Toys In the Attic

One of my earliest memories is of my mom reading to me from Little House in the Big Woods.    If I close my eyes, I can still see the Garth Williams artwork that was on the page when I told Mom to hurry up and turn the page.

“I’m not done reading it yet,”  she told me.

“But I am,”  I said.

I was four years old, and I realized two things that day:  that I knew how to read, and that I wanted to be a writer.  Just like Laura Ingalls Wilder.


I got my first typewriter not long after that.  It was a toy, but it worked like a real typewriter.  It was made out of hard blue plastic and it came with its own sturdy carrying case.  I took it with me everywhere I went, and I pounded out stories and poems that probably gave any readers a severe case of bleeding eyeballs.

By third grade, I had worn it out, but that was okay because I learned about quotation marks and discovered that my little typewriter didn’t have a key for those.  I figured out how to type two apostrophes together to make my own, and I expanded my vocabulary as other keys began to wear out.  I learned to find words that didn’t include the letters “g” and “r” but finally had to admit defeat when I lost the letter “e”.

It took less than a year to blow out the next toy typewriter.   Aunt Marian referred to my method of typing as “Hunt and Peck”, but Mom said I was using “The Bible Method”, otherwise known as the“Seek-and-ye-shall-find” method.

Am I the only one who sees the Star Wars influence here?
Am I the only one who sees the Star Wars influence here?

By the time I went away to college, my “toy” had been upgraded to an IBM Selectric.  That thing must have weighed fifty pounds, and it came with a corrector cartridge that was supposed to simplify the process of using Liquid Paper or White-Out.  I had taken an actual typing class by then with the oddest teacher my school ever employed (“My name is Frakes and it rhymes with brakes, and I won’t put the brakes on your typing speed!”).

I used that IBM Selectric to get through some pretty tough college classes, and even used it to hammer out my first query letter to Amazing Heroes magazine.  I knew that no one ever sells an article on the first try, so I wrote the letter as a practice exercise with no thoughts of actually writing the article. I nearly passed out when I got a letter from editor Kim Thompson a few weeks later calling me a “copacetic young lady” and giving me the go-ahead with a very tight deadline.

Oh, the horror that was the 1980's!
Oh, the horror that was the 1980’s!

I looked up “copacetic” and gave up eating, drinking or sleeping for a few days as I wrote “The Forgotten Reader” about what it was like to be one of the few female fans of comic books in those days.  I scrambled for a pen name—for the record, I was writing as “A.J. Lee” before the wrestler by that name was born—and thought my writing career was really taking off when I got my check for $35.20.

We’re often mistaken for twins.

The magazine ceased publication not long after that.

There have been a lot of detours since then.  A few articles here and there, some really egregious poetry, and a lot of self-indulgent attempts at “literary” fiction.   The Selectric eventually went the way of the two toy typewriters, and I now go back and forth between a tiny Asus Netbook and a “real” computer at a desk with my ergonomic chair to support my neck and shoulders.  I have access to things like spell-check and beta-readers and will most likely never again have to breathe the scent of Liquid Paper at two a.m. while chugging cans of tepid Tab and wondering why in the hell I ever wanted to be a writer in the first place.

In a way, I’ve come full circle from the days of that poor old blue typewriter.  It doesn’t matter if I type on a toy or scribble on the back of an envelope with a two-inch pencil stub with a gnawed-off eraser.   I’m a writer.  Always have been, always will be.

And I owe it all to Laura Ingalls Wilder and a little toy typerwriter.

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