I experienced my first literary rejection when I was seven years old, after I wrote and published my first and so far, only book.
The subject of the novel was one very dear to my heart: The O.J. Simpson trial. At the age of seven, I took an avid interest in my favorite breakfast beverage turned possible murderer.
Some might say my knowledge of the trial was limited. What I knew, I’d overhead: walking past my parents’ room when they listened to the news, photographs in Time magazine at my pediatrician’s office, soccer moms’ conversations while I ate orange slices on the sidelines.
I knew it needed my attention. I’d meant it to be a journalistic endeavor, but it ended up being more of a fictional interpretation of events. The book was self-published. I stapled pieces of construction paper together, which I’d torn in half (I was also an environmentalist). I drew illustrations in crayon, mostly of stick figures with large, googly eyes I’d carefully glued on their faces. On every page, O.J. was twice the size of every other stick figure, and he was always holding a gun. Even in the courthouse, which I’d drawn as a brown box, he was sitting, holding a gun. On his sofa, watching Judge Judy (meta-fiction), he held a gun. While perusing aisles of the grocery store, the gun sat in his basket. When he was angry, the gun spewed red crayon. Weaponry was not my forte. My forte was Beanie Babies and four square, but my interest was O.J.
At the time, I was attending Valencia Elementary School in Laguna Hills, California — a quiet suburb of notoriously conservative Orange County. Coincidentally, the completion of my book coincided with Mrs. Shannon’s first grade Show and Tell. My parents, who’d always encouraged my individuality, said the book was an “interesting take.” I took this to mean it should be taken in to Show and Tell.
So there I was, sitting Indian-style in the front row of Mrs. Shannon’s class, holding my carefully re-stapled novel in one hand and a juice box in the other. I had to sit through a slew of other Show and Tells — a rain stick, a shark tooth, a hamster named Hammie. Meanwhile, I clutched my book, becoming surer with every passing moment that I’d managed to outdo everyone. The most creative thing there was a pink, crocheted scarf I doubt Julia even had the hand eye coordination to complete by herself. Finally, Mrs. Shannon called my name and time slowed as I made my careful march to the front of the class.
I coughed once, and made slow, searing eye-contact with every person in the front row. Then, I began. O.J. Simpson: Man or Murderer? By Amy S.
Turn page. Give second row slow, searing eye contact. Stare hard at Mrs. Shannon so she knows it’s time to go call the LA Times or at least the Orange County Register.
What followed was a rousing trip through the mind of O.J. Simpson, jury members, judge, ghost Nicole, man in airplane as he passed over the courthouse, squirrel in bushes outside of courthouse. Even animals had opinions. It was a hybrid — part fantasy, part nonfiction, part graphic novel. With the exception of O.J. holding a gun in his stick figure hand, the murder was not addressed. Nor was the trial, other than characters shouting in speech bubbles “Trial! Trial! DID HE KILL?”
When I finished, I closed the book, placed it back on the music stand and glanced smugly around the class to see who was wiping tears from their eyes. The students looked bored. Mrs. Shannon looked horrified. Before I knew it, I was being escorted to the principal’s office, a firm hand gripping my shoulder.
There, I was asked if my parents had seen the work.
Yes, I said.
Had they okay’ed taking it to school?
No. I hadn’t thought to ask — it was a work of genius!
Genius was not the word they used. They called it inappropriate. They called it “politically incorrect” — a phrase I would only understand much, much later. I was sent home early that day. I put the book in a drawer and didn’t take it out until years later. I didn’t write again until fourth grade brought the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. But I’ll never forget that Show and Tell, which initiated my complicated relationship with O.J. Simpson, the written word, and the struggle to know my audience.