Four Books in Forty Years, a guest post by Stacy Nockowitz
I wrote a book when I was 10 years old. The book was titled Herbert C. Gnome Stranded in New Jersey. A nice man at my father’s architectural firm illustrated a cover for it and bound it with blue electrical tape:
There was no doubt in my 4th grade mind that I would become a writer when I grew up. All I ever did as a kid was read, write, and roller skate. Noel Streatfeild’s whole Shoes series, A Cricket in Times Square, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Carp in the Bathtub, The Trumpet of the Swan, A Wrinkle in Time, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Harriet the Spy, every single book written by Judy Blume…I measured my years by how many times I’d read those books. I wrote Star Wars fan fiction before I knew there was such a thing as fan fiction. I filled notebook after notebook with stories I don’t even remember now. I was so sure, so obstinately certain, that I was destined to become a writer.
But that’s not what happened. Things got in the way.
I moved from private school (big fish in small pond) to public school (short, red-headed, Jewish fish in huge pond), and every ounce of confidence I’d ever had drained out of me. Childish thoughts of pouring my stories onto pages dwindled until I stopped writing altogether. I still enjoyed reading, but by the time I was an English major in college, I saw that most writers were dead, white men with “something to say.” Moby Dick, The Great Gatsby, The Illiad, Ulysses, Sons and Lovers, Moll Flanders, Lolita…No room in my brain for the books I wanted to read, much less the stories I wanted to write.
All of those required assignments got in the way.
I graduated from university with few, if any, marketable skills, but with a vague sense of ambition that told me I needed to get myself on a solid, predictable career path. So, I went to grad school and became a teacher, a middle school language arts teacher, which was writing-adjacent, wasn’t it? Now, I could open students’ eyes to the wonders of other people’s writing! Tuck Everlasting, The House with the Clock in Its Walls, Twenty-One Balloons, Hatchet, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Giver, The Outsiders, The Mouse Rap, I Am the Cheese. And this was a pleasure for years! But it was never enough.
I wrote a book when I was 29 years old. It was a book for adults, a novella, as it turned out, which grew out of an adult ed creative writing class in Brookline, Massachusetts. When I finished it a few weeks after the class ended, I called the instructor and said, “Okay, so what do I do with this now?” She told me to write a query and find an agent, and she wished me luck. I had no idea what she was talking about. I made copies of the book for a local book club and also gave it to a few friends to read. That was that.
Teaching language arts was apparently not close enough to books for me. I returned to grad school to earn my Master’s in Library and Information Science. Being a librarian, I figured, was the next best thing to being a writer and I could still make a living surrounded by books. Surely, librarianship would be the perfect way to combine my lust for reading and my need for a semblance of financial security, all the while drawing me further into the world of books through publishers’ catalogs, author visits, and library journals. This line of work, too, was a pleasure, even more so than being a language arts teacher, because I no longer had those pesky five-paragraph essays to grade. I’d found my sweet spot. Or so I thought. Then…
I wrote a book when I was 41 years old. A middle grade book that mixed some Irish folklore, about which I knew very little, with a boarding school setting, about which I knew nothing. I had spent my days with 11-, 12-, and 13-year-old kids for some time by then, and I certainly understood their speech patterns, their idiosyncrasies, their wants and needs. When I finished writing this one, I gave it to a few colleagues and a handful of students to read. Some liked it. Others were indifferent to it. One 7th grader told me that my characters were flat and the plot was predictable. That was that.
I contented myself with living vicariously through other writers for several more years. Mildred Taylor, Nikki Grimes, Margarita Engle, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Gary Schmidt, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Patrick Ness, Jacqueline Woodson, Neal Shusterman. Matching students to the perfect book for them was the highlight of my days. I found joy in teaching students how to use emerging technologies and embraced my role as a media specialist. I even wrote a little newsletter, the Weekly Web Hits, which I sent to my fellow faculty each Friday. That patched the opening in my soul that wanted to write. Until it didn’t.
I wrote a book when I was 51 years old. My fourth book. But this time, I wanted to tell a very specific story, and I wanted to tell it right. I took classes online from excellent writers and mentors. I joined online communities, made genuine connections, and learned about the industry. I went back to grad school yet again, laser-focused on honing my craft. I decided that I would not settle for “That was that” anymore. I asked for help, for guidance. I listened to people who knew more than I did about writing and publishing. I revised and revised and revised, something I’d never done before.
Now I’m 55, and my debut novel, THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER, will be available on September 1, 2022. I realize that my career will not have the longevity I’d have liked. I write slowly, so I won’t be pumping out a book a year. Now, of course, I also realize how slowly the publishing industry moves, so I’m not nearly as concerned about that as I used to be. I just want to be able to publish another book. Maybe another one after that. I just want to be able to keep writing. I’m living proof that the tortoise really can win the race, that an old dog really can learn new tricks, and that every other tired cliché about being old and slow can actually contain some truth. And the best part? I’m truly fulfilled now; teacher, librarian, author– I’ve done everything I set out to do when I was that 10-year-old writing about a gnome in New Jersey. I may be crossing the finish line later than most of the other participants in the race, but guess what? I still get a ribbon.
Meet the author
Stacy Nockowitz is a middle school librarian and former language arts teacher with more than 30 years of experience in middle school education. Stacy received her Bachelor’s Degree from Brandeis University and holds Master’s Degrees from Columbia University Teachers College and Kent State University. She is also an MFA candidate in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Stacy received a PJ Library Writer’s Incentive Award in 2020 for her debut novel THE PRINCE OF STEEL PIER, coming in September 2022 from Kar-Ben Publishing. When she’s not writing or matching great kids with great books, Stacy can most likely be found reading or rooting on her beloved Philadelphia Eagles. Her kids have flown the coop, so Stacy lives in central Ohio with her husband and their cat, Queen Esther.
Twitter: @snockowitz (https://twitter.com/snockowitz)
About The Prince of Steel Pier
A young teen falls in with the mob, and learns a lesson about what kind of person he wants to be
In The Prince of Steel Pier, Joey Goodman is spending the summer at his grandparents’ struggling hotel in Atlantic City, a tourist destination on the decline. Nobody in Joey’s big Jewish family takes him seriously, so when Joey’s Skee-Ball skills land him an unusual job offer from a local mobster, he’s thrilled to be treated like “one of the guys,” and develops a major crush on an older girl in the process. Eventually disillusioned by the mob’s bravado, and ashamed of his own dishonesty, he recalls words of wisdom from his grandfather that finally resonate. Joey realizes where he really belongs: with his family, who drive him crazy, but where no one fights a battle alone. All it takes to get by is one’s wits…and a little help from one’s brothers.
Publisher: Kar-Ben Publishing
Publication date: 09/01/2022
Age Range: 9 – 10 Years
Filed under: Guest Post
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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