How I Got My Start
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. In the very first diary I ever kept (I was eleven, and it lasted one week), this is, I kid you not, the opening sentence:
“This is the first day I’ve really written in a diary. The reason I am, is ‘cause I LOVE writing stories, and if I do grow up to be a famous writer, and later die, and they want to get a story of my life, I guess I should keep a diary.”
Yup. Prescience and arrogance, rolled into one.
Anyway, this is me, reading recently in Edmonton.
But back to the past. My first paid writing gig came along when I was still quite young, in my early 20’s. I’d been hired on a brand-new TV series called Degrassi Junior High, to feed the cast and crew food (a job called “craft services.” Don’t ask me why). This is how the kid actors repaid me in that first season; this poem appeared in a “yearbook” they published:
An ode to Susin, the Bran Muffin Queen,
We eat them,
Then we turn green.
Anyway, in between first and second season I wrote a “spec” script and showed it to the head writer. Next thing I knew, he and the producer hired me to write my first ever episode of television.
It was really, really, really hard! I was lucky – in the right time at the right place – but I did draft after draft after draft, trying to learn the craft of writing for TV. They were amazingly good to me on Degrassi, and I wound up writing 16 episodes of Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. Believe it or not, they were also responsible for giving me my first crack at writing young adult novels: I wrote four books in the Degrassi series: Shane, Wheels, Snake and (my personal favourite) Melanie.
But here’s a little secret that very few people know … for a brief, fleeting period, I was also an ACTOR on Degrassi …
That’s right: I played, in two memorable episodes, Louella Hawkins, the janitor.
Yup. That’s me. Age 22 or so, wielding a wrench or some other tool. In that particular episode the heating was on the fritz in the middle of winter and the kids were boiling hot, and when Joey Jeremiah asked me, “Isn’t it fixed yet Louella?” I got to say, “Good guess, goofball.” In my other episode, Arthur and Yick hide a dog in the boiler room, and when they come to find him, I step out of the shadows holding the dog: “Is this what you’re looking for? Dogs are not allowed in school. You’d better go see Mr. Lawrence.”
It’s a performance both wooden and laughable … Thank goodness I’m a better writer than I am an actor!