Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The book I desperately needed

I think Blogger may have saved me from a “Bad” post, as I still cannot get blogger to accept the fact that gifs are files too. I’m pretty nervous about my class tonight, it’s the first time I’ve lectured more than the thirty minutes prior to a lab, so I’m crossing my fingers that I won’t have the dreaded death of projector, or blue screen, or any other number of fun things that have happened to me while giving talks (One time, ppt ate all of my images—every single one—so instead of my pretty graphics, a giant red “X” marked the place where they should have been; I had to draw them all out on the board ::shakes fist at the electronic presentation gods:: ).

So, I’m going to join in a blog fest I heard about through Jenny

Check out the details over here at Writer Coaster.

Today I’ll tackle the book that made me know I was doomed to be a writer, and honestly, seriously, there was no one book. It was the lack of a book. It wasn't until I was much older that I knew I couldn't stop. The signs were there in my early life, I just didn’t pay much attention at the time.

I like to say that I wrote my first novel at 12, and that’s true in the technical sense of the words. But even at twelve I’d already shown certain, well, I guess we’ll call them symptoms.

In kindergarten, I wrote and illustrated a series of picture books about Buzzy the Hammerhead shark with a buzz saw instead of a hammer for a head. The other sharks all laughed at him, but he eventually found his way. He saved the day because the other sharks all got caught in a net, and Buzzy cut open the net with his awesome buzz saw. 

This was a five book series, mind you.

But my pallet of crayon and stapled butcher paper was too restrictive. So I made a special edition in water color, one in finger paints, and one in glued construction paper cut outs.

If I’d had an agent at six and a half, I would have told her all about my plans for a PB series based around a unicorn with two horns called Double Trouble (yes, I thought it was the most imaginative title on the planet). The only problem was that horses—and by extension, unicorns—are hard to draw well, so I decided to wait before launching my Double Trouble series until I could learn to draw horses a little better.

But at six and seven years old, I didn’t realize how much of the world was coming my way and that I needed a plan in life. Besides that, I was dead set and determined to be just like my mom, a computer programmer for the county (yeah, all kinds of glamour there). So even though I was cranking out books before I had lost my baby teeth, I didn’t know that I wanted to be a writer.

Over the next five to six years leading up to my first novel attempt, I read every book my mother had in the house, and let me tell you there were a lot. I remember once going with my mom to the book store and she walked down the Science Fiction aisle with a little frown on her face. She finally picked up a book hopefully, but as she read the back cover she sighed and set the book down. I asked what was wrong, and she said—I kid not—“Oh, I just thought I’d found one I hadn’t read yet.”

So lots of books in the house.

When trying to get me to do my homework assignments in my phonics book, the teacher said to me “Why don’t you do the homework?”
I said, “Because it’s boring.”
“What’s boring about it?” she asked. Clearly she was trying to discern my grammar deficiencies.
Then I said, “Because it has no plot.” After that my first grade teacher stopped trying to get me to do the boring phonics book.

By the time I was in third grade, I thought chapter books and middle grade books were for idiots who couldn’t read Silverberg and Heinlein (sadly, it appears I was born a snob). Leading up to the ripe old age of twelve, my favorite place in the world was the used book store. I read everything I could get my hands on, literally. I read Conan the Barbarian and the adventures of Han Solo. By Twelve I’d read every word written by Alan Dean Foster, and if it had a little rocket on the binding in the library I’d read that too. I have no idea how I read so many books when I was a kid, ‘cause, seriously, I spent a ton of time watching TV too, but there you have it.

And speaking of TV, there was only one show that I was particularly interested in from the time I was about ten years old: Star Trek. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved Star Wars too. In fact, in my family, when you were sick enough to stay home you had to stay on the couch and watch a movie. Star Wars was the movie set of choice, but there was a problem with Star Wars: there were only three movies (Yes, I'm old enough to remember a time before the prequels). Star Trek came out with a new episode every week. Not that I could get those episodes, mind you. Out in the sticks we didn’t have very good TV reception, but my grandmother lived in town. She had TV, and as soon as I went to middle school, I had to go over to my grandmother’s after school. Ah, those were the years, watching Star Trek TNG and dreaming my great classical science fiction dreams (usually I tried to fit a horse in there, as I still hadn’t forgotten about Double Trouble, I’d just grown up too much to write those stories).

And then I went to Barnes and Noble in the nearby actual big city (Santa Rosa, CA, for the curious), and there they were: Star Trek Novels. It was like someone had made a seamless cross between the perfect game of tag and ice cream. I was in heaven. Except that they cost so much and my mom would only buy me one. I read the book on the way home. I needed more. Then by some magic, the used book store came across a whole pile of Star Trek Novels. They’d never had them before, but suddenly they had a ton. I bought them ($2.25 to 3.50 each, and I spent a lot of money on those books). As I went with my favorite characters on their grand adventures, I became more connected to them, understood them better than before, and I couldn’t get enough. I started saving money to buy the new ones, asking the local book store to order them (which they kindly did), until one day, the nice lady said she couldn’t order the next one. “Why not?”

“It hasn’t been released. It won’t be out for six months or so,” she said. I was devastated. It was about to be the summer between middle school and high school and I wasn’t going to have a Star Trek novel to read and reread. And that’s when it struck me: I’ll have to write one myself.

And yeah, that’s pretty much how that went. I wrote my first novel (it was a terrible fan fic, but very fun for me). Even after writing a novel I didn’t know that I wanted to be a writer. Sometimes, the dumb gets backstage passes to the rest of my brains.

For me, it wasn’t one book, but the lack of a book that sent me over, sort of like the flash point of paper, you know 451 (Fahrenheit).


  1. First, I hope the lecturing goes okay!

    I really really love this story. Your mum sounds amazing.

  2. Ditto on the lecture!

    How did I NOT know that there are Star Trek books???? You mean I can find out what Captain Picard and #1 are thinking? Oh my, I have to run out and find these right now!

    This is such a great writers story! I love it.

  3. Great post! Nice to meet you. Now a follower.

  4. The lecture went great. Thanks for the luck.

    Sarah: OMG, my mother is amazing, but that's a post for another time.

    Jenny: Yes, there's like 28, and they are awesome (well, from the point of view of a 12 year old). Now you'll have to search the used book stores, but they'll be right next to Star Wars books.

    Isis: Pleased to meet you too, I'm glad you stopped by.

  5. Oh my holy cow, I loved reading this post. Very funny. Love the "symptoms." Phonics having no plot...that is rich. Love it.


I love comments! Let me know what's on your mind.