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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Getting It Out

My story is like any other. I was on welfare at the time, writing in cafes on lined notebook paper. About a boy wizard with a mysterious lightning bolt scar on his forehead.

Ten years later, I had 400 billion dollars.

All right. My writing inspiration isn't so glamorous, or universally loved. And I don't have any theme parks. My beginning started as a story for my son, when he was seven. Cliche, I know. You see, I started it because he hated to read. I figured, what the hell, I'll write something he'll dig. A kid with superpowers, cracking skull, saving the world. My son could name the characters, give me ideas and we'd run with it. I envisioned him sitting on the couch next me, devouring page after page. Dad! When's the next chapter going to be done?

He said it best when my efforts failed. "Dad. I just hate reading."

Even JK wouldn't win this battle.

But here's the deal. The character I started out with got stuck in my nugget. I've written textbooks and magazine articles and newspaper columns, but I'd never done fiction. How hard could it be? Really. You just make stuff up. It's not like I needed a fact-checker. I didn't even need reality. This kid could strap on rockets and fly to the freaking moon. This is fiction, baby. Don't tell me what I can and can't do.

Oh. Was I wrong.

Fiction, for most of us, is hard to write. Good fiction, that is.

Socket Greeny was the character. A sixteen-year old kid, asking the big questions about life. Why am I here? What's this all about? Do I matter? Teenage angst on growth hormones sort of dilemma. Maybe not the most original, but something teens can relate to. I know, I was that kid. And that's why Socket wouldn't get out of my head. He had a story to be told. Well, I had a story that I wanted to tell through him. And in the world of fiction, I could make him whatever I wanted. Make him indestructible. Yet vulnerable.

Socket's this misfit. He's got white hair, but he's not an albino. It's a pigment disorder. He's different. His dad is dead. His mom, a workaholic. He whittles his life away in video games and energy drinks. That is, until he discovers his true nature.

My life and Socket's go opposite directions from there. No, I don't have white hair and my parents are alive and well. There were no fantastical worlds in my life. No superpowers to be discovered or off-world creatures to befriend. I wasn't the center of the universe and I sure as hell wasn't saving it. It was just me and everyday life. My path ended up grinding through life's problems the old fashion way. Slow and ordinary.

By the time I was in my 20s, I'd started a Zen practice. Meditation became a daily routine, in addition to retreats and various other inner efforts. I made some sense out of things through some hard work. Found some meaning. The struggle, it's worth it.

Socket's life isn't so ordinary. But it's not so far off, either. He still struggles with the everyday issues of where he fits in. His relationships. And what the hell does all this really mean.

I don't know if I'll ever write another novel. To wear out a cliche, it was a story in me that wanted out. It's out. Besides, novel-writing is as much about promoting (or more) as writing. And I'm not jazzed about that. Maybe in ten years there'll be another one. Or maybe I take the JD Salinger route and never write another one. I sure hope that's not true, for a number of reasons.

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