Blog #1: Where do I begin?
Where do I begin? That’s the question I’ve asked myself for many years. I suppose the reasonable answer to that question would be – at the beginning. So that’s where I’ll start this Blog – at the beginning.
Since this is a blog about writing, I should explain how and when I took an interest in writing. And how, for so many years, I strayed from the thing I loved to do.
As a teen, I was timid. A shy, thin, pimple-faced boy that had minimal self-confidence and went unnoticed. (I ask no sympathy – it was the nature of my character, and it taught me how to develop a thick skin and drew me into writing.) I spent a lot of time in my room, with my vinyl records spinning, a sharpened #2 pencil, and a blank notebook on my desk. This was when I became large and self-assured. I could be whatever or whoever I wanted to be. I could create a world and all its inhabitants. Having them thrive, and move far beyond the humdrum life of an introverted teenager. I was the master of my creations and the ruler of my kingdoms. And it made me feel good about myself.
So I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote some more. I wrote short stories, character sketches, and funny little plays. Once filled up, I tucked those notebooks into a bottom drawer and hung onto them like bullion.
As I became a young man, it was time to work and pay bills. After all, the writing thing is never a sure shot – like a “Regular” job. So writing became a hobby, placed on the back burner. (Though that burner always remained lit)
I worked construction, learned a trade, and paid my bills, and wrote less and less over the years. The perpetual motion of “the grind” led me onward and away from my writing.
I never gave up though. I did, however, find it difficult to return from an extended hiatus and expect to chug full speed down the rails. Writing came and went in phases. Never completing anything. It felt as if I were starting big-eyed stories while squinted. It didn’t help that my newest hobby, over indulging in alcohol, annexed all others.
So – now immersed in the “Workie” thing, paying bills (or not paying them), and drinking the rest of the time.
Priorities changed, and the back burner switched off.
Not to be a bore with the horrible details of an Alcoholic’s antics, I turned to poetry to aid in my recovery. Plus my lovely wife kept me focused – bless her. And since AA meetings are fucking depressing I stopped attending but remained sober. Go figure.
OK – onward and upward. Poetry!
I took an interest in poetry, as an aid, because poems are these tender morsels of life I could chew on and swallow. Which I needed. Sustenance for the psyche. What I love most about poetry, especially metaphysical poetry, is that it forced me to get inside my own head. It does so in depths that the abstract is the only plausible outcome. Poems can reveal more about a human being than an autopsy.
I felt, and still do, that poetry reconditioned my disorder. I cant say it eliminated it, its still a struggle, but it did redirect the force of it. I realize everybody has their own way of dealing with addiction. I do not claim that the method I took for myself would work for anyone else. “I’m not a doctor but I play one on TV” – Chris Robinson (1984).
At forty-six years old, I celebrated seven years of sobriety. And I self-published my first book of poetry. A hundred and fifty-five-page book of my most revealing poems. Seven years of picking at my own brain and fingering the gray and white ooze onto blank pages. It was crap – but it was my crap. I had my head speared onto a mast then placed at the edge of town for all to witness. Few people read it as I was lousy at the self-promotion thing – but it still felt like an accomplishment to me. Even an ugly dog is loved by its owner.
Four years later, I published my second book of poetry. Selling a few copies and passed a lot of them around to friends and family. I was ecstatic at the reviews and reception. Then once the fanatical frenzy died down, I went back to do the “workie” thing and shelved the remaining copies. I’d glanced at them from time to time out of the corner of my eye and beam with pride.
Still feeling the high of how poetry not only revealed me to the readers, it also revealed me to me. That’s a pretty cool thing. Scary – but pretty cool.
I completed a third collection of poems and let it sit for a month to stew, like I did the first two, with plans to return to it, re-read, and make edits. This was around the time that our old computer decided that it was a good day to die. It crashed and took with it the entire contents of my tertiary book of poetry. And, NO, I did not “back up” my work. I can still feel my boot-heel across my backside when thinking about it. And not having an eidetic memory, I could not recapture those little snippets of mind cache.
So – lesson learned, back to do the “Workie” thing, continue writing, when I could, and dream dream dream.
At this point, being over fifty, I rekindled the idea of getting that first novel written. I had several ideas floating around, but one I started a decade earlier kept coming back to mind. A fantasy story about a little farm girl. A Period Fantasy or I as I like to call it an Americana Fantasy. Well, it started with a farm girl, simple enough, but it turned into an epic tale. One that filled my dreams at night and my thoughts of every waking hour. It consumed me, and I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote some more. I developed my characters and filled plot holes with rationale, and I created a world for that little farm girl.
Between the “Workie” thing, family, and sleep, I chipped away at that stone one word at a time – revealing the novel. I had never been so focused on my writing ever before.
And so it began in this quest to write my novel after fifty. I guess the first thing I contended with was not dwelling so much on my age. Once I passed that stone from my craw, I got down to the business of immersing myself in the story. I got to know the characters, what they looked like, what they might say, their quirks. I brought them to life. And once the characters had discernible qualities – I envisioned them living in the world I created for them. Their relatability, along with their adverse nature, once defined, brought them to life.
This novel, the Americana fantasy about a little farm girl, I knew, would go far beyond the limits of a farm – it had to. But how far depended on my imagination’s limitations. Was I up to the task? As an introvert, I found my imagination to be my best friend at times. I decided I was going to bully and exploit that friend of mine until he screamed and kicked with mercy. Then I set him on fire.
Sounds a bit brutal – but that became a method of mine. I took that little farm girl and set her on an adventure that she couldn’t second guess. I know she is a character in a book, but I wanted to push the boundaries of what a little farm girl was capable of as she grew into our hero. She turned into something else when she least expected it.
Along with a strong, confidante, and dynamic protagonist, I needed support characters. In the life of every being there are, at first, family, then there are friends, lovers, and cohorts. I gave her all these. Then I needed an antagonist – or perhaps many. An adventure is a buffet – there are more opportunities to eat a bad shrimp.
I gave the little farm girl a world and filled it with friends, family, and cohorts. I set her on an adventure, removing all the stops, then set the whole damn thing on fire – again. And as I did this, I found that the story spread along with the blaze.
My novel became a trilogy. I could see no other way. Three equal slices of the epic adventure.
I am a writer. And the question of “Where do I begin?” Loses all meaning once a person decides that they have already begun.
In my next blog, I will continue the story of writing my novel after fifty. I may even remove my scull-cap and show you the imprint of when I first read Frost.
Thank you and keep chipping away at the stone.
Writing your novels after 50
Blog #2: Time and Place