The Fire in My Oven

pizza is the sixth element

When I was 20 I caused a tiny fire in my oven.

It wasn’t a big deal. It was perhaps the size of a quarter. I’d been trying to bake a cake and some of the batter leaked out and caught on fire. My sister saw it before it got any bigger, grabbed the fire extinguisher, and gave my cake a nice white frost.

After all was taken care of, I did what any normal person would do.

I wrote a poem about it.

It was called “Domesticity” and it was about fire and memory and life and ash, and I honestly doubt it was any good but I remember typing it up really fast, barely thinking, as if it was simply second nature to do so.

And I’ve been thinking a lot about that spark in the oven, how we’re often so quick to extinguish it. For safety purposes.

How we don’t always know where the heat in our heart comes from until a moment we’re forced not to think. Just react.

How we don’t always know who we are, but that doesn’t stop our actions from defining us.

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for little fires that taught me I was a writer. For failures that showed me I wouldn’t give up. For little nieces that invented new ways for me to love someone. For students who’ve inspired me to teach.

What unexpected event has helped define you?

Author: Natalia Sylvester

Natalia Sylvester is the author of the novel CHASING THE SUN (Lake Union/New Harvest, June 2014), about a frail marriage tested to the extreme by the wife's kidnapping in Lima, Peru. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance writer in Texas. Visit her online at

8 Replies to “The Fire in My Oven”

  1. With me it was the Web, I guess, though it was the BBSs before that, too.

    In 1990, I’d been writing for about 20 years, pretty seriously, but hadn’t finished anything. I decided to write a novel in monthly chapbooks, one per chapter (projected to be about 12-15 chapters).

    It went very well, actually, for about five chapters. Good cover art, well laid out (I was learning desktop publishing at the time), good story. The problem was that I was losing money on every issue I sold (and I was pretty broke in those days).

    But then, I used my DTP skills to lay out a broadsheet newspaper for a friend of a friend. In addition to money, he gave me a bonus — a modem he didn’t need anymore. 1200 baud (he’d moved up to 2400). And I was online, on local BBSs, and I saw how I could give away my writing without losing money.

    Which is pretty much what I’ve been doing ever since.

    1. That’s amazing, Anthony. I’d agree that the web has made a huge impact on my career as well. Even though I studied creative writing and journalism in college, so much of what I know about the business aspects of publishing, freelancing, and marketing are things that I learned just be searching for resources online.

  2. Love this. I used to squirrel away poems all the time, too. At some point I stopped and I think it’s kind of sad. I use my writing time to focus on my “more important” projects. But poetry was always pure word play for me.

    1. I got a little sad reading my poem, too, Susan. I just don’t remember the last time I thought like that, and made those kinds of leaps with language. I miss being so fearless that I’d just play with words for the joy of it.

  3. You’re a poet! I knew it…I started out writing poetry back in high school before moving on to prose. The highlight of my poetic career was when one of the high school teachers (I’d never had her. My English teacher must have passed the poem around the lunch room…) congratulated me and told me she liked the poem so much she was framing it and hanging it in her … BATHROOM.

    I was didn’t know whether to be insulted or not. Now I know the bathroom to be an extreme honor. 🙂

    You’re soulful. I can’t wait to read your novel.

    1. Oh wow, the bathroom?! That is so interesting. I’m with you…I wouldn’t know what to do with that piece of info. I guess that’s where she does most of her reading, so you’re right, it’s a huge honor!

      Btw, I’ve never been called soulful before, but it made my heart smile 😉

  4. My defining moment for writing came 8 years ago when I approaced the editor of a MN. woman’s magazine to write a story on two women I admired. She informed me I had two separate stories there, booked me for two issues, and 28 stories later, I’m still at it – which gave me the courage and confidence to write my first women’s fiction book.
    It was the chance from the editor and the feedback from the public that fueled my fire. We all need that first chance, for someone to believe in us – which helps us believe in ourselves.

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