Every now and again we find characters that never leave us. I remember the first time my mother read “The BFG” and I fell in love with the gentle giant. “Charlotte’s Web” was one of the few books that made me cry and I refuse to kill spiders, or any bug, after that book. As a child, I wanted nothing more than to be ten years old so I could have all the adventures that Violet from the boxcar children did.
Most of the characters that resonate with me are from my childhood since I turned to non-fiction as a teenager. Most of my bookshelf is filled with autobiographies with the occasional biography or instructional book.
Then I found Stephen King. He wasn’t hiding, but I didn’t think he was the type of author I would be into. As a teenager, I tried reading “The Green Mile” but never finished. But with my surgery coming up, and the vast amount of recommendations of my friends, I picked up “It” and fell in love with Stephen King. The next book I picked up was “Misery” because I love Kathy Bates and wanted to read the book before seeing the movie.
That’s where I met Paul Sheldon.
Without spoiling the book for you, “Misery” is about an author being held captive by his number one fan. Early on in the book, she forces him to write a book that he does not want to write. He literally has to write for his life.
Reading about Paul’s struggle to start his book was a familiar feeling. The typewriter was staring at him mockingly. He tried half assing it and was exposed for taking the easy way out. He didn’t have writer’s block. He just had absolutely no desire to write. That’s when he talked himself up:
“There’s a million things in this world can’t do. Couldn’t hit a curve ball, even back in high school. Can’t fix a leaky faucet. Can’t roller-skate or make an F-chord on the guitar that sounds like anything but shit. I have tried twice to be married and couldn’t do it either time. But if you want me to take you away, to scare you or involve you or make you cry or grin, yeah. I can. I can bring it to you and keep bringing it until you holler uncle. I am able. I CAN.”
Reading about a man who is one line away from murder finding a way to fall into the novel he is forced to write is good motivation for anyone to start writing. If Paul Sheldon can write a book bringing a character back to life that he purposely killed, and in doing so find a flow and a reignited love for the character he created, then I can finish my book too.
So, I’m writing a book.
I’ve said those words to a handful of people in years past when I would make a half-assed attempt to write a book. I would come up with a concept, write about five pages, then move on to the next creative project. Those versions just sat on my hard drive aging. They were tucked away only to be resurfaced when I moved my files from my hard drive to cloud. Occasionally they would be found while cleaning up my computer or feeling nostalgic enough to sift through old writing pieces. But this time I’m far enough in to know that a completed manuscript is in my future.
The difference this time around, aside from some Paul Sheldon motivation, is that I finally found the right vessel to put my story into. One day I was on my 1.5hr commute home from work when I read the following quote in “Misery”:
“Writers remember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar.
Art consists of the persistence of memory.”
I thought back to my teenage self, scouring the Young Adult section of Barnes and Noble, desperately searching for a book that told her story. In the aftermath of my dad’s death, I read like my life depended on it. Every second that wasn’t spent at practice, school or with friends was spent either in my room reading or at Barnes and Noble searching hopelessly for a book about a teenager like me. A teenager who had their parent stripped away from them cruelly and unexpectedly. I needed to know that I wasn’t the only one. I was searching for some form of community that I couldn’t find in the real world.
I never found that book. I would read historical fiction about kids who lost their parents in September 11th and many books like “Homecoming” about kids who were suddenly orphans trying to bond together and defeat the odds but nothing was good enough. I moved to the non-fiction section about found and many, many, stories about kids who were abused growing up like “A Child Called It”, “They Cage the Animals at Night” or “Running with Scissors”. I went through all the Holocaust books. After I depleted both the fiction and non-fiction sections, I went to the Child Psychology section where I fell in love with an author named Torey Hayden who wrote about her special needs students. While each book satisfied some kind of itch of knowing that I wasn’t the only kid with a fucked up life, every book was either fiction or about circumstances that were far worse than my own. All I wanted was a simple story of a kid losing their parent unexpectedly in their last year of middle school.
When I got a little older, my aunt took my brother and mom to see “700 Sundays”, Billy Crystal’s one man show about his dad dying of a heart attack when he was a teenager. There was finally something that told a similar story and words that justified my own existence. I remember feeling seen. After all those years of searching, I finally found some words to fill my soul.
So I’m writing a young adult autobiography about my dad’s death.
Once I got the idea, the words came easily. It’s easy to write for someone you know well. I keep thinking back to myself searching through dozens of books for words I could highlight and keep to remind me that I’m not alone. I try to write for her. I’m trying to find the words and stories that she could find a home in. The moments I wish I could have predicted and the many mistakes that I made. I want her to understand that her actions towards her dad weren’t reflective of the type of person she would become. That it’s okay to not forgive yourself, but you have to learn how to live with those mistakes and love yourself through them. I want to be honest with her. I don’t want to tell her that everything would be fine because sometimes it wouldn’t be. But I want her to know that there will be a point where the good days outnumber the bad and so many beautiful, delicious things to live for.
I want to pay tribute to the village that held me for those first few years after his death. I want to highlight the acts of kindness performed by the people who didn’t have to step up but did. I want to show my mom’s perseverance, my sister’s guidance and my brother’s role as my sidekick. How my friends at thirteen taught me what unconditional friendship was. If you’re any of those people, be ready to fact check me and know that I will run every line by you so that nothing is said that you don’t want said.
I know it’s a tough sell in a Young Adult world but I’ll worry about that when it’s done. For now, my favorite quote from Maya Angelou is running through my head:
There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
Thanks, Paul Sheldon.