A few months ago, my husband Jim and my daughter Katie and I were eating dinner and chatting about how people get started in their careers. I mentioned that for me, an Archie comic book played a pivotal role in my deciding to be a writer.
Every Archie comic book featured a spread in the middle with three submissions from readers. The submissions were awarded first, second and third prizes of $5, $3, and $2 respectively.
When I was 9-years-old, I sent in a (dorky) poem I wrote about the Archies and many months later was thrilled to learn I had won second prize, and my poem would be published.
Being published was not what made me decide to become a writer. It was what happened long after the comic book came out that pushed me in that career direction.
Archie comics were widely circulated around the world. Once my poem was published, along with my full name and address, I began receiving letters from all over the world. They were from kids, most around my age, seeking a penpal.
I soon had penpals in the Philippines, India, Australia and dozens of other countries as well as many U.S. states. The letters trickled in, a few every month, for several years, as I imagine the comic books got circulated and traded long after the original publication date.
I made it my mission to respond to every letter I received, and I maintained a correspondence with anyone who continued to write me. Composing those many letters was when I realized I loved writing.
At the end of telling my Archie story, Katie asked me if I had a copy of the comic book that published my poem so she could see it. I told her no. I didn’t know what had happened to it. Too many years had passed; too many moves to new homes.
However, I told her I thought I had a copy of the letter from Archie Comic Publications sent in 1972 that said I’d won second prize and listed the issue that would include my poem. And after dinner, I retrieved my childhood scrapbook and showed Katie the letter.
As I said at the beginning, that conversation took place several months ago. Fast forward to last week. It was my birthday. I turned 29. Again. After a nice birthday dinner, Jim and Katie (home from college for fall break) gave me some wrapped presents.
I could see Katie was super-excited. She could barely sit still as I opened her gift. As I pulled away the wrapping paper, I saw something colorful sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard. And when I removed the cardboard, I could not believe what I had in my hands. It was the Archie comic from 1972 with my winning poem! How in the world???
Katie told me she’d noted the edition number from the Archie Publications letter I’d shown her. She’d then spent weeks searching on eBay and had finally found a copy of that edition for sale.
Now, thanks to my thoughtful, resourceful daughter, I have in my possession my very first published piece, the catalyst for my writing career from so many decades ago. What an amazing birthday surprise!