Seeing your byline not always a good thing

Amy suggested we write about the first time we got published, a topic which should have been easy for me but instead I started getting muddled in the details: First time I got what published?

– A book? Dictated from me to Mom, who wrote it down on construction paper and tied it together with string, 1983.  

– A newspaper story? The Jacket Journal, 1989. 

– A poem? Literary magazing, 1995.

– Short story? Literary Magazine, 1995.  

– Editorial? School newspaper, 1996.

– Photo? The Beaufort Gazette, 1996.

I’ve been published in The Herald, The Charlotte Observer, rejuvenate magazine, The Southern Sampler, The Johnsonian (college newspaper), Winthrop’s Yearbook and Winthrop’s literary magazine. I was the Lifestyles Editor for The Johnsonian and I was editor-in-chief of the college literary magazine, The Anthology. I won first-place prose awards in college, awards for design and layout in high school, an award for “best all around” of Beaufort High School’s literary magazine, and awards for layout in the newspaper world. In fact, in 2006 I was given the Best of the Best award for front-page newspaper design from the South Carolina Press Association. I have been a reporter, a copy editor, assistant news editor, editor-in-chief and creative director.

I don’t really remember the “first” time I got published. Like I said above, I’m certain it was in middle school (not counting the construction paper book) but I don’t remember it being a “big deal.” So instead I want to talk about the time I felt cheated out of being published and all that was evil in the high school publishing world. I want to talk about Mrs. Murdock.

Anyone reading this who went to my high school around the same time I did just shuddered at the mention of her name. Mrs. Murdock was the creative writing teacher at Fort Mill High School, and she was also the publisher of the school’s literary magazine, Illusions.

Before I tell you about Mrs. Murdock I have to tell you about Ms. Horne. Ms. Horne was the creative writing teacher at Beaufort High School for exactly one year. The same year I happened to live in Beaufort. I give Ms. Horne credit for turning me into a writer. She ran her class as a kindergarten class for 15-year-olds. We sat in bean bags instead of desk chairs, that is, when we weren’t in the park across the street from the school. We didn’t have to raise our hands to speak and at times class resembled a group therapy session. I flourished that year, learning about layout and design for the first time (and earning a South Carolina Scholastic Press Association Award for layout). I wrote poems and short stories and essays that were the best I’d written yet. The atmosphere was perfect for our creative spirits and if Ms. Horne was a little cooky in the process, well, that just came with the territory.

And Ms. Horne was a little cooky, to say the least. She wanted to be our friend more than our teacher. She wanted to push the limits on our assignments, asking us to write about the strangest of things. One day, she did just that with this assignment: There’s a government demand that you have to kill exactly one family member. Who would you kill and how would you do it?

Some kids told their parents and some parents complained to the school. (For the record, I elected to kill myself over anyone in my family. See, I might have been a volatile teenager but I still loved you, family!) Ms. Horne was asked not to come back after that school year. And my parents decided (unrelated to this) to move back to Fort Mill, my hometown. I was only gone a year but that’s a long time in high school time.

Upon my return I was introduced to the formerly mentioned Mrs. Murdock (I’ll pause while you shudder.)

By this time I was in Creative Writing II and Mrs. Murdock sure didn’t like the fact that I had been trained under someone else for Creative Writing I. “Since I don’t know if you’re a good writer I’m going to make you the business editor,” she proclaimed on my first day. The business editor? My job that semester consisted of entering check numbers into spreadsheets. I hated it and Mrs. Murdock hated me. She always gave me the last choice in assignments. She actually refused to let me go to the SCSPA awards so when my name was called out to come receive my layout award, the stage was empty. She gave me terrible grades and at one point there was even a conference with my parents about said grades.

My parents knew something was up – they were more than aware of my love of writing and they stuck up for me in that conference. I felt so much pride knowing they were behind me – take that, Mrs. Murdock!

After that Mrs. Murdock lightened up, and I think I ended up with a B average in the class. However, second semester she told school administration she didn’t have room for me in her class so I took newspaper class instead (and absolutely loved Dr. Hannon).

Part of the “perks” of being in Mrs. Murdock’s creative writing class was a guaranteed published piece in Illusions magazine. I had been published no less than 5 times in Beaufort’s literary magazine and I was excited to be published again. At the end of the school year I grabbed my copy, flipping through and looking for my work.

And then I saw it, buried somewhere near the back – a haiku. A freakin’ haiku. Three little lines with my name next to it. That was it.

I’d like to say eventually Mrs. Murdock and I mended fences and I learned a lot about writing from her, but that’s not the truth. The truth is I learned absolutely nothing about writing that semester. I did go on to earn a creative writing minor and journalism major in college. I considered and then refrained from sending Mrs. Murdock a copy of the college literary magazine when I was editor.

I do wonder sometimes about Ms. Horne, though. Sure, some of her assignments were awful but she always meant well. The summer after she stopped teaching she moved to Washington DC and she kept calling the home of one of her students who happened to be a friend of mine. We’d all be hanging out at his house and the phone would ring and there would be an awkward, “Uh, it’s Ms. Horne.” He would pass the phone around and we’d all say hi. Then after the phone call we’d ask him why she was calling him. “I have no idea!” he’d say, and we’d all wonder and giggle.


Read Amy’s publishing story here.