For Robert.

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Here sits a lump of clay, ready for me to shape. / Photo by Kidzond.

 

I’ve been reading a book this week. Sort of a horror/dystopia story about vampires. I have about another 90 pages to go before the end of the story.

I didn’t like how the author started off the story. The setting was cool, but he seemed to lack focus on what the issue was. Hints to, but never explains what the real issue at hand is.

Despite the grammatical errors, hiccups with elements of the plot, the two main characters are good. I am truly curious as to what their fate will be. And that has to be the best part of the story. I actually care as a reader what will happen next.

Yes, this is my story, my first draft of my ‘first’ novel. Why quote marks? Because it truly isn’t my first. I wrote a novel a few years back and sat down to read it, like I am doing now. My father’s ghost tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear.

“That truly sucks you know. What are you trying to even say? What is your point?” I could only look over my shoulder and nod, placing the pages into a manila envelope and dooming the novel to sit upon a dusty shelf for all of eternity.

This book I am reading? It may actually see the light of day. I hope it does. It is still a lump of clay, but has a shape. A structure that I can look at and say, “I see where you are going here.” and take out my tools and start to shape it into a book that will keep some up past their bedtime, turning the page to see what happens next. That is my hope, the hope of every wannabe author.

Stories rarely just pop into my head. Usually a scene does, one that I think on, expand upon, and if good enough, commit to paper. I normally hand write out my stories, then sit at my laptop and tap them out.

This story, came from an oxymoron. We went swimming at a local pool years back. I was sick, so I did not want to get into the water. My youngest children were kiddy pool age, so I sat and watched them. It was on July 14th, Bastille Day for the French, that will become germane in a moment.

So, sitting down, watching my wife and kids splash around in this public pool that is only opened during the day, I notice they had lights. A really good lighting system. New. But why?

“Well maybe it’s for the vampires.” I mused. Swimming on Bastille Day, a short story, was born. I wrote it down, then I tapped it out on my laptop. It sat. I tweaked it, it still sat. I had in my cloud, and thus on my phone. By now, almost 3 years had passed. And every once in a while I would look at it. I had the good luck to look at on the flight back from our family vacation. It caught the eye of my sister-in-law’s fiancé.

“What’s that your reading?” He asked.

“Oh, short story I wrote.” I said.

“Really?” He said as I handed him my phone. A half hour later he handed it back. He liked it, but had so many questions. In the end, the story didn’t make sense to him. I needed to explain it more.

I think I rewrote that short story a dozen times, cursing at each draft. It was not going to happen as a short story. Maybe a Novella? Wasn’t sure.

The novel was delayed by a conversation with my brother Jay. Who stated that everyone wrote about vampires. Which, is absolutely true. Stick a fork in the genre, it is as crispy as a vampire in the sunlight.

As I turned away from the novel, and life interrupted me more than I wish, drawing me farther away from my writing, I considered something. Is my story about vampires? Is any story just about its genre? No, it’s about the characters. How they react to the situation they are in.

It took me 45 days to write the first draft. Countless interruptions, coffee breaks, smoke breaks, potty breaks, and life’s general interruptions.

Then I started to read my book. I frowned a lot at the first 70 pages, had to do my best not to pick up a red pen and attack it. I reminded myself this is the critical part of writing. Do you like your work? Are you, as the author, curious as to the ending. Even though you know the ending? Like re-reading your favorite novel again? Does it still peak your interest? So far, yes. I want to know what happens to my characters.

While writing a story is the fun part, the nuts and bolts of creating a novel really intrigue me. I am doing the first read of the first draft. I will edit my novel. Then, hoping it won’t cost me a small fortune, get with an editor I know. Have her go over it with a nit comb. Then after that, have it proofread again. Finally have a few people read it.

One person that I hope will have the time to read my story is the person who looked at me on that airplane flight and asked so many damn good questions. Yet still said, they liked it. My brother-in-law Rob. He’s a bit of an asshole, which is fine, because so am I. We argue, discuss, and love each other fiercely. We truly are family.

Yet I would be remiss to say I don’t dread his reading of my tale. For while others will tell me they like it, yet secretly harbor dislikes, I will not get that from him. He will simply hand me back the printed pages and shake his head. “Nah, didn’t like it.” And that will be the truth. It is rare to find an individual with his bluntness. It is also alarming and scary.

However, if you want to succeed at anything in life, you need a Rob. You need someone to tell you if your work is good, and to give you constructive criticism. To ask the hard questions and have you explain yourself. And, like he did on that flight, when I explained a point to my ill-fated short story.

“Why didn’t you say that in the first place then?”

So, with so many people I will have to thank for this novel when it sees the light of day, I could think of only one person to dedicate it to. My harshest critic.

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