In the beginning, there were lies.
Many of you know this first bit, so if you recognize the tale of five or six year old me, feel free to skip ahead to the next paragraph. When I was in elementary school (probably kindergarten or first grade) I got up in front of my class and told everyone my baby brother died over the weekend. I received the expected condolences and tears. Even the teacher cried. After school, I walked home as I would any other day. But this afternoon, my mother was waiting for me just inside the door, my father’s leather belt—the one with “Pete” burned into it—clutched in one white-knuckled fist. She lay into me with a fury I hadn’t witnessed prior to that day. See, I didn’t have a baby brother. I’d lied to my class, hoping to garner the reactions that I coveted so dearly. Seems my teacher had called Mom during my walk home. She expressed her weeping condolences for the loss of my mother’s youngest child. Even though I wasn’t there for the conversation, I can see my mother quite clearly, her face getting redder and redder until finally reaching her boiling point. After explaining to my teacher that this tragedy never occurred, my mother asked the woman what she thought a mother could do as a stopgap measure for her son’s lies, because I obviously wasn’t going to stop. My teacher responded, “Have him write this stuff down. The boy can tell a story.” After turning my ass many different shades of red, Mom went out and bought me a Brother typewriter. Seemed odd to me, receiving a gift so soon after a punishment, but there it was. Mom gave me the two extra ink spools she’d purchased and away I went. I never looked back, either. Thanks, Mom. Love ya.
Now for the bit none of you know. I won a local writing competition in the second grade. That story took me to state level and, eventually, to nationals. I lost Nationals, though. In fact, I didn’t even place. I was up against some pretty seasoned professionals, not to mention junior and high school kids. Trust me, had I won, I would have been published far before the age of thirty-one. Imagine a seven year old winning a national writing competition. Every publisher in existence would have been knocking down my door. My story had a major flaw, though, one that I still laugh about to this day. No one ever mentioned it so no editing was ever done to the document, which I still have to this day. The story was about a group of fantasy-type folks—a warrior, a wizard, a dwarf, and an elf—all journeying to slay a Minotaur of legend. There was a twist at the end where the reader finds out that the dwarf had actually raised the beast from birth. Together, the Minotaur and the dwarf kill the rest of the party. Dark content for a kid, but horror was always my thing. I received more praise for the twist ending than I did for any other part of the story. Everyone seemed so amazed that a seven year old had plotted to fool grownups and succeeded. Well, the joke was on them. I didn’t plot the story out, and I still don’t to this day. They were all so enamored with my piece that everyone failed to mention the problem with the title. Though the story was about a Minotaur the piece was actually entitled “The Matador.” Did everyone overlook the error in the title because of my age? Probably. But I wonder, had I titled it properly, might I have gone a bit further and placed?
I wrote my first novel when I was nine. I only call it a novel because of the word count, though fifty-two thousand words of utter nonsense is a more proper descriptor. The book was entitled Good Versus Evil. The story revolved around God and Satan personified in modern day California (well, modern day back in 1989 at least). God’s earth-name was Jacob Dog and Satan’s was Jacob Lived. Spell each of their names backward and you’ll see what a nine year old considers a plot-twist. For a major part of the book, Jacob Dog was actually a canine. I have no idea why. He just was. In the climatic conclusion, Jacob Dog and Jacob Lived had an epic sword fight in a graveyard. The end. Now, everything seemed kosher while I was writing the book, but on my second read-through, I realized I’d made a major foible. Both my antagonist and protagonist had the same first name. Damnit! I shelved it without another thought. Looking back, it’s funny, as the same-named characters should have been the least of my worries. Oh well, I was nine. At nine, you get a pass.
Over the course of the next twenty-two years, I would write fourteen more “trunk novels”; some on my Brother typewriter, and the rest on a 333 MHz Barbie computer my sisters bought my mother in `97. I could probably publish the final five of those novels and, with the proper editing, pass them off as new material, but I won’t. I only keep them around because they’re my history; the tales that made me the writer I am today. In 2011, I joined writing.com. I met several friends on that website, and in the course of a single year, posted over one hundred and fifty short stories. That number does not include works-in-progress that I never finished, novelettes, novellas, or even an atrocious, unedited version of my debut novel, Bay’s End. Out of those 150 shorts, I published thirty-five of them in 2012: three in Three After, nineteen in What the Dark Brings, and the rest in various ezines and anthologies. In total, I have over 900 short stories (all written between 2011 and now) on a terabyte harddrive, ninety-nine percent of which I wouldn’t show my bestest friends in all of creation. I’ve also written three more trunk novels since I published Bay’s End. That’s right, I’ve written eighteen books and nine-hundred shorts that none of you will ever see.
Storytelling is all I know. Today’s blog is not me bragging, but simply me shining a light on the road I’ve traveled to get where I am today. Out of every book I publish, I trash at least one other one. For every short story I show you, I’ve discarded ten. So, when asked that age-old question of “When did you start considering yourself a writer?” I will forever answer, “I don’t consider myself a writer. I’m a storyteller. If I were a writer, more of my stories would be readable.” Of course some of you will disagree with me and say things like, “You write all this down, right? So you’re a writer.” Let me just say, “We shall agree to disagree.”
Whoa, that went on much longer than I expected. I haven’t blogged in weeks, so we’ll attribute today’s long-windedness to that fact. This was good, though, as it got me back into the swing of blogging again.
Until next time, I have been E, You have been you, and together, we’ve been us.
NEXT THURSDAY: Ruminating On: Style Versus Voice.