Read Me, Love Me (Part 1)

[First of a two-part post.]

A friend recently asked when, exactly, I started writing. I wasn’t sure.

Going over the old diaries, photos and papers, I decided to look at them as if I were reading about some other kid. Who or what influenced him? What did he seek to gain from writing? Why did he even bother to write at all?

First off, this was clearly one strange kid: compulsive, driven, and needful of attention.

Let’s call him Mike.

So this Mike kid starts writing poetry in his 4th grade class, for a book the entire class assembled together. Later, he and a since-forgotten classmate had a private competition devising comic strip characters that were funny and smart. The classmate wrote about two space aliens who were never able to successfully land their craft without crashing it. In a feeble attempt to one-up the kid, Mike storyboards a strip about aliens called “The Hot Heads From Venus,” who were never able to land because they froze up upon re-entry. Let’s put that one under the category of “lack of originality.”

After Mike and his family move to Minnesota, he still writes poetry, but story ideas start popping into his head—so many ideas he has to keep a spiral tablet to jot them all down. At first he leans on an old standby from out East: writing plays. In a March 1972 6th grade newsletter he confidently announces he’s writing a play about the final dogfight between The Red Baron and Lee [sic, “Roy”] Brown—which never sees the light of day.

So, he turns to writing short stories. He can dash them off quickly, they don’t require a stage production or troupe of actors or even a rapt audience. And he can still imitate all the images and stories flooding his imagination through radio, television and print. One of Mike’s first stories, titled “Stranger of the Night” had a distinctly Twilight Zone/Night Gallery feel to it. Every subsequent story had to integrate a nighttime vibe, so they were titled “When Night Comes,” or “Night Shadows,” both heavily influenced by his regular viewing of the NBC Mystery Movie programs “Columbo” and “McMillian and Wife.” (Whereupon our young scribe develops a serious puppy-dog crush on Susan Saint James.)

In 1973, on the bus ride to Grandview Junior High School, 7th grader Mike brings along aforementioned stories and hands them out to friends. Over Sloppy Joes and chocolate milk in the lunchroom, they discuss. New day, same bus ride, different stories. Lunchtime topic: “Did you see the murder coming on page 3?” “Mikie, these stories are great!” Of course, apprentice writer is all smiles.

Mike quickly learns that readers have expectations of writers. They have the power, and the potential, of keeping or losing those readers.

On Monday, April 29, 1974, he writes in his diary about watching Wait Until Dark during first and second hour at the junior high school: “It was about this one blind girl and these murders. There was one scene where everyone reeled back in fright.”

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~ by completelyinthedark on April 17, 2011.

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