I grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts, a city known for its legendary boxers and its once proud heritage as "the shoe city of the world." Many of my ancestors spent time laboring in the now ghostly leather factories, including my father and both grandfathers. They worked long hours, enjoyed vibrant lives with their families, and dreamed of sending their children to college. They succeeded.
A photograph of my grandfather, John Joseph Heney, in the factory hangs over my desk. I keep it there because in all my life, I've never known a finer, more intelligent man, and because it reminds me daily how fortunate I am to do the work I do.
It also recalls his personal two word motto: "No kick." To us, that phrase might suggest a watery drink; but in John's era it meant "no complaints," and it reflected his personal brand of tough optimism. "No kick" meant that if you want to do something in this world, whether it's painting a house, making a relationship work, or just staying alive (he lived to be ninety-nine), you didn't whine about the cost. You just got on with it. It's still the best advice I've ever gotten as a writer.
As a child, I dreamed of being a dancer, the first woman President of the United States, a girl singer with a rock band, a teacher, a contemplative nun, a police detective and in my Albert Schweitzer phase, a great humanitarian doctor. By the time I was ten, I had chosen names for the twelve children I planned to raise in my spare time.
But the truth is I never had a choice. I was a writer from the time I first held a pen-if not earlier. When my cousin Lorraine and I sat on the steps on a boring summer day, wondering what to do, I'd always suggest, "Let's write a story!"
I quickly learned that not everyone found sitting at the kitchen table hunched over a sheet of blank paper the best way to spend a perfect summer day.
Don't ask me why, but I did...and I still do.
Of course, my life hasn't been all about writing. It's also been happily filled by a husband, four children, and more pets than a family has a right to love. Since the poetry and fiction I wrote for literary magazines paid mostly in contributor's copies, I also worked as a waitress. I didn't know how much I actually enjoyed the work until I left it behind to write full time.
Making my lifelong obsession with writing a reality has taken commitment, sacrifice, and above all, patience. Though I will never have an opportunity to live out my other childhood career fantasies, through writing, I have inhabited countless lives, most far more interesting than my own. As my grandfather would say, "No kick."
Dutton and Gotham Books
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