This past weekend I had a fun road trip out to one of my favorite independent bookstores: The Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA!
On the two-hour drive from Boston–I purposely took the longer, scenic route–I started to contemplate how despite my penchant for writing about far-flung travel, this trip to the Odyssey represented a kind of homecoming for me.
|My alma mater, Hampshire College|
In the 1990s I went to college at nearby Hampshire College, in Amherst. I lived in South Hadley one summer when I had a job that kept me in town between semesters. And the Pioneer Valley–home to the five-college consortium of Hampshire, Amherst, UMass, Smith, and Mount Holyoke–was where I spent much of my time learning to be a writer. I was an English Major, not a Creative Writing Major, but I wrote countless stories in college; while some kids hit the gym or the hiking trails for stress relief, I holed up in my dorm room and pounded out story after story. And I was a voracious reader in college, even outside of work for my classes. I haunted all the local bookstores and libraries, and spent hours discussing books with some of the smartest readers I’ve ever met — friends I have to this day, with whom I bonded over books.
I hadn’t been to the Pioneer Valley for about ten years, when I went there once for a bike ride and whizzed past my old life at high speeds. I really haven’t spent any significant time there since I graduated college. So as the winding roads and lush rolling hills led me into Amherst this weekend, I felt a swell of mixed emotions. In college, I’d been filled with uncertainty. I’d had a tenuous financial aid package and a hefty part-time work schedule that made my existence there semester to semester quite precarious. I’d had a huge course workload; I doubled up on classes and graduated in 3.5 semesters to save money. I’d had fierce ambitions to write but crippling anxiety about how to realize those ambitions. I was too scared to take creative writing workshops and share my work with teachers and mentors who could have helped me along. I imagined I was taking the safe route, majoring in English and starting a path to grad school and to becoming an academic, but in fact I’d been embarking on a dead-end road for me: a path to unhappiness in grad school and highly uncertain job prospects in academia. I’m sure my fear and my impulse to play it safe set my writing goals back a decade, at least.
I arrived early for my event and spent some time walking around my old campus, remembering what it was like to be there at various stages of my college career. If I had to do it all again, I would have taken those creative writing workshops and availed myself of the abundance of talent in the five-college area. I would have been open about my writing ambition and made more connections. I would have turned my dreams into concrete goals much sooner. But I have more peace of mind than regret. I think the learning environment at Hampshire, and the culture of the five-college area, did help to form me as a writer. And I remembered, powerfully, how by the time I graduated, I had the goal to return some day to one of the area bookstores (now not in such abundance, sadly) as a published author.
So when I walked into the Odyssey Bookshop, I felt an incredible sense of satisfaction. It’s wonderful when life gives us chances to loop back into time and reconnect with a goal. It really has been an Odyssey for me to get back into that store after all these years.
I had such a marvelous time talking about YA fiction with my fellow panelists, talented authors Terra Elan McVoy (IN DEEP) and Gillian Murray Kendall (THE GARDEN OF DARKNESS). Thank you, Odyssey–and the wonderful audience who came out on a warm July night–for making me feel at home!
|Terra Elan McVoy, Me, & Gillian Murray Kendall|