My Growth as a Writer (A Personal Perspective)

Someone once asked me, “Why did you pick writing?”   Without thinking I replied, “I’m not sure I picked writing as much as it picked me.”

Later, I realized there was a lot of truth in that statement.   More than I ever realized.

You see, I don’t always like writing per se.  I mean, I’ve been a teacher, a salesman, a surveyor; I’ve even delivered pizzas in college.  (And as a pizza delivery boy I had my pride, let me tell you.  Someone once tried to tip me a nickel.  I refused to take it.  I mean, a nickel?  C’mon!)  Hell,  I’ve cut brush with a machete from sunup to sundown and dug ditches in hard Oklahoma clay.   That really sucked.

On the other hand there are aspects to writing I absolutely love.  I like doing research, planning characterization and figuring out plots and such.  But the physical act of sitting down at the keyboard is without doubt the least interesting aspect of this profession to me.

Even today, after all these years as a professional writer, I’m certain digging ditches is often easier than writing.  But, despite how difficult writing can be,  I always get some measure of satisfaction from it.  Even when I’m struggling with a story that doesn’t  come together or  doesn’t sell, I still feel it was worth trying in the long run.

Several years ago I was 90,000 words into a science fiction novel when I finally admitted to myself it sucked.  But I thought the time I had spent working on it was worthwhile.  I didn’t always have that feeling after surveying five miles through frozen swamps and sloughs in Kansas or  West Arkansas in the dead of  winter for Texaco.

Even at the best of times writing is a lonely experience.  It’s very internal.  So why would I keep wanting to do it, and putting myself through this grinder?

The answer is simple. Because there’s nothing else I’ve ever wanted to do, even as a young boy.  Oh, I wanted to be an astronaut or fireman or what have you when I was little.  Like every other kid.

It was tough going when I decided I wanted to be a writer.  I remember in eighth grade when I knew, I knew, I wanted to be a writer and nothing else.  My history teacher decided to kill time one day and ask each of us what we wanted to do when we got out of school.  The conversation is as fresh in my mind now as if it happened yesterday:

“Mark, what do you want to be?”

“I want to be a writer.”

“A rider?  Like riding horses….?”

“No, a writer.  I want to write stories for people.”

I got a perplexed look and he moved on to question someone who, in his mind, probably had higher aspirations.

When I got home that afternoon my parents asked me what happened in school that day.  I told them my teacher had asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up.  I was excited about this because I knew, I knew, this was what I wanted to be, and I wanted to share.

“So,” my parents asked, “what did you say you wanted to be?”

“I told him I wanted to be a writer.”

Without missing a beat my father said, “There are enough writers in the world already.  We don’t need another one.  You’ll have to pick something else.”

That was all the support I ever got from home.  But, despite that, I never lost sight of my goal.  It took a long time, and a lot of hard work, and a really long learning curve.  But I finally made it .

And now, after all these years and stories and whatnot, there are still words inside me demanding to get out. I have to admit…I kind of like it.

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Ennio Morricone – Once Upon a Time in the West

Beautiful music about a beautiful genre. God, how I love the west and all its mythic power, along with its ability to define us as human beings,  and help us find our true place in the universe. All good stories do this, but I think westerns have a special ability, and affinity, to tap into the poetic realm of our soul.

Sometimes I can’t believe how powerful this genre can be….and how lucky I am to be able to work in it.

Audiobooks, Futurism, and the Mythical Power of Storytelling

It’s difficult bringing me into the modern age. I admit that. And those who are committed to bringing me up to speed with technology have their work cut out for them. The fools.

I have a cell phone. I rarely turn it on (as people in my personal life can attest) because when I do it often beeps at me and I get worried. I’ve seen WAY too many 1950s SF movies where shit beeps at you and then you die.  Mostly from giant vegetables or over-sized insects that view you as a passing meat snack. And who needs that?

When audio books first made an appearance I wasn’t too keen on them. I’m old-fashioned in a lot of ways. (Or just old.) I still like the feel and weight of books, the pungent smell of ink and the crisp feel of paper between my fingers when I turn the page.

I also remember when stamps were six cents and the mail was delivered twice a day.  Verily, I say unto you, I could mail a letter in-city that morning and it would be delivered the same day!  I remember Jonny Quest cartoons when they were new. I remember Johnny Carson when he was in New York and not California. I remember when milk came in bottles instead of cartons. Hell, I remember drive-in movies and ten cents would buy you a Snickers bar or a bag of Red Hots so big when you ate them all you’d puke.  And I remember Charlton Heston when he wasn’t a wanker.

Like I said.  Old.

Anyhoo. Back to audio books. So like I said I wasn’t a fan. I’d rather read a book than listen to it. But a couple of weeks ago I got this iPod thing with 120 GB of memory on it. I mean, seriously, why would I ever need that? All the music I have wouldn’t fill that F’er up. Then I had a brain wave. Why not put all my radio shows, Gunsmoke, X-1, Tarzan, Suspense and the like, on the iPod? Then I can carry ’em around with me everywhere I go. Hey, not a bad idea. And then my writing buddy talked me into downloading this free application called Stanza to actually read (read!) an electronic book on this iPod thingy-ma-jig. (I haven’t quite figured out how to do that, though.)

I was pretty adament about what audio books I was going to listen to. I’m too entrenched in my ways. I wasn’t going to listen to something new so I decided to listen to the old Ian Fleming novels. Now those of you who have read my journal know James Bond was a big influence on me when I was twelve and thirteen years old. Although, in the interest of full disclosure, what isn’t a big influence on you when you’re that age? But I’ve read these novels many, many times and I knew them quite well. I supposed it wouldn’t be too heretical for me to listen to ’em if I had the chance. Might be fun to see them through a new lens, so to speak.

And you know what? They’re not that bad. I don’t mean the novels themselves, I mean the whole audio book experience. Not surprising seeing as how I’m an Old Time Radio buff. But after thinking about this I think it goes deeper than that.

It goes to story.

You see, the first story tellers didn’t write their tales. They told them around a campfire while everyone sat huddled not for warmth but so there would be human contact as the story lifted them and brought them into a new world they hadn’t seen before.

I imagine that was some pretty scary shit when it went down the first time. It’s still kind of scary when you think about it, how we let the scales of our life fall from our bodies as we’re transported somewhere and somewhen else by a book or magazine or old time radio show.  We give up being ourselves and trust the story teller to turn us into someone else and bring us back when it’s done. That’s pretty damn powerful when you think about it.

They were the same stories we read today, though. Stories about people trying to make their way in the world. Finding love. Finding destiny. Finding home. Nothing’s changed about stories since we first started telling them to one another.  And despite all the technology and knowledge we cocoon ourselves in nothing much has changed about us, either.

Human beings LOVE stories. We like hearing a good story about other people even if the other people aren’t very nice. Writing, radio, audio books, print, CDs, DVDs, cuneiform, whatever. You pick. The method by which the stories are expressed is always changing and will always be changing.  But the stories and their intimate relation to what makes us human…that endures.

It endures because we’re human and stories, to be considered successful, must also be human. If they aren’t then they’re no longer stories.

So now I see the attraction of audio books. It’s the same reason I love OTR. It’s the spoken voice, the human connection of a story teller relating something different to me, helping me integrate a past world or a future world or a life or a philosophy that is new to me. It’s the connection of a human voice in your ear rather than the inner voice you use when you read to yourself. Both are valid. Both are important.

But I’m beginning to think one holds greater power over the other. In fact, I don’t think they’re in the same ball field at all.

One last thing. People are obviously willing to pay as much for an audio book as I would for a print novel. Wouldn’t there be a market for brand new radio shows as well? Not podcasts. I mean, not stories being read, but stories being acted out by actors with sound effects and whatnot? If audio books have shown us anything they’ve shown us that if the quality of the product is good enough (and sometimes even if it isn’t) there will be an eager market.  So why haven’t we seen this other manifestation yet?

I was wrong about audio books. But it’s not about the audio books. It’s what’s going on with the stories themselves that I failed to see. I should have known better. I profess to be a professional writer but I missed this big time.

I won’t make the same mistake again.

More Pictures from Caprock Canyon

Here are a few more pictures from my last camping trip. I have only been home a couple or three weeks and I am ready to go back out.


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