Brand building through storytelling

My most-requested story was the first

Maynard RonaAge14I grew up in Durham, New Hampshire, in a broad white colonial house that I could hardly wait to leave. My corner room, where I plotted my escape to Greenwich Village, had a sign on the door proclaiming, “PROTEST AGAINST THE RISING TIDE OF CONFORMITY.” I dreamed of future lovers in a four-poster bed that someone had cobbled together from the remnants of two more distinguished beds. I played Bob Dylan’s anthems on a record player housed inside a pink suitcase that complemented the pink and orange beads draped over my mirror. I wrote at a scarred antique desk just wide enough for a notepad, a couple of books and a glass of Diet Pepsi.

I planned to turn my back on everything that happened in Durham, a numbingly small-minded college town where academics looked down on mere professionals and the entire populace looked down on country folk whose kids rode the bus to school. It never crossed my mind that a story I wrote at my sliver of a desk would still be finding readers after more than 40 years. Yet that is precisely what happened. “The Fan Club,”written when I was 14 and a freshman at Oyster River High School, won a prize in the Scholastic Magazines writing competition for young people and went on to be featured in countless anthologies for students. Comments and requests are still coming in.

For all I know, “The Fan Club” will have a longer life than anything I’ve written in the wide world. Already it has handily out-earned every magazine feature of my 30-year career.

I used to wonder why my “The Fan Club” kept chugging on. “What’s with the folks who edit these textbooks?” I’d exclaim. “Are they all cribbing from each other? Can’t they find something new for kids to read?”

Then last fall Erin Olson, a teacher from Sioux Rapids, Iowa, e-mailed me to ask permission to create a choral reading based on “The Fan Club.” Her students were keen to perform it in a speech competition.”I was a freshman in high school when my English teacher introduced me to your short story,” Erin wrote. “…your story and Faulkner’s ‘A Rose for Emily’ excited me about reading.” And writing, she added.

I wish I could choose which examples of my writing would resonate with readers through the years. But that’s entirely up to readers. What an honour to be told that any words of mine have shaped the course of someone’s life.

Prompted by Erin, I reread “The Fan Club” for the first time in years. It’s way too earnest for my adult tastes (and not a patch on William Faulkner), but then teens are pretty earnest, too. I can see why they relate to the story. It explores issues close to their hearts—injustice and peer pressure—from the perspective of a geeky teenage girl whose consolation for her loneliness is a sense of moral superiority to prom queens, cheerleaders and basketball stars.

I was that girl in real life. I made lofty pronouncements about civil rights; I told anyone who’d listen that the U.S. had no right to call itself the land of the free and the home of the brave. I thought I was a rebel, a champion of human dignity. But in a weak moment, I didn’t stand up for a vulnerable classmate whose standing with our peers was even lower than mine. Nor did the teacher, who silently presided over a brazen display of scapegoating in her own classroom.

The experience moved me to write “The Fan Club.” (Click here to read it.) When I wrote about the heroine, Laura, I pictured myself, looking just as I do in the photo on this page—grave and, I hoped, mysterious in my favourite unconventional outfit. My turtleneck sweater is gold.The flowers in my jumper are orange and pink, like the beads draped over my bedroom mirror.

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