If I had to pinpoint when I became a writer, I’d probably say “Fifth Grade”. That’s a long time ago, 1978-1979 to be exact, but I believe it’s when I took my first step to becoming an author. Of course, at that time, my knowledge of writing was limited. One of the first stories I wrote was about Santa Claus getting sick and Mrs. Claus having to dress up as him and deliver the presents. Sound familiar? It should. I plagiarized The Year Without a Santa Claus.
It wasn’t intentional plagiarism. I just didn’t have an understanding of writing and that you couldn’t simply retell a story and call it your own. Mrs. Boggs was nice enough not to call me out on it (I’m quite certain she and everyone else in the class had seen the special on TV before) and even read it to the class. For some reason I missed school that day and they had lost the second sheet of paper (which had two lines on it). She said that she was able to read the last two lines that I had erased (written on the half-line at the bottom) though.
My memory is a bit vague on exactly when I wrote my first “Mad Scientist” story, but it was definitely in Middle School (6th – 8th Grade). (For accuracy, my school had grades 1 – 8 all in the same building and was called Elementary School.) Because we switched classes, I have memories of writing stories in each classroom, but I think it was 6th Grade because I used to give my stories to Mr. Walker, our homeroom teacher, to read. He was very accommodating and actually read my stories week to week.
I patterned my stories after the 1940s serials where each chapter would end with the hero (or one of the good guys) in peril and the viewers would have to see the next chapter the following week. When I was in 5th Grade, there was a short-lived TV series called Cliffhangers that tired to revive the serials, but the series never finished.
Each week, I’d write a new chapter of “The Mad Scientist” and would draw the cover art to go with it. Around this time, I was also dreaming of becoming a comic book artist/writer, though I lacked any talent in drawing. I had several “covers” for stories, though never really wrote any of them. “Iceberg” comes to mind, though I can’t imagine now what type of story I had in mind when I made the title. “The Iron Soldier” was a comic (Sgt. Rock copy) I was trying to do, but it died a quick death also.
In 7th or 8th Grade, we had county-wide writing tournaments. The first I remember was called WREECH (Writing/Speech), the latter called SPRITE (Speech/Writing). I won Third Place for my story “The Scientist, Mad?” This was a revision of my Mad Scientist serials, condensed into just two chapters with the first ending in a car-crash cliffhanger where, Allen, the main character barely escaped.
It was Mrs. Arthur’s insistence that I rename my story from “The Mad Scientist” to “The Scientist, Mad?”. I never liked it at the time, but I thought she knew best and went with it. In retrospect, it was probably a better title, though I’m not sure anything could have helped the content.
This was my first attempt at dialogue (believe it or not, my previous stories had NONE). I can imagine if the phrase “epic fail” existed back then, it would have been used to describe the dialogue in my story.
The exchange went something like this:
Allen and John opened the box in the warehouse.
“Oh my gosh, it’s a bomb,” Allen said.
“You got a dime, bud,” John replied.
Allen handed John the dime and they went to call the police.
As they went outside, the warehouse exploded.
Ugh, I know. I unfortunately have a really good memory, so sadly that’s an almost exact copy of my original story dialogue. I’m sure there was more, but belaboring the point would most certainly be too painful for anyone reading this.
Remarkably, I did win Third Place (I’m hoping that there were at least FOUR participants so I can claim not to have come in dead last). The comment on my paper was “A young Hemingway…” though I don’t recall the rest of it. I’m sure the judges were just being nice.
I also did a “descriptive writing” entry that didn’t place at all. My original idea was to do “Dracula’s Castle”, but I got lazy and at crunch time wrote “Pac Man” instead. Even the best of authors would have a hard time making Pac Man interesting in text, so you can imagine my effort … “I guided my bright yellow dot around the maze gobbling up the smaller white dots while avoiding the red, pink, orange, and blue ghosts…” I don’t remember exactly what I wrote, but it’s probably a memory best left forgotten. Mrs. Arthur reminded me afterward that I should have written Dracula’s Castle.
I didn’t pursue much writing after that, with the exception of some attempted game writing and script writing in high school and my first years of college. Maybe more on that later…