(Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, not at all. In fact, it’s a really good lesson for anyone who counts themselves a writer. Lillian Hellman said, “Nothing you write, if you hope to be any good, will ever come out as you first hoped.” Ain’t that the truth, Lil. Which is why I think plotters --- writers who go into often meticulous detail outlining/planning stories --- should neither get too attached to those outlines nor too bent out of shape when characters refuse to be hemmed in by artificial constraints or slavishly bend to a writer’s arbitrary whims, instead heading blithely off on their own and leaving said writer scratching his or her head, wondering what the hell just happened. That, by the way, is a glorious, to-be-savoured moment in writing, not something to fear… because it means characters have come alive and aren’t wooden marionettes in your hands anymore. Now, I don’t think it means you have to do a Victor Frankenstein, shouting maniacally, It’s alive! It’s alive! while cackling like a madman. But it is something to be celebrated.)
So I still intend to recount how my first novel came about… but first, I want to continue the thread from my last post, examining how a writer emerged from the chrysalis of childhood/adolescence. I mentioned searching my personal archives, finding the piece that gave rise to my first public reading as an author. I found quite a lot more writing, too --- you can see some of it in the accompanying picture. There were more pieces from elementary, and a battered red pocket notebook containing a list of story ideas. (I’m actually rather proud of that notebook; I didn’t know it at the time, but much later, I read that Roald Dahl kept a notebook of story ideas, so I figure I’m in pretty good company. And I did it as a kid, I note smugly --- the dates in the notebook place it to when I was all of twelve years old.)
I was a voracious reader of science fiction, beginning with Arthur C. Clarke following my introduction to him when 2001: A Space Odyssey was released as mind-blowing film and novel in 1968. But when I was twelve, a new genre entered my life: epic fantasy. I read The Lord of the Rings the summer between ending elementary and starting junior high. And was totally, completely, enthralled. Although I don’t remember clearly why I picked up my copy of LOTR --- an all-in-one volume of the entire tale --- I’m a little embarrassed, because my strong suspicion is I was hooked by the fact this was a Really Big Book. I’m even more embarrassed to admit I hadn’t read The Hobbit yet --- my mother had previously bought me a copy, but for some reason that today I find unfathomable, I (gulp) couldn’t get into it. (It wasn’t until after I’d read LOTR that I went back and read The Hobbit. Oh, well. I’ve heard adolescence described as a time of transitory psychosis. QED.)
So, here’s the question: what makes someone want to write, to be a writer? Joss Whedon has said whatever makes you weird is probably your greatest asset, and while I don’t know whether he was being facetious, I think there’s definitely something to that. My weirdness, if you want to call it that, was, I think --- from a very early age --- an intense desire to create. One of the primary ways I did that was with words and stories. My imagination soared far beyond the confines of the drab mortal world I found myself in, to other times, other worlds. (I was a pretty fair master builder with Lego as a kid, too, but that belongs partly to a different creative area of the brain.)
Famed science fiction author Frederik Pohl maintained that speculative fiction writers were all toads as children. I’m not sure I really want to go down that road, but am prepared to admit I was not particularly athletic as a kid, with very little interest in organized sports (though I do remember playing soccer a lot in elementary, and football with my neighbourhood friends). I wasn’t very competitive as far as sports went. A lot of it just seemed fairly pointless and rather… well, rather needlessly Neanderthal, truth be told. I was tall, skinny, pretty introverted, wore glasses from grade four onwards, consistently spoke and wrote with a vocabulary well above my grade (something that didn’t always endear me to my fellow students) and found a lot of their games rather pedestrian, especially when stacked against the brave new worlds people like Clarke and Tolkien were showing me. In short… yeah, okay, I was probably something of a toad.
But by the time junior high rolled around, I was writing in earnest. I wanted to create those brave new worlds, too. Hell, I needed to. Another well-known SF author, Robert Silverberg, wrote about one of his protagonists living in a world he hadn’t made and didn’t especially like, and… I found I could relate to that. So I wrote. Words are powerful, dontcha know. Looking back, much of what I wrote was heavily derivative of what I was reading at the time, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing per se: it’s part of the process for any writer finding his or her own voice --- as long as you eventually stop being derivative and do find your own voice.
And that, more or less, brings us (finally) to the genesis of my first novel.