Deborah Clark Vance

When I was 11, my big brother accused me of being shallow. But I assured him I had a rich inner life and could prove it.

Here’s how: As far back as I remember, I filled sketchbooks with picture narratives of animal characters romping at the beach, playing ball, having picnics. No doubt I was inspired by the books our mom read us every day, ones with animal characters – The Wind in the Willows, Dr. Dolittle, Just So Stories and 101 Dalmatians.

By second grade I drew groundhog families living an alternative lifestyle in underground homes where they used cleverly crafted acorn-cap cups and oak leaf plates. When my classmates badgered me for copies, I figured out how to use carbon paper to create more than one at a time. That was also the year I penned – penciled, actually –  “The Lonely Easter Bunny”, a rhythmic rhyming poem that I recited for my class.

In sixth grade, my budding concern for social issues showed in my “Ban the Litterbug,” a story about a cop who invented a tool he could aim at litter on the ground, zap and disintegrate it. Then there was the character I named Rhea Barton, “a business woman,” an idea that fascinated me (obvious by how often I refer to her as “a business woman”) as I lived in a suburb full of housewives back then.

My brother still meted out harsh criticism of the fanciful stories I was writing in 7th grade while he was reading the works of Freud and Alan Watts’ books on eastern religions. I plowed on, despite his naysaying.

My high school English teacher invited me into her special Creative Writing class. Those were stressful times when I wrote an existential story that depresses me even now. But as graduation approached I wrote something fun, “The Best for Last”, about a little boy alone all day in an apartment. (I knew no one who lived in apartments and left their kid home alone). Even on his birthday his mom went to work and while she was out he received a series of three mysterious packages: Out of the first one popped the Mumblecrum, a chaotic and disruptive creature. The second contained the obsessive-compulsive Twitchnickety. And the final one — the best for last — was a little boy just like himself who was perfect company. The next year, a friend in art school in New York said she’d illustrate it, and we’d get it published.  I never saw her again.

In all these stories, oddballs did extraordinary things in places I only imagined.  I wanted to do those things and visit those places and set out to do so.

Now I present “Sylvie Denied,” a coming of age story about someone who goes to all the wrong places and meets all the wrong people as she struggles to find where she fits. She shares a lot in common with me.