It’s Mother’s Day, or it was when I wrote this, and I don’t have any big news, so I thought I’d speak a little about how we become writers. I’ve done those tours where you go to schools and speak to teachers about getting kids interested in reading, and they usually have me speak on the writing aspect of it. I usually start with something jokey and dismissive like “I can only speak for myself, but the best method seems to be to have your father obsess about writing a novel and then die before completing it, leaving a terrible scar on your eight-year-old psyche.” If that doesn’t sound very jokey, know that I say it with a great deal of charm.
But in my case, that’s just the flashy answer. The more honest answer probably goes back to my mother, who not only read to me at an early age but realized that my appetite for books exceeded the amount of time she could dedicate to reading aloud. So she recorded herself reading to me, with herself making beep sounds to tell me to turn the pages, and gave me the tapes. That way I could have her read to me over and over again, as much as I wanted.
When I was young, I had two surgeries, one more invasive and more extreme (I don’t mind talking about it, but I don’t know if you want to read about it so I won’t discuss the nature of the condition here), the second a simple tonsillectomy. She knew that I would likely be frightened by both experiences (I might have been two for the first one), so she wrote a picture book for each, called Bobby Goes to the Hospital detailing my completely mundane upcoming trip in such a way that it demystified it. I don’t remember having the first one for long, I was way too young, and the fallout of that surgery lasted a long time, but we kept the tonsillectomy book for years, and I would read it and request it over and over. That moment, seeing myself as the main character in a book, with stick figures for all the characters, might have planted the first seeds of writing my own first person narratives.
After that, especially after the death of my father, she probably spent a whole lot of time ignoring my light being on well past my bed time, as I read well into the night. During the Satanic Panic, she didn’t blink when I started playing Dungeons and Dragons. I never asked her why, but when concerned parents asked one of my best friends’ mothers why she let her son play that “evil game,” she said, “Evil game? I walked in the other day and he was trying to figure out how to managed the budget of a small city. I want him doing more stuff like that, not less.” I suspect my mother’s take was something similar, that the skills I built in the game, or the defense mechanism I gained from it, outweighed any dangers.
There’s an old joke, I can’t remember which comedian said it. Many have probably done some variation. It talks about how the young boy goes out every weekend with his dad and plays catch. Runs plays. Learns fundamentals. How the dad drives him to games. Shows up. Fights with the coach. Helps him analyze other teams. Watches endless professional games with him, dissecting the teams. Then the kid stands on the sidelines and the camera hits him for his first nationally televised game and he mouths very clearly, for all the world to see:
When I make that joke about my father, there is truth there. I’m sure his unfulfilled need to become a writer has a great deal to do with my drive to become a writer. But who made my first audiobook? Who made me the character in my first Marty Stu story? Who ignored endless nights of me reading my way through grief and boredom. Who ignored the Satanic Panic and trusted the judgment of an adolescent boy over Paul Harvey? Who was out there, every weekend, laying the fundamentals?
The next installment awaits...Slouching Towards Amazon: Working Through the “Stall”