I used to write a lot of short stories for fun when I was younger, back when I had imagination. Now, I’m lucky to get this column pumped out on a bi-monthly basis, and it’s something I’m paid to do. How times do change.
Some, if not most, of my early writing was, of course, complete and utter garbage. Not that my present has veered far from my past in this particular regard. I was a relatively productive horror writer and a member of the school of thought where “blood = scary.” I dumped buckets of the stuff all over every page with little or no explanation as to why every word was sanguine. You couldn’t eyeball a page in one of my stories without having to later remove the bloodstains from your eyeballs. I recommended blotting them with cold water, but Clorox is a surprisingly painful alternative.
Let’s see if I can mine my past and unearth some gold. I recall writing this one story about a werewolf/detective or some such nonsense. The plotline of the story went thusly: Werewolf/detective expounds to himself on how being a werewolf is difficult and that people don’t understand him (I must have been a teen-ager when I wrote it). After a lengthy monologue likely intended to develop his character, the werewolf, in disguise as a normal person, travels to a movie theater, purchases a ticket and takes his seat. During the movie, some dudes, for reasons I never explain, attack the werewolf. The attack results in said dudes being ripped to pieces in gory detail, followed by another monologue by the werewolf in which he talks about killing all the aforementioned dudes. Apparently I felt this was explanation enough to bring the story to a satisfactory close.
That was it. That was the story. What the crud?
Thinking about it now, writing, for me, was essentially an excuse for monsters and violence. I liked werewolves; I liked bloody stuff; I liked going to the movies — why not combine all three into one story? Tell the truth, the fact that Darth Vader and Indiana Jones didn’t make an appearance before falling into a meat grinder or something is pretty surprising.
My father, I’m embarrassed to say, was forced to endure these sad little pieces of fiction, as read by the author. He’d lie down on my bed, face upwards, glasses off, eyes closed and listen quietly to every word. That’s called dedication to your children because I’m sure some of those stories were difficult to bear. And I was always eager to read them, too. Moments after finishing a story, but hours before even contemplating proofreading the thing, I would rush to my father and tell him, “Come listen, come listen. I have a new story!” Poor guy.
After listening silently to this particular cursory tale, my father, not leaning up — not even opening his eyes — asked, “Why were those guys attacking the werewolf?”
“It’s a mystery,” I recall saying. I don’t know if it was or wasn’t, but it sounded like a good excuse for not having any particular reason.
He said, “Well, it’s kind of confusing,” or something like that.
“Oh,” I said, or something similar. “I’ll fix it.”
I fixed it by inserting the following monologue, which I can remember verbatim:
“Why were those guys in the movie theater attacking me?”
Boom. Is it any wonder why I am now an employed writer whose work is published on a weekly basis? I didn’t think so. I was born for this stuff.
I had more. I had oodles of cruddy fiction, written in illegible scrawl and kept crammed in either a Mead Five-Star notebook or one of those expanding folders. One story, I recall, was nothing but an excuse to murder a family in various inane ways. After moving into a creepy old house, a family of three slowly begins suffering from increasingly stupid deaths. The only two murders I remember are the mother’s (she falls out of a window, after which her son comments to her husband, “Oh well, you never liked her cooking anyway.”) and her son’s (he falls into a hole filled with poisonous spiders, mere seconds after commenting about being the last to survive. Yeah, I’ve dabbled in irony). Amusingly enough, this story was one of my sad attempts at “comedic” writing … which I know is hard to tell from the description. Don’t feel bad, it wasn’t funny anyway.
Later, in my college years, I dabbled in more experimental things. As college students are prone to do, I became semi-obsessed with late author Kurt Vonnegut’s peculiar brand of science fiction. Vonnegut frequently broke the “fourth wall” in his novels, engaging the audience directly by inserting himself in the stories themselves. Not only this but he would also interact with his characters as himself, their creator. It was nifty.
So, being the thief that I am, I tried to incorporate some of Vonnegut’s unique ideas into my own bland compositions. Of course, most of it didn’t get past the planning stages. I’m all talk, no action. For a while, I stewed the idea of writing a novel about a small town populated by nothing but various versions of me — Adam as a failure; Adam as a financial success; Adam in love; Adam suicidal; Adam as childhood innocence … that sort of thing. The novel would be broken into anecdotes about these different versions of me as they milled about their daily lives.
Of course, I never wrote any of this and never will. The closest I came was a short story about a boy named Harold Hume who, after sneaking into a rumored haunted house, was shocked to learn that he was a character in a short story by yours truly, after which I told him how he functioned as a fiction character and what purpose he served for me, the author.
Now, if that’s not pretentious, college-level plagiarism for you, I don’t know what is.
“Still, it beats most of that early garbage I wrote,” Adam concluded, just as the werewolf, unseen in the shadows, pounced upon him, its teeth crunching down into his skull and creating an explosion of blood and brains. With his dying breath, as his body slumped to the floor and the beast began to feast upon his flesh, Adam let slip from his lips a single, satisfied whisper: “Good times.”