My Mother, the Writer
by Anne Mazer
My mother was a writer to her core. It was who she was; it was all she wanted to be. Early family pictures show six year old Norma Fox scribbling in a notepad or hidden behind a book. By the age of twelve, she had made up her mind. Her dream was to become a writer. Although she dropped out of Antioch College at age eighteen to marry my father, Harry Mazer, she never let go of it. After her marriage, Norma took writing courses at night and considered becoming a journalist. But her writing apprenticeship began for real when she was twenty-seven years old. She was already the mother of three young children under the age of five.
I was the five-year-old, and I remember the day she began to write. The decision was life changing, not only for her, but for all of us children, as well. Suddenly there was a new, all-important focus in my mother’s life. She began to regularly retreat to the solitude of her room to commune with blank sheets of paper. Writing was the well from which she drank and refreshed herself. Her commitment to it veered on the religious. The daily rites consisted of early morning pounding of typewriter keys by Norma and Harry in their tiny bedroom office cell, typed manuscripts cut with scissors and stapled back together (cut and paste in those days was literal), and secret lined notebooks which were repositories of private thoughts and conversations…
From the beginning, it was clear that my mother was the engine who drove this particular team of writers. Both parents were imaginative, creative, and gifted storytellers, but my mother was the one with self-discipline, tenacity, and drive. She never wandered off, got distracted, or flinched from the goals she set herself. Once she had made her decision, she followed through with a fierce will and a deep sense of purpose. Her first published work was a humorous article called “Pigs are Not Pigs.” I proudly brought it to school. No one else I knew had a mother who was a published writer. No one else even knew any writers.
Living with writers wasn’t all fun and games, though. Endless conversations about plot, character, motivation, and description swirled tediously around my head. My mother also instituted a dreaded daily ritual called “The Hour of Fresh Air,” whereby she kicked my brother and me out of the house (ostensibly for our health), so that she could have writing time. And as a teenager, I discovered that the best—and sometimes only— way to get her attention was with book talk. No matter how distracted or tired she was, if I made a few literary observations, her eyes would snap into focus.
By the time I was in middle school, my mother and father were writing pulp fiction for a living. My mother always said that writing confession stories taught her about plot, character, pacing and the discipline of writing every day for a living. Not to mention that she and Harry were now able to support their growing family of four children on a writing income. My friends, though, were shocked when they heard my parents wrote confession stories. One girl shrieked in the middle of a crowded bookstore, “You mean they prostitute their art?” When my mother published her first young adult novel, I, Trissy, I breathed a sigh of relief.
After leaving school, I went to live in Europe for three years. When I came home, a transformation had taken place. I had grown up with struggling writers who just managed to make ends meet, but both parents were now very successful in the field of young adult literature. Hearing one of their names, librarians would clutch at my sleeve and hyperventilate. It was hard to wrap my mind around it all.
Later on, I realized how much I had learned from my mother. Her tenacity, determination, and commitment to her work made a lifelong impression on me. My mother gave me a model of how to achieve what I wanted in life: by applying steady, unrelenting effort, with intelligence and love. For that, I will always be grateful.