I was living in South Texas and I was in seventh grade. I think we were living in Kenedy at the time. It was a one-horse town surrounded by weeds and cactus, tortoises and horned toads. It was there I got chased by a red wasp and I outran it I was so scared. I also saw a snake once. And in a ditch was a puddle of green rainwater with slimey frog eggs. You could slip your hand into them and they’d squeeze past your fingers all wet and gooey. I had a pet hen. I don’t remember her name, but she was brown. A little girl lived next door and her name was Peggy. I got invited to her birthday party and we had tuna sandwiches on an outdoor table under a shade tree. There was a field of clover next to the house. During the day you could hear bees hum.
It was a great place for a kid. I mean, for South Texas.
I was pretty sure by then I wanted to be a writer. At least I thought so. One day I got my spiral notebook and a blue ink pen. I had seen the movie Five Million Years to Earth on TV recently and it inspired me. I was a kid. I liked movies about giant insects and things that used human beings as disposable Slim Jims. I figured I could write something like that.
I can’t remember the name of my first story, but it was about an astronaut expedition to Mars and they get wiped out on a hilltop by angry Martians. (Don’t you hate it when that happens?) The narrator of the story was the last to die as the Martians swarmed upon the crown of hill over their dead bodies, victorious under a red Martian sun. I even illustrated the story. I don’t remember what ever happened to it. I either threw it away or it got lost in one of the innumerable moves that plagued my life, throughout my life.
I remember the second real story I wrote. I was now in eighth grade. This was for an English class. It had the added pressure of being for a grade, so I knew I had to make it good.
I was a big fan of science fiction so I thought I would write a story about an astronaut expedition which encounters a UFO around Jupiter. I got about halfway through and stopped. I didn’t like it. I didn’t even like my illustration of the UFO flying mysteriously near Jupiter. I slipped the unfinished story into my notebook and sat there, troubled.
I went home. Hours passed. I was going to be in trouble if I didn’t write a good story.
Later, after supper, I sat down and wrote a story about a Confederate soldier fighting alongside General Lee. The night before they surrendered at Appomattox he and his comrades were around a campfire eating beans and bacon. The trees were dark overhead. The next day, he accompanied Lee to the surrender, sees Grant from a distance, and goes home. The soldier didn’t care about the fighting. He was just a nobody guy caught up in history. He only wanted to go home and be with his family. The story ends as he leaves the battlefield one last time and strikes out on an empty road.
I don’t remember what grade I got, but I do think it was an A. Anyway, I know it was a good grade.
Now it goes without saying neither of these stories were very good. They would not pass muster today, probably not even compared to stories written by other kids in seventh and eighth grade.
But they have remained with me all this time. Despite how much progress I have made, and have yet to make in this profession, those stories will always be part of me. They were my first true efforts at writing a short story. I had started several before then, but never finished them. They were the first stories I actually finished.
I will always remember writing them. I remember how I felt when I started them, and how I felt when I finished them. I remember the notebook paper they were written on, and what my life was like at the time, along with all the fears, upsets and hurts I had to endure from other people around me. All those things are part of those lost stories, and those stories themselves are part of me today.
The third story I wrote I was much older, eighteen or nineteen. I was living in Tyler. I had gotten a new portable Royal typewriter from my grandparents. It was a story about children who were cyborgs attending their first day of school. They were being taught how to be soldiers so they could protect humanity from some evil and dangerous presence in the universe. This was also the first story I sent off to be considered for publication. I want to say I sent it to Amazing but I know that’s not right. Anyway, whoever it was didn’t accept it.
That didn’t stop me one bit. I kept right on writing. I went back to college, got another degree, and started teaching. When I quite teaching I started writing full time. Suddenly, the floodgates were opened. And here I am now.
But those first stories…I think about them sometimes, and the little boy alone in his room with no real friends to speak of, writing alone. I think of those first stories and how they are still a part of me, how they resonate.
They were the first steps I took to becoming a professional writer. The very first steps. I had no idea what was ahead of me in my future when I wrote those stories. I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me at the time.
But they were the first ones. They taught me another lesson, one I have never forgotten.
Stories endure. The story always endures.