I can never resist a challenge.
At 14, I was a hoodlum-in-training — getting myself and wayward friends into knife fights and even worse. I'd been arrested a few times, for criminal mischief mostly, but I'd gotten away with more than I could carry a time or two as well.
It was about then that my sister Kimberly, a year older and a high school sports star, approached me with her arms akimbo and a stern glint of contempt in her eyes. Her words still ring clearly more than two decades later: "Aren't you tired of all the trouble you cause? I know me and Momma sure are. In a couple of years, I'm going to college. Where are you going?"
Uncharacteristically shaken, I peered and concentrated hard but saw no future. So I made up my mind, made some new friends and became determined to follow my sister's path into high school sports.
Four years later, I arrived at Lamar University with a full track scholarship. But within a few months I realized that, while I was more than ready for collegiate athletics, I was not prepared for freshman-level academics. My English professor informed me that college wasn't for everyone — especially not for students who read on an elementary grade level — and suggested that I call it quits.
Afterwards, I caught my breath and took her summation of me as a challenge to prove her wrong. I knew I belonged. More importantly, I refused to return home a failure.
Subsequently, I asked the athletic director for special consideration to remain in my residence hall over the winter break. As soon as he agreed, I raced over to the library and gathered more than 50 books, magazines and newspapers to settle in with over the next three weeks.
I unplugged the television and read. When I couldn't comprehend the words on the pages, I read again. I practiced reading aloud until I understood how the words linked together to form a flowing sentence that made perfect sense to me.
That winter, I continued reading until I was motoring through text as if I had done it for years. Two years later, after transferring to the University of North Texas and completing all the required courses for graduation, I was still practicing.
It would prove fortuitous that I found an obstacle standing between me and the communications degree I'd worked so hard for. I called it The Monster, a mandatory writing exam required by UNT for students who had earned less than a "C" in freshman-level English. It demanded 150 words as its feast, written within a specified time limit and served with fewer than three mistakes in grammar, spelling and punctuation.
The exam forced me to sharpen my claws while sharpening my writing skills as well. After twice tasting defeat, I finally tamed The Monster in a hard-fought third bout. Even now I cherish the wounds inflicted by the UNT English department's beast, which I will always hold in high esteem because it forced me to acquire a deeper appreciation for crafting a flawless story.
With two novels on the Dallas Morning News best seller list (Autumn Leaves and What's A Woman To Do?) in my treasure room and another four novels currently undergoing cultivation, I hail my older sister Kimberly, the professor who said I didn't belong in the battle and The Monster of UNT that nearly affirmed her assertion.
To them I say thank you for providing a rite of passage worth fighting for. Thank you for pushing me to reach far beyond my grasp, from tragedy to triumph.