where the writers are
The Perks of Being a Late Bloomer

I really resisted seeing The Perks of Being a WallFlower. To be honest, I haven't even read the novel it's based on. You're probably thinking "That's not like Jennifer; she reads everything." First off, thank you. Second off, it's a long long story.

To quote Sophia Petrillo picture it...

 May,1996. Robert Dole was running against Bill Clinton. Everyone was doing the Macarena. I was still watching MTV on a regular basis. One day they had an ad for a writing contest. My ears perked up. A writing contest? Tell me more, MTV!


The writing contest was for people under thirty, to dust off that book you had and send it to MTV. I could so do this. But oh yeah, I needed to have a book. Details, details!

So that summer I took out all these short stories I'd been working on the past two years, then started to revise. I had a good schedule set up: wake up, do morning pages, breakfast, find a good CD, then I would write for a couple of hours before my job at the library. On my days off I read in the afternoons. Things were going my way that summer; I earned a promotion, which delighted me. Of course it scared me too; it was something new. But I was up to the challenge.

That summer my grandfather was becoming weaker and weaker. I visited him once a week. My step-uncle was visiting more because my stepgrandmother was getting more frazzled, yet she refused help. I tried to stay positive and kept on going.

School started again. I was taking some science classes, plus I was still writing on the MTV book. In October of 1996, a week before the deadline, I managed to mail it in. I felt this utter triumph as I mailed it off. I went home and waited for MTV to call me. I could chat with Adam Curry, Bill Bellamy, and John Norris. Kennedy might work my nerves, but I'd do my best to keep my mouth shut.



That night my stepgrandmother called, saying Granddad had a bad fall and was in the hospital. I was concerned, scared. My mother was out of town for her work. I called my uncle and he took charge.

 Four days after I mailed the collection off, Granddad died.

For years, I felt this awful grief. There was this little voice in my head that said: If you were paying attention to him and what was going on instead of writing, he would still be alive. That voice was whacked. That voice was made of grief and illogical thinking.

I left school. I started a novel that had no plot. It never really had a plot. It had energy and heart, no plot. In the meantime, the winners were announced in the MTV writes contest. I didn't win. The first place winner was a book titled Floating by Robin Troy.  The second place winner was a novel that was published in 1999. It was titled The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

I saw this book all over for years. I resisted reading it. Part of it was jealousy. This guy won and I didn't. Fine, fine fine! I wanted to stick my tougne at him and say "I bet your book isn't all that great!" It wasn't very mature of me. Through the years I heard people rave on and on about this book. It was wonderful, it was like Catcher in the Rye. I wanted to cover my ears and sing "La la la!"

In the meantime, I wrote my plotless novel. I went back to school, then I decided okay, I can either just putter along on the plotless novel, or go to four year college and maybe learn plot. I chose the latter. I wrote and wrote. I took workshops, craft classes. I realized that it might take a while, but I could get a plot going. I kept going and going.

In the meantime, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was made into a movie starring Emma Watson. I hemmed and hawed. Last week was great; I had three essays published. Yet I got one star from a random person for I Woke Up In Love This Morning. It took everything I had to not track down this person and say "Look, let's talk about this one star deal. What do you have against breasts, babies, and periods? Let's talk." And I wasn't making progress with my new ebook. Do I want to see Perks? Do I want to be reminded of when MTV passed me over? I thought for a minute, then thought oh why not.


I loved the movie right away; the movie is set in the early 1990's; before internet, cellphones,texting, what have you. It was my era. Mix tapes, alternative music, trying to remember a song you heard on the radio. The movie focuses on Charlie (Logan Lerman), a fourteen year old whose best friend killed himself months before. Charlie also had a trauma happen to him when he was young. He makes friends: free spirits Patrick (Ezra Miller) and Samantha (Emma Watson) who in their words: "are on the Island of Misfit Toys." During the movie I found myself laughing and crying, just feeling all these crazy emotions.

At the end of the film, Charlie says what he has learned: "So I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them."

This is when I lost it. I cried for a bit, not sobbing (like I'm prone to do at movies) but just crying quietly. I realized that in no way was I ready to be published at twenty-four. That even though I felt guilty about Granddad, I didn't stop writing. He wouldn't have wanted me to stop. I couldn't stop it. As I said earlier this year, it was in my blood. Maybe for me it came late. But I never stopped.

After the movie I walked out in the cold day. I wiped my eyes. I was forty years old. I was a late bloomer. I still had so many things to do, so many things to write. And I'm okay with that. And the power I have is to go on, at least for one more day.