This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is YA author Cynthia Jaynes (C.J.) Omololu revealing hers…
Guest post by Cynthia Jaynes (C.J.) Omololu
My turning point as a writer began in the bathtub.
Maybe I should back up a little bit. I didn’t grow up writing. I joke that all of my journals end on or before January 21st because I get bored with my life, but it’s actually the truth. I’ve always been a voracious reader, one of those kids who would go to our tiny town library and walk out with a stack of twenty books to be read in one long weekend. But I never thought that much about who wrote them. It seemed like they just appeared by magic whenever I wanted to be transported someplace else.
In high school and college, teachers would often compliment me on my writing (except for the teacher of the one and only creative writing class I took, but that’s another post altogether) and I’d say thanks and move on. I never thought about it as a career, as a thing that people did for a living. I figured I’d get out of school, get a nice job in an office that wouldn’t require me to wear pantyhose, and get on with my life. And I did for a while.
I met my husband at that nice office job, and by the time I was in my early thirties, I was a stay-at-home mom with two small boys. I was happy and grateful to have that opportunity, but also had a gnawing, unfulfilled corner of my life that often confused me. Even when I had that nice office job, I’d stand at the coffee maker and look out the window at the people going into the gym next door and wondered what those people did for work that allowed them to go to a gym at two o’clock in the afternoon. Not that I actually wanted to go to a gym. I just wanted to be able to have that option.
Staying home with my kids was great, but I also felt like I should be doing something more. That there was something I was supposed to be doing with my life that I was missing, and that thought gnawed at me until I developed a crippling case of anxiety and depression so bad that my mother had to come and help me take care of my babies for a few weeks. With help, I was eventually able to deal with my daily life, but still felt that hole in my soul, that there was something out there I should be doing and it dogged me every day.
I remember the turning point like it was yesterday. I had climbed into a hot bath late one night after the kids were finally in bed, the dishes were done, and the laundry was mostly folded. I loved to read in the tub, but books often got soggy, so I was settling back with a magazine, reading an article about new kids’ books. At that time, my life was all about kids’ books. My sons knew that all they’d have to do is come to me with a book and I’d drop whatever I was doing so we could read together. In the bathtub that night, I thought that someone should write more books that had brown kids in them so that my boys could have books with people who looked like they did. In one brief moment I had that turning-point thought: why not me? I figured I was reasonably intelligent, had read about a million children’s books—how hard could it be?
Turns out, it’s plenty hard, but the good thing is that I didn’t know that at the time. I didn’t know it was really difficult to get a book deal or sign with an agent. Nobody was looking over my shoulder telling me I was crazy and that nobody made a living as a writer. I just put my head down and did it in blissful ignorance. I won’t bore you with the details, but one giant learning curve and several years later, I sold my picture book When It’s Six O’Clock in San Francisco to an editor. A critique partner started writing YA books, and although I’d never read one, it looked fun, so I dove into that, again with my ignorance paving the way. I met my agent at a conference, and while my first book didn’t sell, I did get an idea for a book on hoarding that eventually became Dirty Little Secrets. Next I wanted to write a book with no garbage and more kissing, so I wrote Transcendence about reincarnation and second chances that came out this month, with a sequel to be published in June of 2013. Whenever I look at that beautiful brown boy on the cover, my mind rushes back to that night in the bathtub and I get a feeling of satisfaction that’s often hard to come by. The boy on the cover looks a lot like my oldest son, a fact which mortifies him completely. And that I love.
Those little boys are teenagers now. One wants to be a musician and the other wants to be an actor. In moments I may look back on as extremely bad parenting, I tell them the same thing I told myself that night in the bathtub. Someone has to do it. Someone has to take what they love and make a go of it—why not them?
The anxiety and depression are gone for now. That little nagging corner of my psyche is finally quiet because by completely happy accident, I found what I’m supposed to do with my life and I know just how important that is. Despite the fact that writing and publishing is a really hard job, I’m grateful every day. If you find that your dreams are blocked by people who say it’s impossible, who say that nobody ever gets to do what you want to do, sometimes you need to wrap yourself in a blanket of blissful ignorance about how hard it’s going to be and ask yourself that important question—why not me?
Cynthia Jaynes (CJ) Omololu majored in English at U.C. Santa Barbara because she liked to read, not because she liked to write. After her kids were born, she discovered that the voices in her head often have interesting things to say. DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS was published by Walker/Bloomsbury in 2010 about a girl growing up in a hoarded home and the difficult decisions she has to make to keep the family secret safe in the face of disaster. Next up are two books about reincarnation and destiny—TRANSCENDENCE, which just came out yesterday, and a sequel due Spring 2013, both from Walker/Bloomsbury.
Visit her online at www.cjomololu.com.
GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED!
Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed and personalized* finished copy of C.J. Omololu’s new YA novel Transcendence! The winner is…
Congrats, Austine! Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prize.