Why I started writing (continued)

I took all the advanced English courses when I was in high school and thus missed a gem that most Americans have read by the time they are eighteen – The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.  Apparently, in my high school, that was reserved for the regular English courses.

 I was much older when I read it, listened to it, actually, on CD while commuting to work, and I understand now both why my high school friends hated reading it and why it is classical literature.

They hated it because not much happens.  An old dude goes out by himself on the ocean and catches a monstrous fish and …, well, I won’t give the ending away.  You’ll have to read it for yourself.  But that’s about it for action.

It’s classical literature for many reasons.  Hemingway said it was the best he ever wrote.  Many agreed, and he won a Pulitzer Prize for it, and it was a major factor in him receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature.  It’s well worth reading if, like me, you missed out on the opportunity to read it when you were younger.

One of the themes of the book that struck a chord for me is the consequences of aging.  The old man is not willing to accept his aging, and he believes that through stubbornness, a lifetime of acquired skills, and simply sheer will, he can avoid those consequences.  However, in the end, the old man discovers there is no escape.  Hemingway was fifty-two years old when he wrote The Old Man and the Sea and I have to believe he was feeling his age at the time.

I’ve often wondered why high school teachers ask their young students to read this work.  It does have obvious credentials, but so do many other works.  It’s short, so it makes Hemingway accessible to teenagers, not many of them would get through For Whom the Bell Tolls, for instance, so that’s a possibility.  But I think there might be another reason.

For me, reading The Old Man and the Sea helped instill a desire to ‘seize the day’, to act while I still could.  I know there are many things I cannot do today that I did with ease twenty or thirty years ago.  I also know that twenty years from now, I won’t be able to do things that I can do today.  Maybe being asked to read The Old Man and the Sea isn’t the curse most American high school students think it is.  Maybe it’s more a gift from their teachers to encourage them not to waste their youth, but rather to make their lives meaningful.  I think there’s a message in it for all of us not to put off doing things that are important to us.

Along with reading The Old Man and the Sea, I’d read some of Jack McDevitt’s work.  He also waited until much later in life to start writing.  Then I read a fun book by Terry Brooks on becoming a writer and I decided I would at least take a creative writing class.  I had many ideas kicking around in my head, the basic concept of Beaches of Brazil had been there almost twenty years, but I didn’t know what to do with those ideas.  

My first piece I wrote for the creative writing class was an Ode to Manchester United, and I couldn’t have chosen a better topic for myself.  I didn’t even try to make the poetry rhyme or follow the proper structure of an ode, but my teacher and the class loved it anyway.  That experience, along with the quote from Hemingway about first drafts, freed me from many of the mental constraints I’d placed on myself and allowed me to finally enjoy writing.

So I decided to seize the day.

Even if I had never sold any of my work, I wouldn’t have considered writing a waste of time.  It’s important to me.  I love writing, I love the process, and, as I said in a previous blog, I’ve become hopelessly addicted to it.

My goal is now to publish twenty novels before I turn seventy!

Cheers,

Bernard

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Communion Prologue

I’m excited about the upcoming release of Communion (still on track for the end of October) and wanted to make the prologue available for everyone to get a sneak peak.

Enjoy.

Cheers,

Bernard

 

 

Communion

A Worlds of the Dead Novel

Bernard Wilkerson

 

Prologue

Gary Lomax couldn’t stop laughing as he climbed into the back of a taxi he and his party had waved down outside his hotel on Victor Hugo Boulevard in Montpellier, France.  He liked to stay in that hotel because he could remember the name of the street it was on, although he couldn’t remember who Victor Hugo was or what he was famous for.

His companions, Olivia and Alain, had joined him earlier in the bar in the lobby, and Gary was worried he’d already had a bit too much to drink.  Getting into the cab felt awkward and he sat down quickly, and when Alain had to climb over him, he stepped on Gary’s foot.  Alain apologized several times and Gary just laughed.

Olivia climbed in last and Gary tried not to notice how her skirt hiked up over her knee when she sat down across from him.  He knew now he’d had too much to drink, and he didn’t want to say anything stupid.  He had to be careful; he was still new in his position.  He turned his attention elsewhere, staring out the taxi window at the reflected blue and green lights on the stone exterior of the hotel.  Alain told the cab driver what restaurant to take them to.  Some place on the Mediterranean.

“Where are we going again?” Gary asked Alain in English, hoping he wasn’t slurring his words.  He needed to watch how much heavy French wine he drank.  He wasn’t getting any younger.

“The Light House on the Mediterranean,” Alain answered, his English quite good.  Olivia’s English was good also and Gary wished he spoke French better, knowing he would have to if he moved here, although that didn’t seem likely after his last fight with his wife.  Remembering the expression on her face when he left depressed him, and as a distraction he read aloud street signs in his best French accent while they traveled.

“Rue Michelet.”

“Avenue des Etats du something.”

“Avenue Dubout.”

“Rue Fabreges.”

“You said one right!” Olivia exclaimed and they all laughed.

The cab twisted and turned through the narrow streets of the city and, as it curved on a roundabout, Alain fell against Gary.

“Opportunity corner,” Gary yelled, laughing.  He didn’t think his French companions understood the joke, but they laughed along with him.

“This one I can say,” Gary said, pointing to a highway sign.  “D986,” he pronounced formally, and Olivia laughed.

This is fun, Gary thought.  He was having a good time and didn’t understand why his wife, Kim, didn’t want to join him.  She loved fancy things, and now he was going to have a fancy meal at a fancy restaurant on the fancy coast of a fancy sea and she wasn’t there.  It would be incredible to live here, to be able to visit the beach all the time, to enjoy French culture and cuisine, to travel throughout Europe, and simply to have new and different experiences.  It’s what Gary wanted to do.  When he returned home from this business trip, he and Kim would have to talk again. 

The taxi arrived at the restaurant, a converted water tower.  Gary smiled.  How do you make a water tower look elegant?  Somehow they had achieved it by surrounding the base of the tower with a small garden of palm trees, lighting the sides with a diffuse blue reflected light, installing wrap around windows, through which chandeliers were visible where the actual restaurant was located in what had formerly been the reservoir part of the tower, and adorning the top with a neon blue spike, like a giant, modern Christmas tree.  Gary was impressed.  Olivia opened the taxi door and the air smelled slightly salty and Gary could hear waves lapping against the shore in the distance.

He stumbled getting out of the cab and felt more winded than he should have.  He was an athlete, after all.  Well, he told himself, he’d been an athlete over thirty years before.  He laughed aloud at his own internal dialogue.

“What’s so funny?” Olivia asked, grinning, and smoothing out her skirt as she stood next to the cab while Alain paid the driver.

Gary pointed to a stairway that zig zagged up the side of the building to the top.   “We have to climb those stairs?”

“Just for you, our American Director, an elevator has been provided.”

“Oh, good.”

Gary never got claustrophobic, but the elevator seemed cramped as it ascended the one hundred and eighty feet to the restaurant at the top.  He felt dizzy when the doors opened and the smell of the food nauseated him slightly as he stepped out.

“We probably shouldn’t sit too close to a window,” he said.

Alain laughed.  “But that is the best part.”

They were quickly seated, Olivia having made the arrangements ahead of time, and two bottles of wine were delivered to their table.  Gary now felt sick to his stomach and he was sweating more than usual, but he wanted to hold his own with his younger companions in drinking.  He was only fifty-three.  They couldn’t out drink him.

His skin suddenly felt cold and he shivered.  The waiter came out and asked for their orders and he scanned the menu, looking for something expensive that he could pronounce.  He ordered Daurade Royale.  Olivia snickered.

When the waiter left, Gary asked, “What’s wrong?”

“They serve it with the head still on,” she answered, unable to contain her laughter.  The men joined in, and laughing made Gary feel a little better.  He wiped a sheen of sweat off his forehead with his napkin.

“Is it hot in here to you?” he asked.

“No, it’s fine,” Olivia answered.

“I’m hot,” Gary said, feeling uncomfortable.

“It’s the wine,” Alain said.  “No more for you until you’ve eaten something.”  He added in French to Olivia that Americans couldn’t tolerate as much alcohol as the French.

“I understood that,” Gary said, trying to sound stern.  They stared at him and he smiled and the three burst into laughter.  This is nice, he thought.  His wife should be here with them, but then Olivia would probably act all formal and not be as much fun.  He looked out the window to distract his thoughts, watching the lights of a ship passing by, but the lights became blurry.  He blinked his eyes several times, but the blurriness didn’t go away.  He looked back at his companions and he could see them fine.

Soup was served and Alain poured wine for himself and Olivia, but pushed a water glass and a plate of bread towards Gary.  Gary tried to thank him, but his throat felt tight and the words wouldn’t come out.  He’d had way too much to drink.

He tried to pick up his spoon but couldn’t seem to focus on it.  The conversations of the other customers at the restaurant turned into an annoying buzzing sound, like a fly that wouldn’t go away, and Gary’s left shoulder hurt.  He wanted to massage it with his right hand, but moving his hand was hard.  It felt heavy.  He stared at it.

He looked up and Olivia looked like she was saying something and Gary tried to focus on her face.  Her mouth was open, but he couldn’t hear what she was saying.  

No, Gary thought, she wasn’t trying to speak.  She was screaming.  

Why was she screaming?

 

Why start writing? Why now?

I started writing my first novel when I was about ten.  My best friend at the time, Matt, and I began co-writing it one summer.  It was an amazing science fiction tale of a multi-ethnic crew flying a space ship around the stars and had, you know, nothing to do with that little television show by some guy named Gene.

My memory is that we got to about chapter seven and they were orbiting Jupiter or somewhere, but then school started and we moved on.  I’m not sure whatever happened to our adventurers, but I always kind of wanted to finish that book.

I wrote lots in school, just like everyone else, I suppose, and received a certain amount of recognition for my work, including winning a competition, being published in a local journal and receiving an award at the Air Force Squadron Officer School.

But fiction was different.  Whenever I tried to write fiction, I hated the results.

It was fun to write, but then I’d go back a few days later and re-read what I had written and I’d hate it.  Somewhere along the way, I gave up.

I eventually even stopped reading fiction.  I focused on histories and biographies, books on science and religion, philosophy and economics, and a wide variety of other topics.  I felt like I was done wasting my time on fiction.  This period of my life lasted about ten years.
Then I discoverd the thing that I’m sure everyone else already knew about fiction.  When you’re dealing with facts, you can’t honestly get inside someone’s head.  You can try to guess why someone did something, you can even report what they said about why they did it, but you can’t get inside their head to know why they actually did the thing they did.  Often, they don’t understand it themselves.  Only fiction allows you to truly deal with people’s motivations.

So I returned to reading fiction, just ‘high-minded’ literature at first, of course, like Hemingway and Steinbeck, but I soon began reading other stories and loving them.

As soon as I began reading fiction again, the desire to write returned.

The pieces finally fell together and I was able to take a writing course.  The teacher shared a quote from Hemingway that changed my life.  Hemingway said, “First drafts are excrement.”

That was it!  That’s why I loved writing something and hated reading it later.  It was excrement!

For me, this was liberating.  It was license to write crap.  I could enjoy the process.  I could write to my heart’s content without worrying about the quality of the first draft.  And write I did.  And I loved it.

Then I discovered something else about myself.  I loved rewriting just as much.  Many writers talk about it being a chore, but I don’t feel that way.  I enjoy the process.  My first novel, Communion, which is due out in October, has been rewritten at least fifteen times and it has never gotten old.  Each draft is better than the previous, and it’s moved way beyond Hemingway’s excrement to something I’m immensely proud of and hope my readers will enjoy.

That’s why I started writing now and how I got hopelessly addicted to it.

Cheers,

Bernard