I am often asked why I would want to even try to write a novel, much less go through the painstaking process of building a plot with well-developed characters, organizing the action into a timeline that is hopefully compelling enough to make a reader invest his hard-earned money for the finished product.
The answer is simple: because I enjoy doing it.
I have always written…at least for as long as I can remember. When I was in first grade, I produced a short story written on notebook paper and stapled between two pieces of orange (why orange I can’t imagine!) construction paper. It was a science fiction story about a spaceship manned by robots who battled a villain named after a precious stone. If I had developed this early effort more fully, I might have suggested that the villain’s name came from the fact that he could turn himself into said stone to protect himself from attack, or perhaps that he could shoot faceted projectiles of said stone from his eyes when properly outraged.
Though that story — complete with illustrations — earned me an A for whatever class that would have been, my first real dose of being appreciated for something I wrote came years later in ninth grade. I had recently lost a cousin to a high-speed car accident. Drinking, I am told, played no part in it, though showing off to his high school buddies probably did. One of my relatives at the funeral took great pleasure — morbid pleasure, in fact — in describing this young victim’s injuries: “His face was ripped away from here,” she said, holding her hand parallel to her nose and moving it around the left side of her face, “all the way around to his other ear. Why, they had to bandage his head before they’d let the family identify the body.” At the funeral, the minister, thankfully, did not relate to the crowd the details of the victim’s demise. He told a story that he had probably heard at countless funerals before this one and that you have probably heard at countless funerals since: God wants the finest roses for His kingdom, and that my cousin, with such a bright, shining future, was a fine rose that God called home early.
I was inspired to write a short story about a teenager, popular, handsome, with a presumably bright future whose life came to a tragic end because of an afternoon of foolish play. I was writing the story during gym class, after I had completed the physical exertion required of me that day. Sitting on the bleachers, I pulled out the two or three pages I had written that morning, read over them, then continued where I’d left off.
Before long, I was joined by a friend who asked what I was doing. I told her that I was writing a short story, which she asked to read. I handed her the pages I had already written and continued scribbling my story. Within a few moments, a friend of hers had joined us. The friend asked her what she was reading, then asked to read it herself. More friends began appearing. Within a few moments, there was a chain of readers, handing pages off to one another, waiting patiently for the next page. I had the feeling of being in a horse race to finish the story before the bell rang. I was temporarily in the “zone” that some writers speak about. I felt appreciated and it was a nice feeling. Most of the people who read my story seemed pleased with it, though some expressed disappointment in why the lead character had to die. That was the point, I insisted. He didn’t have to die: he chose the actions that caused his own death.
I wrote my first novel during my sophomore year of college. It was a story about suicide. I wasn’t suicidal, but I was depressed. I suppose I worked out many of my own demons and much of my angst through that story. Much like the stage play, “‘Night, Mother,” my novel began with a suicide already planned. And likewise, it ended shortly after the suicide occurred. I wanted to tell a story about the impact of suicide…that “cry for help” that doesn’t always leave the survivors feeling guilty so much as angry. Pissed off, even. Unfortunately, I made a rather stupid error when I wrote the manuscript: I made the lead character, the sympathetic one, the one in whose head we lingered for well more than 80% of the story, the character who actually ends up killing himself. I asked the reader to invest that much time in a character who dies, when I should have had the reader invest that time in the best friend who is desperate to save his life. It is the best friend who grows as the story unfolds, who changes one way or the other. The lead character in my novel was pretty much already dead when the story began. I still have that manuscript somewhere; maybe I’ll rewrite it one day and write it the way it should have been written to begin with.
So now I am working on my second novel, though it is to be the first one I am serious about having published some day. It is a suspense novel about a television reporter, a psychic and a vampire. The three are not, unfortunately, the same person, though it occurs to me now that this might make an interesting plot for a different story some day…
In this journal, I will update the progress of this little project, talk about what I like and dislike about writing, and hopefully encourage fellow writers who are working on their own projects. (And I am always happy to receive a little encouragement, too! We artists are often the self-doubting types.)
Incidentally, someone will sooner or later ask about the title of this journal. I took it from my favorite episode of The Twilight Zone. “A Stop At Willoughby” was written by Rod Serling himself, and deals with an embattled man who is seeking an escape from the insurmountable pressures of the day. Just when he thinks he has found the perfect place to which he can escape, it turns out, true to Serling’s style, that it’s not quite the escape he thought it was.