Or the Origin Story. Whichever.
Characters have origin stories. Bob was born in a rail car outside Tampa during a rainstorm, his mother being attended to by three bears and an alien from the Crab Nebula, also named Bob, but pronounced “Jerome.”
My origin story is not quite so awesome. I’ve run across people as I lurk on groups and peruse blogs who make their origin stories sound quite spectacular. The 7 year old who read Shakespeare. The child who grew up helping to run the family business of generating add-copy. The man who beat cancer 3 times and decided, after retiring from two different professions and receiving a healthy pension to focus on his true love of writing murder-mysteries. The kid who wrote stories, colored a picture as a cover and stapled all the pages together to make their own books, now grown into a self-publishing diva.
Nope. Nothing that foretelling in my past, but I remember that AHA! moment clearly.
I was nine. I’d already begun learning towards becoming an archaeologist (thanks to Indiana Jones). Back in those tender years, I didn’t realize all the subsets of Archaeology – soil specialists, pollen specialists, 9th century BCE Greek pottery specialists… Even now it boggles the mind.
Even now I still geek out over it. But the time for getting a degree in archaeology specializing in medieval Germanic material culture has past. That whole funding thing. Which I promise I will get to in another post.
At the age of 9, I hated my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Mayer. Hated her. Now that I’m all growed up, I’m certain she had her good points, and my instinctive hate that I feel every time I look back at her in my mind makes me feel guilty. I found out later my parents didn’t think she was all that great either, so I stopped feeling guilty about hating her and just rolled with it.
Mrs Mayer left about 1/2 through the school year, I think. Maternity leave. I can’t remember if she came back to finishing teaching my class or not. But she’s not the star of this tale.
The permanent substitute teacher, Mr. Peyton, is.
A radically different teacher.
Mr. Peyton made learning fun. Learning was awesome. I looked forward to going to school everyday. I lived in terror that Mrs. Mayer would come back. I don’t remember everyday of class, of course, but I do remember he often told stories about his own childhood – he and his buddies built a treehouse and the aftermath. He and his buddies dug an underground fort and the aftermath. There may have been more – there probably were – but those are the only two I remember 30 years later.
One day, he mentioned that he would write these memories down and publish them as a book. I think this was right before or during a creative writing exercise, which I hear Common Core may have done away with, but that is yet another topic for another post (probably an angry one, if I’m correct about Common Core).
It wasn’t so much a lightbulb going off in my head as it was more like me being run over by a semi filled with lightbulbs that are all mysteriously glowing at the moment of impact.
You can do that? Ordinary people can write books? And publish them? I read books written by people like Mr. Peyton? I could write books? I was allowed to do that? You don’t have to be special to do that?
And of course, my creative genius spewed forth upon page after page of wide-ruled notebook paper.
It’s probably a good thing I don’t still have most of those early writings. I was 9, after all. It isn’t like I was writing awesomely well. I was just writing.
But that’s always how things start.
In the beginning, my parents thought it was great. In middle school I started writing what would become (after 15 years) a fantasy trilogy totaling something in the neighborhood of 900 pages. High school came and I still scribbled and my father had a reaction to it – on the one hand, it was nice to see me writing, on the other hand, he felt I needed to stop denying reality and just accept the fact that “You’re never going to be published. You’re not good enough and you probably won’t ever be.”
For a long time, the trilogy was something I puttered on. I knew there was a good story, I just had to cut and polish enough to find it. But I kept scribbling. Maybe not as maniacally as before, but the scribbles were still there. College came and writing kinda fell by the wayside between work and school. I got married and found a job – not a fulfilling one, but the bank doesn’t care about “fulfilling,” the bank wants to get paid. I started scribbling again. Slow, steady and still lacking the quality of awesome, but I was getting used to the idea of “editing.” I learned a lot about editing with that first trilogy.
No, it will not be published. Some things are just DOA, and all you can do is notify the organ harvesting unit and move on with your life. Maybe donate the body to science so others can learn from it. A bit like how I edited that trilogy over and over – looking back, I felt like a surgeon trying to remove enough tumorous tissue to save the patient, but still give them a decent quality of life afterwards.
Yeah, that didn’t work out. When I review it now, I can honestly say that a few pieces-parts are salvageable, like the cornea. Not so much the liver or other major organs, though.
Then my husband got hit by a car, and the old trilogy was suddenly abandoned because a new story came out.
It was so exciting! (My husband has since declared that even though he loves me, he is not willing to repeat that experience, no matter how bad my writer’s block.) I had my first ever “sprint” – 250 pages in 21 days, followed by 2 years of “mosey,” in which I rewrote and edited the damned thing.
Then I got pregnant with twins, and the Muse said “I don’t work with kids,” as she trotted out the door in her 6 inch stiletto. People say serious authors don’t wait for muses. I say I can barely remember the first 5 years of my kids lives. I watch videos my husband took of it and have no memory of the event. “Is that Sara, I’m holding?” I ask when I see baby pictures.
“That’s me, Mom,” Daniel says.
“Yup,” my husband agrees.
I don’t think you can have a serious relationship with your craft if you can’t remember what you had for dinner last night.
About 2 years ago, Muse started visiting again. My husband began commenting that I looked happier. Words left my brain via my piggies to the keyboard and then into digital files. A new story came up (not related to the hubby-run-down story, but still just as interesting) and another story (this one related to the run-down story). And another. And more spin-offs of those.
Sometime in the last 2 years, shit got real. It’s the difference between “I’d like to publish, someday. It would be nice.” and “This is going to be published, I don’t care how.”
But “how” is another post, for another time.