This is it, the one I finally settled on. The edit was a bloodbath — it was twice and long and four times as meandering as it needed to be originally. I think if I hadn’t been on a short deadline (of my own design) I’d have written at least 20 different versions, each with merit, and not be able to decide on which to go with. I’m the same way with opening chapters, by the way.
Without further ado, as submitted with my application:
The Personal Essay
of David Elzey
I published my first book in the fifth grade, co-written with my best friend Marc, entitled This Book Is Not Very Punny. Eight mini-sized mimeographed pages of illustrated puns, the book was poorly received, the criticism crushing; the boys were jealous because it made them laugh, the girls felt the humor juvenile and beneath them. Shortly thereafter I announced I would one day be an animator for Disney.
I wasn’t ready to be a writer.
I went to art school and learned that the history of art grew out of storytelling. The history of film taught me I had no stomach for Hollywood. French New Wave and German Expressionist movies spoke to my soul but I didn’t know how to decode the language. I graduated from college with a major in Experimental Film and Video and a minor in Confusion. I seriously considered becoming a Buddhist monk.
Instead I went back to school and became a junior high school teacher.
Little accidents began to take place. A friend’s daughter told me to read a book by Daniel Pinkwater called Fat Men From Space. The book was new to me but it reminded me what a joy the books of my past had been. I happened onto a bookstore reading by Francesca Lia Block for her debut Weetzie Bat and it was as if a window had been opened into my past. Childhood memories flooded my thoughts and I began to see my classroom experiences from a different perspective. A character sprang to mind, a series of stories, a young adult novel fluttered. I took ten vacation days from work and hammered out a rough draft. It had some fun, a smudge of promise, but I was uncomfortable with the novel format. Still, I was writing and that felt good.
I began working with screenplays, movies intended for adults, believing they were somehow more “serious” than books for kids. At the same time I volunteered at a radio station and began reviewing movies. I learned the art of writing the 20-second public service announcement and eventually taught courses in writing for radio. I also formed a writer’s group that met weekly to discuss and critique each other’s work. I felt like things were moving along. I also felt like I was running in place.
So I quit my job, liquefied my assets, and went to Europe. I didn’t intend to become the cartoon stereotype of the American abroad on a journey of self-discovery but, as is often case, the minute you stop looking for something is when you find it. I had been trying so hard to be a writer that I had forgotten what it was to enjoy the process. Worse, I had ignored my own instincts by abandoning children’s books when that was the very thing that sparked my writing in the first place.
I returned to the States and began by working in bookstores. I began reading and studying children’s books. I read the professional journals and joined the SCBWI, believing every time I renewed that “this year” would be the one I would be able to list the dues as a tax deduction.
It was only a year ago that my wife Suze delicately pointed out that her salary was three times the size of mine and, well, we could afford it if I wanted to take time off to write.
I supplemented my writing with an internship at the Horn Book where my education continued and I was asked to write reviews. Afterward I took up (and still maintain) a part-time position at a children’s book shop in town which provides me time to devote to my own writing. I’ve set up shop on the Internet reviewing children’s books in all formats and genres. Short of mimeographing my stories and handing them out to classmates, I feel I’ve come back to the point where it all began, to take on the revisions and suggestions of instructors and fellow classmates, to tell the stories I’ve been longing to tell.