descending into dementia, his manuscript was nearly lost, and he was turning 90 that year. I spent the summer organizing his story, had the book printed, and presented him with a box of his books on his 90th birthday. While I stood and watched my father sign books with a confused smile, the virus got me again.
I took some correspondence courses from the Institute for Writers (then called Long Ridge Writers Group). I thought I would write magazine articles for the woodworking journals, but quickly fell in love with fiction.
I tried my hand at Science Fiction, but had no success.
I returned to the Institute for Writers and, under the tutelage of Carole Bellacera, took the novel writing class and completed my first novel.
I found James Scott Bell’s books and began seriously studying the craft of writing. I joined the ACFW and began attending conferences. And then, from a fan of the authors here, I learned about The Kill Zone blog.
I learned from Joe Hartlaub the pitfalls of publishing contracts when a small publisher offered me a contract for my first book, then quickly went bankrupt. Joe helped me retrieve my copyright before it was lost forever.
About four years ago, after hearing JSB preach about Indie publishing, I decided to go that route. Two unpublished books, four anthologies, three published books in a children’s fantasy series, and the virus is still clinging to my DNA. And happily, I am not interested in a cure for my disease.
So, how about you? Can you remember when you were first infected with the virus? What were the circumstances? Is there a teacher, relative, or friend you would like to thank (or curse) for encouraging your interest in writing? Or, has there been a particularly memorable milestone along your writer’s journey that has shifted you into a higher gear?