How I Became A Writer, by Monika Schroder
As a former school librarian I have seen many visiting authors talk to our students about their work. Many of them brought journals from their elementary school years, showed stories they had written when they were ten years old and emphasized how they had always wanted to be a writer. That was never the case with me. I have always been a passionate reader but had no desire or ambition to become a writer or a published author myself. In fact, during my school years writing used to intimidate me.
It wasn’t until, as an elementary-school teacher, I took a class on teaching writing in the summer of 2005 that I first thought about the possibility of becoming a writer. The instructor asked participants to compose a narrative inspired by a family memoir and I chose to write a short story about a boy named Fritz based on my father’s experiences at the end of World War II.
My father grew up on his grandparents’ farm north-east of Berlin where he witnessed the arrival of the Russian army in his village at the end of April 1945. At the time he was only six years old, but he remembered his grandfather’s frantic attempts to defend the village, how they rode together on a horse cart while the old man yelled at other farmers to help build trenches to slow down the Russians’ advance. Then, only days before the Red Army arrived in their village, my great-grandparents hanged themselves in their barn. My father told me that he found them. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for a boy after feeling the adults’ anxiety around him during those turbulent last days of the war, to experience his great-grandparents suicide just before a foreign army occupied his village. A four-page narrative about this event became my submission to the writing class. My fellow students and the instructor liked my story and wanted to hear more about Fritz. And, of course, there was much more. My father also recalled that due to a shortage in caskets, his grandmother had to be buried in the wooden dowry chest that was kept in the attic. He also told me about the Russian officers who stayed in their house and the Soviet tank that was stuck on the slope by the pond near the garden. So I continued to write more stories about Fritz based on the anecdotes I heard from my dad. Out of these anecdotes, with the instructor’s encouragement and that of my husband, grew a manuscript with the working title, After the Russians Came. It was rejected when I first submitted it. My husband called the letter I received from the editor, “The best possible rejection letter in the world.” It had two paragraphs. The first paragraph praised the original and gripping story idea I presented in my draft and the second paragraph said that the story wasn’t told well enough. In my disappointment I only saw the second paragraph and felt my hopes crushed. Then I began the long process of revision. I took the draft to a writing workshop where I received good advice from two published authors. Subsequently, I cut the second half and came up with a new arc. After many, many revisions The Dog in the Wood was finally accepted.
Monika Schroder’s author website: www.monikaschroeder.com
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