“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.”— Louis L’AmourAmerican novelist, short-story writer(1908-1988)———Upon hearing of a friend, …
Upon hearing of a friend, colleague or acquaintance publishing a book, I’m always happy for their success.
I can only imagine the amount of time and attention to detail they’ve put into it.
In truth, I’m also a little envious. Seems like anyone who has been tied to the journalism and communications industry for more than 42 years should have already done it by now.
But, I haven’t. Maybe it’s one of those bucket list things.
Just the thought of it takes me back decades to a time when writing intrigued a bony junior-high-school kid on the state’s western end. Back in those days, the little town of Collierville was just that … itty-bitty.
Dwarfed by the big city of Memphis to our west, and living in its shadows despite the 20-mile separation, Collierville became home in March 1966, when my family migrated north from Falkner, an even tinier, unincorporated town in northern Mississippi.
That was in the fifth grade. I don’t remember writing for pleasure in those days. I think it started in the sixth, or maybe junior high; but most definitely once we had become Tennesseans.
By boyhood standards, maybe I was just a weird kid. I enjoyed writing at a small, square card table in the bedroom. No desk. No typewriter. No keyboard. No computer. Just me, some No. 2 lead pencils and a pile of wire-bound steno notebooks that I bought myself from Dad’s weekly allowance and from the meager wages of mowing the yards of others.
Like most lads, I still loved to shoot hoops in the back yard under the giant elm, throw the baseball with my big brother or play some football with the neighborhood kids.
But I also liked “me” time ... whether it came at night behind the bedroom door when the parents were watching a TV western in the living room, or a late summer afternoon when the day’s yard, or two yards, had been mowed and the air conditioning inside the house felt better than the furnace outside.
Dad once scolded me for doing my mowing in the middle of the day when the sun was at its highest and the mercury at its hottest.
“Mow later in the day,” he would caution.
I would always listen — after all, he furnished the push-mower and gasoline for my small business — but in the end I’d mow by late morning to early afternoon, and still have plenty of the day to go home and write.
Most of those junior-high summers I spent at home alone. Mom and Dad were both at work, as was my brother who was old enough to sport a Social Security Number and a real job.
At that age, my summer role was to keep up my neighborhood mowing — including my own yard, which came without pay — and sometimes clean the house and wash the breakfast dishes, as well as other chores my folks kept finding.
And then I would settle down at the small table and write down my creations on notebook paper … in cursive.
Most were short stories. Written on both sides of each sheet of notebook paper, most probably averaged 15 to 20 pages. Some were longer, depending on the subject. The older I got, the longer the stories. Seems like one or two — written as a high-schooler during Christmas break or on summer nights — might have even qualified as short books.
Only a few of the titles I remember. This was 50 years ago … or more.
In junior high I once branched out into the macabre with a story named “House of Evil.” Not that I remember the plot — because I don’t — but I’m pretty sure Edgar Allen Poe or Stephen King would have been proud.
Another junior high work — obviously influenced by Japanese cinema — involved monsters of legend. Yes, I wrote my own version of “King Kong Versus Godzilla.” Convinced that Kong was the good guy, I’m pretty sure I let him win in the final chapter. A probable violation of copyright, my hope must have been the steno pages would never find their way to Tokyo.
By high school, I ventured into sports and aeronautics.
In a short novel about high school football, a second-string quarterback, who was just a sophomore, found himself thrust into the starting line-up when the team’s All-Conference starter banged up a knee, ending his season. The book revolved around the young quarterback and his girlfriend, and his close relationship with an older sister who served as his confidant, best friend and No. 1 fan.
Seems like I named it “Clearwater,” because that was the name of the town. Pretty clever, I know.
One other sports mini-novel featured baseball. It was about a minor-league team, and the players’ dreams of making it to the big leagues. At the time, I knew nothing about the minor leagues. So, I improvised. Seems like it was titled “The Dream.”
One Christmas break I wrote an outer-space thriller. Rockets, space stations, astronaut love … the works. I called it “Beyond the Stars.” NASA would have enjoyed a chuckle over this one … especially some of the original terminology.
There were others. But I’ve slept too many times since their writing.
Untouched by the hands of others and unseen by perusing eyes, these literary creations stayed my own, stored for years in a cardboard box under the bed. I didn’t keep them a secret. I just didn’t invite readership. Maybe I was just insecure.
Then one day, it happened. While cleaning out my room in preparation for college, I tossed the stories … all of them: the horror classics, Kong, the teen quarterback, the starry-eyed space cadets, and all the others.
What took years to write vanished in seconds along with other trashed discards from the bedroom of a university-bound teenager. To this day, they probably still rest at the bottom of a Shelby County landfill.
Call it ironic. Call it funny. Call it sad. What seems so important one day is little more than happenstance the next.
As an aging newspaper editor with too few deadlines left, I wish I had reconsidered that reckless purge so many decades ago.
If only I still had those boyish writings — safe and secure in a cardboard box — I would pull them from a utility-room shelf, gently blow the dust from their eyelet folders, and read the first.
With a glance at the stack and a knowing smile, I would then read them all.
(About the writer: Rick Norton is an associate editor at the Cleveland Daily Banner. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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