Over the years I have had many different passions, yet through them all I carried books.
The first book I remember being read in school is Sunny Side Up by Valiska Gregory. I was in Kindergarten and both classes had been gathered in the library. The stage had a rocking chair and a table, with a glass of water upon it, set up. Our eyes were too busy to notice when the author came in and sat down. Mrs. Deitrich clapped her hands to call us all to attention. The next thing I can clearly remember is having a brand new book of my own, signed by Ms. Gregory, placed into my hands. I took it home and proudly read every line to my mom and dad, all by myself. This began my love for books and reading. To this day that book is at my parent’s house safe and sound. I read it to my son when he was a newborn and my husband was deployed.
The next book, which I am sure we have all read (If you haven’t, you MUST) is Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I am sure this book opened my eyes to all things fictional. I wanted to have Wild Things of my own, but alas all I got were Care Bears. I have read this book many, many times and each time I find something new I missed before. I have also read this book to my son, but he said Max was a bad boy and he didn’t need to be so mean to his mommy. 🙂
I remember my mom taking me and my brother to the Logansport Public Library for storybook time. Most of the time I would sneak away and find books to read on my own while my brother sat listening to the librarians read. The American Girl and Babysitter Club Series grabbed my attention, and I believe I read all of the ones the library had.
So as you can tell I am a child of the 1980’s, but I didn’t just sit around and read all day. In third grade, I was asked by the fourth and fifth grade basketball coach if I could come to a practice and learn the game. Being from Indiana I already knew the basics since they had been drilled into me since birth, much like the rules of slow pitch softball had been. See, my dad played softball and I was at the park every spring through fall, and when it was winter my dad would take me to the Benjamin Long Center or the Y, and I would watch him play basketball. During half-time he would try to teach me how to play, but I never got the hang of it, until fourth grade. In fourth grade I began eating, sleeping and dreaming about basketball. I was already 5’8″ at the time and the tallest girl in our school, if not city. Basketball became my second passion and remains to this day.
Since I began playing basketball at such an awkward age, well it was awkward for me, I went to many camps. Dribbling was never a strong suit of mine, but posting up in the paint was. I joined an AAU team in sixth grade and remained with most of the same girls until I graduated. In sixth grade is when I met my first role model, outside of my parents. Coach J.T. Hubenthal soon became the man whose opinion, besides my father’s, meant the most. He had told me I wasn’t skinny enough during the winter of seventh grade and began running me into shape. I not only lost weight, but also bulked up and became a corn fed presence in the paint. During this time I also became involved in my school system’s band program. I not only was a jock, but also now a band geek. OH BOY, what was I to be called??? I never quite figured that out. I was also on the speech and debate team, and part of the book club at my middle school. Boy was I ever confused, and I soon turned to writing.
By the time I hit high school I was playing basketball year round (with Mr.Hubenthal as my coach), playing in the high school marching, jazz and pep bands, and still reading non-stop. I would always carry a book with me, and most of the time they would end up smelling like sweaty gym shoes, but the library never complained. I joined the softball team in the spring of my freshman year, but I disliked the coach and didn’t return the next year. My sophomore year I joined the girls’ soccer team and found another passion. Being a Goalie was now integrated into my persona. I went to a camp the following summer and learned from the United States Women’s Soccer coach how to use my height to my advantage. Basketball and Soccer kept me pretty busy, and band was always in the background filling up the little free time I had. I would read on bus trips, and most of the time during lunch. I can recall many times getting yelled at to turn off my flashlight and go to sleep on the bus rides home from games and competitions.
The summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school, Mr.Hubenthal retired from coaching. I was beyond shocked, and didn’t know what I would do without my coach to guide me through the rest of my high school career. He had always been there to talk to and encouraged me to keep reading. He once told me that one day maybe I should write a book about all the books I had read on our bus trips. I shrugged it off and didn’t think about it for a long time to come. Mr.Hubenthal introduced me to Mr.Hoover. Mr.Hoover was a basketball coach that worked for D-ONE camps and Rick Mount Shooting School. I attended the shooting school and team camp that year with Mr.Hubenthal for his last hoorah of coaching us. At the end of the camps, I was asked to return the next summer to help coach and referee at the smaller kids’ camps. To this day I can still shoot in the same form I was taught at those camps. Back to the point, while at shooting camp we were told to go to a happy place and think of only it while shooting free throws. I thought of books and stories that I had read while I shot for hours upon hours.
The fall of my junior year the new basketball and soccer coach came to our school. I disliked the man personally, but respected him for the position he held. We shall call him Coach S. I had been taught to respect my coaches and teachers, and so I did just that. The next two years of sports were the most trying times of my life up to that point. I was run until I puked, told I needed to lose weight and that I needed to improve my attitude. I was the scapegoat for both teams, and felt it every day for two years. Did I forget to mention that Coach S. made me choose between sports and band? Well he did, and I chose sports. I missed it the instant I turned in my Baritone Saxophone.
On October 11, 1998 I had come home from a rough basketball practice and jumped onto our family’s first computer. This was the time of dial-up kiddies, and when chat rooms still ruled instead of Instant Messaging. I met a nice guy in a random chat room and we talked about music until I had to go to bed. We exchanged emails and I hoped that I would hear from him soon. I woke up the next morning with an email in my inbox from him. For the next ten months he was the person I would get the most support from, besides my family. See this guy was in Korea with the Army. So, when I was going to bed he was just waking up and vice versa. He was the first person I talked to in the morning, and the last person I talked to at night, when he wasn’t in the field. Without this amazing guy there to vent my frustrations to, I probably wouldn’t have made it through the last two years of high school without hurting myself. I wrote to him every day and mailed them to him weekly. Then I found out he was coming back to the states. I never felt happier in my life.
Soccer and basketball season went by faster than I ever imagined they would my senior year. I had many disagreements with Coach S. but I continued living my life the way I thought was best for me and my future. I was engaged by Thanksgiving, and soon began looking into several colleges. The University of Louisville caught my eye. I spoke with my fiancé and he told me no matter where I decided to go, he would be there to support me every step of the way. At graduation he yelled, “I Love You, Nikki!”, as I walked past him. I was on the top of the world. No matter what the future held, I knew that I would always have him. I was accepted to the University of Louisville and would play soccer for them in the fall. Everything was going grandly, and I remember thinking . . . this is how it should be. Coach S. tried to ruin everything at every opportunity. Besides his negativity and attempts to break us up we were married on July 22, 2000. I began practices in August and soon realized that although soccer had been a passion of mine in the past, it no longer made me happy. Another factor is that I was not being utilized as promised, and the financial aid that had also been promised never came my way, I made one of the hardest decisions ever and quit the soccer team and college.
This was the first time I had ever given up on something because I felt useless and like I didn’t belong. I soon began doubting myself in everything I did. I read all the time because it was the way to escape into some other place, and truthfully it made me happy. Being an Army wife and being away from my family was harder than I ever thought. Without my passions to keep me busy, I soon lost all of my self-confidence. This was in 2000, and until recently I thought I would never get it back.
In 2003 I became pregnant, only to find out that my husband would be deploying to Iraq. We found out on Valentine’s Day, and I was five months pregnant and we were living in Colorado. On March 20th, 2003, which just so happened to be my 21st birthday, my husband left for his first tour of duty. I moved back in with my parents, and on June 23 my baby boy was born. This was the first time in a long time I had felt truly passionate about something. I was the only one there for our baby to rely on. Hubby returned for his mid-tour leave four months later, and brought with him the beginning of our family nickname, the Moose’s. But I will save that story for a later post.
In 2008 I received a phone call from Iraq. My husband was on his third deployment and had just received news about his next duty station. We were moving to Youngstown, Ohio. After three deployments, my hubby would finally be home for longer than a year, close to his family, and I would be able to go back school. In 2009 we moved into our current house, and I began college all over again. I first started out thinking, well I was a clumsy jock, and maybe I could excel in the physical therapy program. That was soon proven very wrong by my hatred for Biology. I did horrible in the classes, and hated the brashness of the faculty.
The silver lining was that I was finally finding my stride and truly enjoyed my composition courses. By the end of my second semester in college, I had changed my major to Professional Writing & Editing. I loved doing all the essays, and decided I would give the Intro to Fiction class a shot. My first day in that class, I knew I was where I belonged. Master Christopher Barzak walked in the room and introduced himself and outlined what we would be doing in the course. (I call him Master, because I am big on titles of respect, but calling him Mr. just doesn’t seem enough. And calling him Dr, wasn’t the right term either. Since he has an MFA, I began calling him Master) My writing was horrible, but I loved every second of it. I created a story about Diana, a bad ass woman who had her family torn away from her by things, creatures in the shadows that no one could explain. It was bad, but every step of the process Master Barzak was there with encouragement and tips on how to make it better.
I continued writing during winter break and had a semester off from work shopping. During this semester I met Dr. Rebecca Barnhouse. She was my professor for Literary Studies. Even though most of the content was dry and boring, she found ways to keep me intrigued and to challenge me. I signed up for her fiction workshop during the fall semester and that is where I found my niche. Dr.Barnhouse ran her workshop on Young Adult fiction. We could write in whatever style we wanted, but it had to be in the Young Adult genre. I asked so many questions, I sometimes perceived myself as a 5 yr. old in a 29 yr. olds body. But not once did Dr.Barnhouse get frustrated or push me away. She directed me to websites that could help with research, and even suggested books for me to read different points of view. I felt at home in the English Department and knew I had made the right decision. Not only did I have one person to help guide me along, I now had two. This past spring semester I took another fiction workshop with Master Barzak. I continued working on my YA novel and received more feedback and direction from Barzak and Barnhouse.
Recently, I have been researching MFA programs. I will be moving to Washington in 2013 and have been looking in that area. Not only have I asked more than enough questions from these two, but they have never once pushed me aside, and really care about my future and what is best for me as not only a writer, but as a person. They want me to be successful, and this has made me more confident in myself. They don’t treat me as a number or like I am below them. I am treated as an individual, as someone who matters. I can’t begin to thank them enough for their help and guidance in this path I have chosen. I hope to always have them on my side and always there to talk things through with. They have helped reignite the spark for my passion, and that is books and writing. I hope to present them one day with a finished manuscript, or even with my first rejection letter. I couldn’t be where I am today without their help, and for this I am eternally grateful.
By the way, they are both published writers. You should look them both up and read their stuff. It is spectacular.