In the mid-nineties, I wrote a monthly column for America Online's Teen Community. I just wrote about whatever was on my mind, but I remain very proud of this column. Yet, they were lost in an AOL update so none of them exist anymore. If I could find one, I am sure it would be as awful as most of my early writing proves to be. Many of my topics came from lunchroom conversations with my peers. This little column led to much of my initial success. I self-syndicated the columns to a number of regional papers. I don't remember their names, although I did find an old copy of one of them, the Radisson, NY Free Press. This also led to my first freelance article in a California-based magazine Focus: A Magazine for Women, that was an expansion of a piece I wrote about the camaraderie between the boys in my school who became fathers. I used to receive e-mails from readers and enjoyed an inflated sense of grandeur that still persists to this day.
Yet, it wasn't all success. In fact, the success was rather rudimentary and had no real lasting significance. While I would write for the Teen Community section on AOL, I spent most of my time in the section of the service dedicated to writers and writing. I had access in those old forums to many experienced and helpful professionals. There was also a section where writers could find opportunities -- anthologies in need of manuscripts, magazines in need of freelancers, and content for these new-fangled websites. One such advertisement asked for inspirational stories. I don't remember how I did it -- this was on AOL's service, not the web -- but I directed the poster to my articles on AOL and my published clips and waited for a response.
I was in high-school at the time, tenth- or eleventh-grade, and the mid-term exam was legendary for being a real bastard to pass and failure resulted in extra homework for the rest of the year. Also, doing well on the exam meant the possibility of skipping the final. I avoided the internet for a week or ten days, perhaps I was a focused student or barred from using the computer for my sass-mouth or skipping on some chores. When I returned to my e-mail, I was behind on everything. I owed AOL two columns and had a bunch of other writing to do and as I scrolled through my e-mail, I saw that the editors of the anthology had gotten back to me. They liked my work and wanted me to submit something. I had just spoken to a longtime professional in Journalism who had advised me to "never write for free." So, I attempted to negotiate with the editors. I wanted cash I could spend on a CD or a video game or some youthful bullshit. So when they responded by saying they would be willing to negotiate a back-end royalty, I decided that my plate was far too full for such fly-by-night nonsense.
A year later, Chicken Soup for the Soul took over the world.