You Never Forget Your First “Times”

Back in 1995, I was fresh out of college, ready to start my career as a writer. I didn’t know how I was going to accomplish that, exactly, just that that’s what I wanted to be.

That was the year I moved to Block Island. A tiny rock off the coast of Rhode Island, it felt like the perfect place for an aspiring writer to live. I imagined myself sitting on the beach, just a dune away from the North Light, pen and paper in hand, composing amazing tales. Here’s the funny thing: in my daydreams, I’d forgotten the part where I had to pay my bills.

I did get a job writing for the Island Crier, a short-lived newspaper that competed for a time with the big paper: the Block Island Times. I wrote two articles a week for the Crier, which paid $10 per piece. I was not going to pay my rent on $20 a week. I needed a real job. First lesson learned about being a writer: it doesn’t pay well.

I started working for the only bank on the island, then moved on to the local grocery store because the pay was better, and eventually to town hall, landing a great position as the tax collector. The Crier folded, and I sold a few articles and stories to a couple of magazines, but my writing career was stalling. I woke up one morning and realized with horror that my current career track had me (gasp!) working in finance. I was good with numbers, sure, but I didn’t love doing it.

A few years earlier, the Block Island Times had put out a call looking for new columnists. I’d applied for the position, submitted a few samples, and the managing editor told me, rather rudely, that he “didn’t get my humor.” I took his insult with grace and dignity, flipped him the bird, and went back to calculating mill rates and issuing tax bills. But it hurt.

Then, a miracle: the Times was sold. The new publisher, a man who looked exactly like Mark Twain and with the fabulous moniker of Royal Bruce Montgomery, wanted to bring on some new staff. He found my old submissions and, in one of the single most wonderful moments of my life, called me out of the blue and asked if I would consider writing for him.

I sure would.

I wrote a humor column for the Times every week for six years. Nothing pleased me quite so much as eliciting a chuckle from Royal Bruce. There were late nights editing at the office (a second job they offered me based on the lack of errors in my articles), and early mornings when last-minute column ideas would come to me right before deadline. All of these things were wonderful, and were the moments when I finally felt like I could legitimately call myself a writer.

My illustrious days with the Times ended when I moved off the island, but my days with the paper haven’t left me. Working for Royal Bruce gave me the confidence I sorely lacked: that people would want to read the things I had to write. That deadlines were serious and not to be missed; that to be a professional writer, you must put the words on paper even when you don’t feel like doing so. He also gave me my start in what would turn out to be the best “day job” career I’ve ever had, as a copy editor, which is what I do to pay the bills these days.

I’ve sold a few dozen stories and written a couple of novels since those days. Been around the writer’s block a few times. Gotten some recognition. Don’t get me wrong—story acceptances and manuscript sales and awards are wonderful things. They feel pretty spectacular when they happen. But to this day, I still associate success with the sweetest sound of all: the low, rumbling chuckle of Royal Bruce’s laugh.

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Stacey Longo is the author of Ordinary Boy (nominated for a Pushcart Prize) and Secret Things: Twelve Tales to Terrify. Her stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, including Shroud, Shock Totem, and the Litchfield Literary Review.
She is a past Hiram Award winner, and was a featured author on the 2014 Connecticut Authors Trail. A former humor columnist for the Block Island Times, she maintains a weekly humor blog at www.staceylongo.com.

 

 

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