How I Became a Writer

Growing up military, we moved around so much I learned to be flexible and find the best in wherever we were at the time, always writing stories and poems to process my feelings, especially since my family made some unusual choices.

In ninth grade, my mom thought it would be a good idea to put me into an Italian public school. I was fourteen, but they put me in sixth grade. Why? I didn’t speak Italian. The Italian administrators thought I’d have an easier time learning the language if I started at the beginning of their middle school program. At first it was all, “Ciao, ciao, ciao,” the only word I knew. I had no idea what was going on and failed every class for about a month or two, but I continued to study my butt off.

By Christmas, I was making real progress, a solid C student. I could understand about seventy-five percent of the conversation. I finished the middle school program, with a B average.

But I had a huge problem. I was seventeen years-old with an eighth-grade education and we were moving back to the United States for my father’s retirement.

Panicked, I went into an American high school with my Scuola Media diploma and they turned me away. Overcrowded schools were not open to someone who already had a diploma. Because it was in Italian, it was unclear to them that it was a diploma for middle school and neither my parents nor I thought to correct them.

Several months later, we moved to a small town so my mom could open, The International Café. By March, the restaurant was facing bankruptcy, but now that I wasn’t needed, I was allowed to go back to school.

This time I left my diploma at home. Told the guidance counselor that I was eighteen, new in town, and needed to do twelfth grade. She blinked at my transcripts, “No one here speaks Italian. You’ll have to translate these…”

A few months later, I had an American diploma. And I went to Prom! (No proms in Italy.) I applied for tons of scholarships, camping out in the guidance office. The counselor encouraged me to enter the county level Miss America Pageant for the scholarship money and I won!

Appalachian State University offered me an academic scholarship and an invitation into their honors program. I worked three jobs and had to take out a student loan to make ends meet. I ate lots of cereal and Top Ramen.

I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a minor in International Business, studying abroad in Australia and China.

I completed a Master’s of Science degree in Mental Health Counseling from Stetson University, which included a study abroad tour in Europe. Five days before taking off, I met my husband. It was love at first sight - which is completely insane. We waited a few years before we got married, just to be sure.

My professional career began as a therapist at a boys ranch. My supervisor told me to double bill for services, but I knew that was wrong, so I didn’t do it. Then the boys ranch made the news for insurance fraud. Everyone was laid off, some went to jail. Not a great career start. My new job was at a private psychological practice. It was a great fit and I learned a lot.

I went on to earn a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy, from Barry University. I needed to become a doctor to learn the magic words to help my family make better choices. My husband and I moved to a small developing town where I created a private practice for children and families. I helped tons of people heal, but still couldn't help my family of origin. My own body began to get very sick when I was around them. I had to make the difficult choice to separate and turned my attention toward healing myself.

Then I hit a snag. I couldn’t get pregnant. All I wanted was to start a family of my own, but my body said no. It took 5 years and the help of the Center for Reproductive Medicine. I'd kiss Dr. Sejal Patel every day if she’d let me! I made her the beauty queen in one of my books—she’ll always be a special person in my life.

I decided to close my practice and stay home with my baby. And nine months later, I had another life growing inside of me without even trying!

Being home with my babies was amazing, but I needed to do more. I started writing young adult novels after trying and failing at picture books—they seem simple but are the hardest to write! I joined SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and met many wonderfully talented and supportive people in the Florida chapter, like my writing coach, Joyce Sweeney.

Writing books is a team sport. Critique groups, workshops, conferences, and writing programs are vital to creating the best work possible. I enrolled in the WCYA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts to pursue an MFA.

I write resilient books for resilient readers. I make the kind of books that I needed when I was a kid. Stories of hope and courage. I’m far from perfect, but I’m perfectly me. That’s all you have to be, too.

Follow me on Insta, Twitter, Pinterest, or YouTube: @ToriTerrizzi to see what I’m up to next!