So a big welcome to a fellow Colorado writer today – Laurel McHargue. In addition to being a guest on my blog, today is a special day for her. It is the 35th anniversary of her graduation from West Point Academy. That is amazing and I’m glad that she was willing to share her journey with us. So on to her story 🙂
Why My Goal is to Publish in Every Genre
By Laurel McHargue
When my high school guidance counselor told me I shouldn’t apply to Smith College as an early decision applicant—I should have several backups in my pocket—I wasn’t mature enough to realize she was projecting her own insecurities onto me, as if I needed more than my own at the time. But I applied the way I wanted to, was accepted, and got to know myself as a person separate from my parents over three challenging and eye-opening semesters on the picturesque Northampton campus.
What I discovered was how little I knew about myself.
I accepted a job through Smith’s summer work placement program after my first year. The job? Housekeeper, light fare cook, and companion to a 65-year-old Smith grad. I hadn’t cooked a day in my life up to that point. The fourth of five girls in my family, I was often dodging too many helpers in our kitchen, but I never minded hanging out in my bedroom with a good book. I was fairly sure I could follow a recipe and not kill anyone with the resultant meal.
And what a wonderful opportunity! I’d live for six weeks with a woman who’d be my mentor. She had worked at Harvard Business School before retiring. She would help me discover my purpose in life.
She had no time for me—ME!—and no interest in mentoring a young Smithie. She barely acknowledged my presence. So I cleaned her ashtrays and accompanied her between her apartment in Boston’s Prudential Center and her little place on the beach in Connecticut and didn’t kill her with my cooking.
And I decided I needed a change.
My parents had raised me to believe I could do and be anything I wanted, yet I knew I’d never really been tested academically, physical, and emotionally. I wanted to be tested.
I had my meeting with the Dean of Smith in November of my sophomore year, a requirement for anyone leaving the ivy towers of the Seven Sisters College, to tell her I’d started an application to the United States Military Academy at West Point and would leave Smith at the end of the semester to prepare. I was fairly confident my application would be approved.
She told me I shouldn’t leave. I was making a mistake. Didn’t I see how well I was doing at Smith? She told me I really shouldn’t make such a drastic move. It wouldn’t be a good fit for me.
She was almost right. As a woman in the fourth class to see women at West Point, I experienced the wrath of many cadets, grads, and professors who believed women shouldn’t be marching alongside the men of the Long Gray Line. I came close to failing out of West Point because my plebe English instructor, an Army Captain, told me I couldn’t write.
But I could, and I did, and after graduating from West Point in 1983, I served in the Army for nine years on Active Duty and over three more in the Army Reserves. But what does any of this have to do with my goal as an author?
The answer is simple. First and foremost, I want to publish in every genre because it will be a challenge. Second and aftmost (thought I’d made up that word, but alas, I did not), I’ve been told I shouldn’t.
After publishing “Miss?” and Waterwight, an author friend told me I should adopt a pseudonym for publishing The Hare, Raising Truth because clearly, my niche is educational writing and The Hare is, well, rather naughty. Not naughty enough to check porn off my “to do” list, but not nice enough for a middle school classroom—though many of my former 7th grade students would disagree.
Different writing conferences I’ve attended also have promoted the “niche” message. “Market yourself as a (fill in the blank) writer.” “Be the ‘go to’ author for (this specific) genre.” And what has been my response to these messages?
Every genre presents its challenges, and I’m a firm believer that a life filled with challenges will never be boring. As I work on Waterwight Breathe this year, the last book of my Waterwight Trilogy, I write with full awareness that I’m doing something I “shouldn’t” do. I’m writing it in first person present tense, whereas my first two books remain consistently in third person past tense. Why?
You know why. It’s different. It’s a challenge. I haven’t done it before, and after reading The Hunger Games Trilogy, I was inspired to try it. I wrote The Hare, Raising Truth in second person perspective for the same reason, and Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone voice was a powerful inspiration behind each creepy scene. It was great fun to write.
So while many will stand by their advice that I shouldn’t write in multiple genres, I believe I should, and I will. If Neil Gaiman can do it, so can I. And hey, is someone going to knock on my door and drag me off to jail for breaking any “rules” of writing?
I think not. But if I do find myself behind bars for daring to color outside the lines, just think of the story I’ll write about it. It’ll be a challenge.
Award-winning author Laurel McHargue, a 1983 graduate of The United States Military Academy at West Point, was raised in Braintree, Massachusetts, but somehow found her way to the breathtaking elevation of Leadville, Colorado, where she has taught and currently lives with her husband and Ranger, the German Shepherd. She established Leadville Literary League, a nonprofit organization with a mission to promote local literary endeavors and the arts, and hosts the podcast ‘Alligator Preserves’ about storytelling and the human condition. She blogs about life, real and imagined, at leadvillelaurel.com. Find her at the 2018 Denver Comic Con June 15-17.