One of the characters from my flash piece: Respect is Earned, Not given. Drawn by the lovely and talented Haley Wolcott
One of the characters from my flash piece: Respect is Earned, Not given. Drawn by the lovely and talented Haley Wolcott
This is drawn by a friend of mine named Nolen Heisler
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I blame my mother primarily for my insatiable lust for the literary. Primarily because all she did, in between bouts of craftiness, was to sit in a worn-out wicker rocking chair and read. Romances and mysteries primarily.
She sought these things out at the public library, the most reasonable place, I suppose, since we were poor, and if we had to buy that many books, we’d be unable to afford the bills.
Since I was young (about eight I believe) I insisted on accompanying her.(I was quite literate at the time, as I could read at a high school level when I was five.)
I worked my way through the children’s section quickly. (I’ll admit that the Scurry County Library wasn’t the biggest library ever) I had discovered so many awesome books, by so many amazing authors that I too became a bibliophile, a truly hard-line book lover.
It was the beginning of summer vacation, and I had finally devoured the last interesting book in the children’s section, so I had finally gathered up the courage to ask the librarian (I assure you she was scary to a little boy my age!) She was a bit perplexed when I told her that I had “finished” the children’s section, and wanted to know if it was okay to read from the adult’s section. After a moment’s reflection, she said that if I could get my parent’s approval, she’d sign off on the idea.
Needless to say, I got an official looking stamp on the back of my library card, and the head librarians’ signature. I spent no time breaking it in. When mother would come into town, I asked her to leave me at the library with a sack lunch.
Over the course of my Summer break, I managed to hone my already sharp reading skills even further. I took particular relish in (I know this is going to sound so stupid) the encyclopedias. They had a special feel and smell to them that even now makes me feel nostalgic. From Aardvark to Zymurgy I absorbed information at an absurd rate (which didn’t help my reputation as being a precocious brat) I think that even now, the Encyclopedias were my favorite part of this whole adventure.
Once I managed to separate myself from the Encyclopedia Britannica’s siren song, I found a complete collection of Alfred Hitchcock horror anthologies (Of which the title eludes me) that had me enraptured. I fell in love with horror and the macabre. Following that I discovered that Anne McCaffrey had written a novel that I hadn’t heard of. I learned why, shortly. It was titled Get Off the Unicorn, and included a graphic rape scene. Yeah. I was like eight. It very much changed my opinion of her and her writing.
My mother bought me the original red-box set of Dungeons and Dragons (back when elf and dwarf were classes!) when I was about nine. That then turned my eye to fantasy, Although I still love horror, Fantasy is where it’s at. Definitely.
I had a brief fling with the science fiction book club. They provided me with the next big name that formed me into who I am now. It was a huge honkin’ book called Myth Adventures by Robert Lynn Asprin. I wore that book out so badly that I had to rebind it myself. (Now that I think about it, I need to get another copy)
This book made me realize that my favorite genre was comedic fantasy. Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Piers Anthony (Who has actually read my manuscript!) and countless others found their way into my grubby paws. They made what I hope was the final evolution of my taste in literature.
So. Now, that’s my background in literature. Let’s get into why and how I came to write.
I’ve had a long and varied life, been comfortable at some points, homeless at others, (comfortably homeless as well) and traveled the world.
Where this part of the story starts is in a time of relative plenty. I have a job (working for Nintendo!), and am married for the second time.
My brother Travis as dyslexic for most of his life. But like seven or so years ago, he said something just went “click” in his head and he could read. He told me the great joy he found in books. He told me he had also started writing, and asked me to have a look.
So I did. And it is damned funny work.
All I should have to say is two words (maybe three?). Were-wiener dog.
There. I said it. Done. He then said something that’ll stick with me forever: “I’ve always thought that you’d be the writer, since you’re so funny and well read.”
I was floored. Now , this might be my low self-esteem talking, but I never knew he felt that way about my ability.
So he challenged me to write a book, and I took him up on it. I spent a large portion of my time at the call center for Nintendo writing this book of mine.
Months passed and it was complete, but still raw. Many more months of editing and tweaking led to a more and more finely polished work. Then I discovered Scribophile.com. Possibly the most helpful and learning environment I’ve ever found. The people there are like family to me.
So now I write. I’ve written two compete novels, started three others, and work with others on their projects as well.
Let’s jump to the present.
I’ve just graduated Umpqua Community College with an Associate’s degree and have enrolled at Eastern Oregon University, so I can become a teacher of English and literature. I really want to share the joy of writing with the at-risk kids in the inner cities.
Getting famous off of my funny side has it’s attractive points too.
And fangirls, let’s not forget about them. (haha)
My brother DID tell me I was funny after all.
But looks aren’t everything.
My father was many things. A marine. A drunk. An abusive husband and father. But don’t let it be said that he didn’t try.
His one thing was the road trip. It was his church, his faith. Our long drives across the West Texas desert, the blazing hot wind snarling our hair into permanent knots, as his supplications led him to random places in the countryside. Sometimes it took us to out of the way creeks, where we would drop a fishing line, in the hope of a free meal, earned through faith.
Sometimes the trips would take us to the weird side of Texas, where the ghosts of failed tourist traps lingered, unable to rest, offering us questionable pleasures of seeing rattlesnake farms, two headed armadillos, and collections of Indian antiquities, sold for obnoxious prices to people who didn’t care that they were being taken for a financial ride of their own.
This particular trip was hyped for weeks ahead of time. So the family was packed up, and we boarded The Woody, my father’s blue/green station wagon with wooden looking side panels.
A coleman cooler, packed to the gills with bologna sandwiches and off-brand soda, was the finishing touch, and we were off.
The sound of my father’s 8-track belting out slurred renditions of the Beatles, the Stones, and Croce set the tone as we drove on, through the diabolic heat of West Texas. These were the times when he smiled genuinely, without weed or crown royal providing the escape that these trips offered him.
On this special trip, we hit every Stuckey’s we came across, and enjoyed peanut logs and looking at the voluminous selections of kitsch that they carried. Every glittery bauble, or joke device carefully catalogued and put away for future contemplation. Flint arrowheads lay on cotton wadding in small plastic boxes, as if some senile lepidopterist had grabbed the wrong box at the last moment and never noticed.
In the final stretches of our pilgrimage, we stopped at White Sands, New Mexico, and visited the museum, learning of our horrific history with meddling with the atom.
Then, our goal was in sight. I had almost expected to see rows of monks waving censers back and forth, blessing us for our passage into the underworld (and indeed, the Carlsbad Caverns could be considered such.) We debarked our fine ship, and stretched in preparation of our descent. As we gathered our party and entered, the stench of guano grew, for bats have made these caverns home for millions of years.
At that point, Either triggered by the sun or the stench, I developed a migraine like none I had ever had before (or after. I had missed almost a year of school because of migraines.) and was scolded by my parents because they thought I was faking. So I was sent back to the car where I cried out in pain for the duration of the tour and most of the way home. (A station wagon is no place to get away from the sun, let me tell you!)
Our drive home was solemn and silent, save for my whimpering, punctuated by the glares from my mother who assumed I was trying to get attention.
And that was my best trip with my parents.
This story is retold to me by my little brother, Travis, as I cannot recall the details of it myself.
The setting: Snyder, Texas.
A town so small and insignificant that it didn’t get its first McDonalds until the 90’s. It was an up and coming little town at one point, during the oil years of the 80’s. But then the oil boom, became an oil bust, as they always do. When that happened, the town, like an old woman, shriveled up and shrank somewhat.
This was just before the bust. My family lived on the bottom floor of a run-down apartment building — The Coleman Apartments. These apartments held many families just like mine, worn down blue collar families who had never seen any other style of life than these tenements.
With these families come children. Lots of children. Lots of screaming and hooting children.
Childhood is fraught with perils. Spinach, brussels sprouts and bullies, not necessarily in that order.
I am a fairly laid back guy. Ask anyone, they’ll agree.
However, along with my easygoing nature, comes with an incongruous measure of justice. So much, that if something were to rouse my nature as a justiciar, I would wreak havoc upon them, with little to no regard for my well-being.
So, To tell the story as my brother retells it:
It was a summer afternoon. The kind that impels the neighborhood children to open up fire hydrants and to make slip-n-slides appear as if by prestidigitation. When the heat comes on strong, the bullies come out, to take their frustrations out on the smaller children. This was no exception.
Apparently, some kid ran down the block past my apartment (read: hovel) calling for help, as his brother was being beaten up by a bully.
So I rose from my place, playing with antlions in the dirt, looked into the distance, with a hard look in my eyes and took off running at top speed. (with Travis quickly behind me)
The scenery blurred as my short legs (I was seven at the time) chugged me along like a locomotive.
As my target came into view, my brother tells me my speed increased even more, and I ran, head held low as I made my approach.
With a heroic crash, I plowed into this slug, this pathetic waste of skin, this bully. I can only imagine I got him square on the solar plexus, as he crumpled and fell immediately. I then began jumping up and down on my fallen foe. Some would have said that the fight was done the moment he fell, but I wanted to make sure that every other fight after that was won as well, so I kicked him without mercy, and stood triumphant over his fallen form, taking in the cheers and adoration of the neighborhood children who had witnessed the entire thing.
That bully was never seen again (I’m told that his family moved out of embarrassment, which would be true justice)
It took a trip back to Snyder in my middle teens to make me realize the impact of my actions, as I was approached by a kid my age, who instantly recognized me because of my heroics that day.
The day my life changed,
It was in middle school. NO. Let me back up a bit. How far? I think age five is enough.
I was five. And I was just introduced to a most distressing environment.
My father laughingly recalls when I asked, after my first day “How old do I need to be to quit school?”
Yeah. It was kind of like that. Let me preface this next part by mentioning that I could read at a high school level at five. (which really says bad things about today’s high school students)This perplexed the administration greatly. At first they did not believe me. I was trotted out to see various people over the course of my first week. I wish I had been able to watch this over again, from a third person view. I wonder if it would offer me any insights.
So that was it. They decided that first grade wasn’t enough. They bounced me up and down grades for another week. It was finally decided that they would put me up two grades, They had wanted more, but I was too emotionally immature to handle it.
I agree. Early into my educational career, I had said something, I don’t remember exactly, except that I had used the word queer in its original meaning. ( I was a voracious reader, and I had recently read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland). Yeah. It escalated quickly. So, boiled down to the essence of the matter: I got a beating. I got a beating from an ignorant hick who doesn’t understand context. I got a beating from an ignorant hick TEACHER who didn’t understand context.
This moment, I think truly caused my vague understanding of adults and teachers specifically, to congeal into a jello mold of disdain. From that point, I tried to look objectively at the teachers I was jailed with for an hour of each weekday. All I saw was a string of burned out teachers who no longer did it to help children, but rather to collect a paycheck. This leads me up to my final year of middle school.
Now, I am what you might call a nerd (No! Say it ain’t so!) and my abilities made me the alpha nerd among my peer group. The only reason I went to school was to interact with my friends. I had failed a grade because of apathy. I just didn’t care, because I knew I was smarter than the children around me. I skipped school a LOT. Did I go out and cause problems? Nah! I sat at home and read. Reading is where it was (and IS!) at. (and at the end, I was STILL a level above the my class)
So, the final day. The day I snapped. Being a nerd, and generally speaking, pacifistic, I tended to avoid confrontation. This, as we all know, is like drugs to bullies. They flock in to abuse the weak. But I had had enough. I proceeded to beat the ever-living shit out of this kid, this stupid kid, who thought it was funny to spit on me. He found his head mysteriously in between my knee and the curb with a loud clonk, like a melon being dropped. He has a scar across his forehead, and wil hopefully have learned that the meek don’t always stay that way.
At that point, the world changed for me. Everything was brighter, And I knew that others opinions of me held no sway over me.
I was free. Free to live, free to die, free to make my own mistakes.