I was a day too late.
If you’ve been following my blog from the beginning (in which case, may I just say thank you and you are awesome!), then you probably remember one of my earliest posts titled LeahRae Harris High. To say thank you to a select group of teachers who inspired me to learn and helped me grow into the writer I am today, I hid a reference to each teacher in my novel A Fallen Hero. This was intended to remain a secret until I could fulfill my dream and hand each teacher a published copy of the novel.
LeahRae Harris, my first teacher, was battling cancer, and I realized I was running out of time. I wrote her a letter explaining how I’d chosen to honor her and thanking her for all that she did.
She died the day before I was going to deliver the letter.
I’ve kept my references a secret, partially for the thrill of surprise and partially because I don’t feel like I’ve achieved success yet, and that’s what I’m waiting for. Success. The ability to hold my head up and say, “Look, I did it. You can be proud of me now.”
But I don’t have to be successful to be grateful. My heart was torn apart when I handed my letter to LeahRae’s children instead, knowing her eyes would never see my words and she would never know my gratitude. She died before I could say, “Thank you,” and now all I can do is whisper, “I’m sorry,” to a ghost.
I don’t want to run out of time again. I’m not published yet, but I’d like to take a moment to thank the special teachers who guided me down this cobblestone road.
LeahRae had a spirit full of light and laughter. She strove to make a positive impact on everyone she touched, and she embraced the critical role of being the first teacher.
Learning the ABC’s may not seem noteworthy in the Pensieve, but what was so crucial about LeahRae was the impact she had on schooling. There will never be a second chance to make a first impression. LeahRae made learning something to be enjoyed and revered, and most importantly, pursued. Students wanted to come to school and open themselves up to new ideas. It was the first step, the first domino of an education that would span nineteen years of my life. She accepted her responsibility with grace and joy and started me on a positive journey from the moment I stepped through her door.
We will never forget her.
Martha Snyder ~ Kingsbury Elementary School
First grade planted a writing seed in me…a seed that cracked and started to sprout but then laid dormant for many years afterward. Martha was a teacher whose passion for the profession bloomed throughout the classroom. I loved going to school. I was eager to absorb as much knowledge as she could give me.
Martha nominated me to participate in the enrichment class. Not only did I consider this to be a high honor (and it was; only a select few students from each class were nominated), but the enrichment class also gave birth to my first “book” called The Horse Who Lost His Horseshoe, written in 1998.
This was my first contact with my muse, all because a teacher saw potential in a six-year-old and encouraged me to listen to the creative voice whispering stories in my ear and draw the images blossoming in my mind.
Lorraine Tighe ~ Kesling Middle School
As a high school senior, I was invited to the Pride Banquet, a special event for the top ten percent of the student body. Each student chose an inspirational teacher to honor, and without hesitation, I chose Lorraine Tighe.
Lorraine was my English teacher in seventh grade. We quickly bonded, and that year I was awarded the Language Arts Award as well as Student of the Year. This was the first year I truly enjoyed English class, which reawakened my muse.
The summer after, I set to work on a short novel called Flight of Faith, which paved the way for the longer fantasy novel Shadow Rider a year later. Lorraine was one of Shadow Rider‘s first beta readers. Her magic touch in the classroom made my writing seed suddenly spread its roots deep into my heart and come to life with a feverish passion I never realized I had. I wanted to be a writer.
I first met Greg in Honors Junior English. I was a straight-A student, and I failed my first paper in his class. For a kid like me with mild social anxiety, the unorthodox teaching was a special hell. And yet…I learned. So much. This class, I can honestly say almost a decade later, permanently burned lessons into my memory to this day, a feat few teachers can boast.
Greg instilled a newfound respect for the English language, which would later awaken an unexpected awe for linguistics. He blew on a spark that quickly overtook me in a blaze. I stumbled upon Shadow Rider, which had been collecting dust since the completion of its first draft two years prior, and I realized Greg had given me the tools to revise an novice’s story into a real novel. I wanted to be a published writer.
Sharon Solwitz ~ Purdue University
The five years earning my college degree were mostly spent obsessively crafting the novel that would be divided to form The Chronicles of Avilésor, the first book of which is A Fallen Hero. While majoring in landscape architecture, I decided to add a creative writing minor, mostly with the hope that it might provide more credibility to my résumé when querying agents. That led me to Sharon in my senior year.
ENG 509 was a workshop unlike any I’d experienced before. It was a perfect storm of creative students guided by an inspiring professor, and the class resulted in short stories that have made an appearance On The Cobblestone Road: One Wish (which went on to be published in the Northwest Indiana Literary Journal), Redemption, and Reality Check. This class trained me to thicken my skin and learn how to accept and incorporate criticisms, but it also gave me the confidence to believe I could be a published writer someday.
Jo Pilecki ~ Sandcastle Writers
After college, I thought my writing classes were over, and I was resolved to continue focusing on my novels. Upon the pressures of a friend, I decided on a whim to sign up for the Sandcastle Writers at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts.
What I found was a community that would forever change my life. A diverse group of writers found solace in the security of Jo’s class, which follows the Amherst writing method and promotes positive feedback. Although I’d learned so much from the Purdue workshops, I found the more relaxed atmosphere a refreshing change when Jo concluded each writer’s piece with, “What did you like? What was strong, and what will you remember?” Rather than tear each other down with suggested revisions (no matter how constructive and polite), we built each other up.
The prompts often made my muse sing even when my imagination was nothing more than a blank canvas suffering from writers’ block. In fact, many of the flash fiction pieces on this blog stemmed from Jo’s workshops.
Every single teacher I’ve studied under in my journey has played a part in shaping me, and every single one deserves a thank you. These six shine brightest in the constellation of influences. I am “stepping ahead,” one foot in front of the other. I am a King, a Komet, a Slicer, and a Boilermaker. I am a writer.
Thank you to the lights that guided my way.