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March 25, 2013

Kimberly McCreight, Author of RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA: On Determination

Posted by tbrliz

I wrote my first story by accident. 

Junior year in high school, my English teacher assigned an essay about A TALE OF TWO CITIES.  And I had nothing. I mean, total and complete blank. I loved the book --- to this day, it remains one of my favorites --- but all I kept thinking about was the voice of one cold and hungry and very brave teenage girl who wasn’t even in the book. A girl who felt much braver than me and in whose skin I wanted to live for a little while.

With the deadline looming, I had no choice but to let her speak for me.

That teenager’s story became my first. After that, I was hooked. Getting lost in someone else’s world became the perfect escape from the not-always-easy realities of my own high school years.

Luckily, I had a very patient and supportive English teacher. She accepted that short story in lieu of my essay and even submitted it to a prestigious writing contest. The story didn’t win, but my teacher’s support never waned. On my last assignment that year she wrote a note: “Please promise me you’ll be a writer, God gives the gift to few.”

But that was easier said than done.  

I was scared, that’s the bottom line --- afraid of failing, making a fool out of myself, never getting anywhere. And so I played it safe in college and stayed away from writing. Instead, I charted a course I could count on.  But the whole time it felt wrong. I felt wrong.

I never stopped writing in secret, but it took me more than a decade to take a real leap --- to take a chance on being the person and writer I’d always wanted to be. By then, I’d gone to law school and had been working as a lawyer for a couple years. I took a one-year leave of absence from my job, moved to London, and wrote my first book in those 12 months.

I almost sold it to a publisher, too. Unfortunately, “almost” counts for about as much in publishing as it does most other places: zero. I had promised myself that I would give up on writing if I didn’t get published by the end of that year, that I’d go back to my safe job as a lawyer, which I didn’t like, but I was at least pretty good at. 

But this time, I just couldn’t. There was no more denying who I was. Published or not, the stories just kept coming and they needed to get told.

It took me 10 more long years to finally get a book --- RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA --- published.  Sticking with it through all those years (and years) of rejection wasn’t always easy. Actually, most of the time, it totally sucked. But at least I didn’t feel anymore like I was pretending to be someone I wasn’t. And even in my darkest hours --- like when my rejection slips overflowed their folder or the teacher of the writing class I was taking suggested that I give up writing altogether because I was “never going to make it” --- knowing that I was being true to myself was something I was always proud of.

When I set out to write RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA, I think I wanted to be reminded of that feeling again, and Amelia --- my main character --- knows all about being true to herself. Like my very first teenaged heroine, Amelia is all the things that, in high school, I was not ready to be: confident, sure of herself, brave. 

From the start, Amelia knows who she is and is determined to be that person, no matter what. In the end, even that’s not enough to save her. But I think it makes her a true hero by any measure.  Certainly, it makes her someone that’s very, very hard to forget. 

And I love Amelia for that. I hope that you do, too.