I first knew I wanted to be a writer when I was nine years old.
I sat down at the Olivetti "Princess" portable manual typewriter my parents had let me play with, on my desk in my bedroom, and typed out single-spaced on a yellow sheet of lined legal paper what I thought was brilliant: a script for myself, and two friends, that was to be an episode of our favorite television show--The Mod Squad.
We were all into role playing and enacting the fictions we created in our heads, and it was easier to have a script than to just make things up as we went along, I thought.
Now, you may be old enough to remember the television series, or you may not. Originally, it was about three "troubled" teens in California essentially given a choice: assist a detective division in investigating and, ideally, stopping crime in a part of California near a beach, done most often by young troubled teens like the main characters.
The three characters were named Pete, a troubled white teen with curly black hair; Link, a troubled black teen with hair similar to Pete's, and Julie, played by Peggy Lipton, a lithe young blonde with her straight, soft hair parted in the middle atop her head and falling down to frame her face.
Suffice it to say, the character of Julie was the first woman I recall seeing on television and thinking, "wow." And part of that was because the girl who played "Mod Squad" with me, or at lest I envisioned in the character of Julie, was the girl who I'd made friends with sometime between fourth and fifth grade--Amy Parkinson, a lithe blond with her long soft hair parted atop her head in the middle...
It didn't matter to me who would be Link. I was Pete. It just made sense to me. Pete was a sensitive misunderstood guy who kept most of his emotions in, except when pointing at Link or Julie and making some sort of "I'm going to go out there fix it, change the world...and you can come with me, or stay here" kind of sililloquie in obviously seething through clenched teeth passion.
I don't know if it ever was really explained--I don't recall, if it was--what exactly the three were doing that got them in the situation where they wound up being essentially drafted into a police role to avoid prosecution, but it must have been pretty bad because the show opened, originally, with the three of them running from the police detective who became their mentor and supervisor, and I think Julie being caught causing the guys to give up.
At about the same time as I wrote that one page episode script--I thought I'd solved one of our problems with playing together, and overcome my fear of writing more than a paragraph in one day of hard writing (it took probably an hour)--I met a woman who lived near the elementary school who invited me into her living room which was lined with more books than I'd seen in a library.
She lived in a house on the street between the one I lived on and the ski hill, meaning I crossed her street past her house every morning I walked to the elementary school across a street on the other side of the ski hill, and every afternoon when I walked home.
I can't remember being invited into her house, or if I knew her somehow from the neighborhood, but once inside that room, and told I could borrow any book I wanted, I knew I wanted someday to have a book in someone's room.
We went to India that summer for two years. I only saw the Amy Parkinson once, when we said good by and she gave me a slice of left over cold pizza she'd saved from dinner with her mother the night before--the first time I'd ever had pizza, cold or otherwise, and the sweetest gift I'd ever been given in my nine years on the planet--before we left. I saw her only once more, enough to talk to her, in eighth grade, and never again.
I rediscovered my love for writing in high school, with an excellent creative writing teacher by the name of Elizabeth Dowling. I had returned from India for eighth grade, and writing became an outlet for things I wanted to either get down on paper and then be done with, or to express ideas and emotions that otherwise seemed in need of an outlet.
My first attempts at writing consisted of rock songs--some protest songs against war, generally, and some love ballads. But it was Lizzie Dowling who got us all to think in terms of poetry, and language for painting scenes and stories as if with brushes and pigments. And in teaching us to write how we wanted, but crafting poems, and stories, and even essays so they became entire compositions--not just one-page episodes--she also taught us to read like writers.
And that guidance wound up getting me my first literary agent, Ray Puechner.
But by the time I met Ray, I already knew I wanted to be a writer more than anything else. In college, I first studied communications generally, then transferred to a school that had a strong print journalism program--because most of my favorite writers had been journalists.
Journalism as a profession for a would-be writer also made perfect sense to me, because it would, I hoped, help me not only learn to write effectively, and carefully, but also provide me with experiences I hoped to be able to draw on for fiction.
I have been a journalist now almost as long as I have wanted to be a writer. And I am happy to look back and say I made my living as a writer more than half of my now 30+ year career.
And I have much more to draw on, now, than when I first knew I wanted to be a writer.
Causes Terin Miller Supports
Civil and Human Rights.
Amnesty International; March of Dimes; Operation Smile; Medicines Sin Fronteras; UNICEF