Since I have published the book, quite a few people have asked me about how I got started writing. Much to my amazement, I had no answer. I was at a loss for words. This is not a good situation for a story-teller. So I had to sit down and figure out the answer. Here it is.
Once upon a time, I went to school. It didn’t last very long, and there weren’t a lot of accolades or milestones of achievement, but for a period of time, I attended Fort Hamilton High School.
As a sophomore, I had an English teacher named Mrs. Bogash. She was a horrible little woman. On the first day of the semester, she made us go out and purchase a black composition notebook, and then gave us the assignment of writing a page a day, on any topic we chose. To say that I wasn’t happy was an understatement. What the hell was I going to write about that would take up a full page? Life wasn’t that interesting at 15.
But I gave it a try. It was really hard. I did it for a few days, then I skipped a few, then we handed the books in for review. I expected her to critique each page. She gave them back with a short note.
“Good job James, But you have to write every day.”
I went back to my attempts at keeping a journal, but I soon grew frustrated. I found myself writing less and less. I could barely make a page. She reprimanded me on occasion.
One day I wrote down the lyrics to Rush’s 2112 in my journal.
We’re taken care of everything. The words you hear, the songs you sing. The pictures that give pleasure to your eyes.
She wrote, “Good job James.”
I realized that she wasn’t actually reading the entries.
The next week, I wrote a whole page, and buried in that page, I wrote. “Mrs. Bogash is a jackass.”
She wrote “Good Job, James. Keep up the good work.”
After that, I simply filled up the page with whatever came to mind. Some days I copied whole passages out of published books. Some days I actually wrote about my life, my fears, my hopes.
On several occasions, I wrote new lyrics to popular songs. I remember re-writing “I am the Walrus and I’d Love to Change the World”
I know that I have those lyrics, because I still have the books.
Midway through the semester, I dropped out of school, but I keep writing.
Later that year, I read a book by Jerry Hopkins. It was a biography. It was called “No One Here Gets Out Alive”
It changed my life, in that I began to drink and drug on a regular basis. Like everyday. And at night, in those black composition notebooks. I wrote. I wrote bad poetry and obnoxious lyrics to songs that only I heard in my head, but I wrote.
I had these grand dreams of decadent rock stardom. I kept drinking. I kept writing. Somwhere along the line, I started to sing. Or attempt to sing. No one told me to stop. Well, a few people did, but I didn’t listen.
Eventually, with the help of the amazingly brilliant Steve McEvoy, we turned some of those lyrics into songs. Some of them were pretty good. Someday soon, I’ll put that project out in the world, but that’s for another column.
But to paraphrase that stupid song:
Billy quit, Bobby got married, shoulda know we’d never get far.
Not long after that, with Rock Star dreams still dancing in my head, I decided to write a screenplay and enter it in a contest. The script was called Three of a Kind, and the contest was Damon and Affleck’s Project Greenlight. I made it to the semi-finals and I was convinced that I had found my niche and would soon be living in a beach house in Malibu. At the very least, a bungalow at the Chateau Marmont. I sent the script to anyone and everyone I could think of.
Nothing. Silence. Crickets.
I decided to write another script. It was called Sunrise Moon. It was great. Still is.
I couldn’t get anyone to read it. Not even my roommate or the girl I was dating. Nothing. Silence.
By this time, I was sober, had a good job, owned a computer, so I didn’t write in the composition notebook all that often anymore, so I decided to write a story. The story of my life.
I sat down at my keyboard and typed “I was six years old, when my brother Joshua was born.”
I sat back and looked at the sentence in amazement. I didn’t have a brother named Joshua. My brother was born when I was three. I realized that I was writing fiction. I kept writing. The end result was a story called The Milkman. You can read the finished version in Split Rock Road. I finished the story and sent it out to the New Yorker and the Atlantic. Nothing. Silence. Crickets.
I wrote another story and another screenplay and I sent them out. I started to get responses. Rejection letters. Lots of them. I’m gonna wallpaper my bathroom with them. When I move to Malibu.
I kept writing, kept getting rejection letters and kept working at my thankless, soul-sucking job.
One day, I read an article about the wonderful opportunities that the internet had created in Self-publishing. I read about the sucess stories, including a book titled Legally Blonde. You may have heard of it. I decided at that point that self-publishing was the way to go. I set out to write a novel.
Still waiting for the muse to deliver on that one.
But I kept writing stories. Along the way, I decided to publish a collection of those short stories. As a test balloon, I posted Ashes and Dust on Facebook The response, from mostly friends mind you, was overwhelmingly postive. I decided that I had found my niche. I completed all the stories and announced that I had a book coming out. Everyone asked “When?” I replied, “Soon”
It took me a year. But eventually Split Rock Road was born.
The response, while positive, has not been overwhelming. Malibu will have to wait. Doesn’t really matter though. I’m a writer now. I’ve got the book to prove it. And I’ve got lots of people to thank when I get up and accept my Oscar. One in particular.
Good Night Mrs. Bogash. Wherever you are.