I Was A Prepubescent Hack

[ Note: From 2008 to 2013, I kept a writing blog, which I then took down. Now that I am starting a new blog in 2018, I will be adding some older posts backdated to their original publication. Many of these were obviously written by a young, naive, perhaps foolish person, with prose ranging from overblown to just plain shitty, but they illustrate my journey as a writer and a person, so I think it is worth the embarrassment. ]

One of the earliest stories I remember writing was about a team of scientists who discover an enormous underground bunker of some sort and drop down into it to look around. For some reason, there is a goblin creature in there, and it kills them off one by one in horrible gruesome attacks. The last scientist escapes (without killing the creature) and shoots himself in the head a few days later. I think that was fifth grade. Maybe fourth.

The first short story I ever submitted for publication was to Boy’s Life. It was called Johnny and The Clown and was equally ripped off from Stephen King’s It (the movie: I hadn’t read the book yet), Poltergeist, and probably some X-Files and Twilight Zone episodes. A little boy gets a clown doll for his birthday. It comes alive and dances on top of him in his bed and smiles with rotten teeth and tells him it will eat him during the next thunder-storm.

A putrid breath wheezed out of the clown as he said in a rough voice, ‘I’m gonna eat ya Johnny!  I’m gonna wait until there’s a storm and it’s nice and dark, then I’m gonna eat ya slowly from your feet up, so you can watch yourself get chewed up and swallowed by yours truly!’

When I finished that story, I showed it to my mother and she loved it. She told me to show it to my Uncle Carl, so I ran down the street with the three-page story (printed in red because we were out of black ink) and showed it to him. He read it at once, with us both standing in his living room, me watching as he turned the pages, and he told me it was very good. I looked at it and thought, “My god, it IS good.” So I submitted it to Boy’s Life, which to my knowledge has never published a story about evil carnivorous dolls. I still have the cover letter.

My father has been active in our Boy Scout troop since I was a young child. So ever since I can remember, I’ve been reading the captivating stories in your magazine.  It was these short, yet entertaining stories that first inspired me to write. I decided that if I could have that much fun in these other people’s worlds, why couldn’t I have fun creating my own? [This paragraph is a lie. While I read the stories in Boy’s Life, it had no direct role in my beginning to write.]

So I have been writing ever since.  I have written many different types of stories, and this one happens to be a horror.  Not a violent or graphic horror either, mind you, but one any child could enjoy.  I loved being scared by R.L. Stine as a child, so now I’d like to return the favor.  Taking a clown doll and a small boy, I spun up a story I think you’ll find entertaining, to the point, and easy to understand.  Thank you very much for taking the time to read my story and enter my world.  Just look out for the clowns…

 I still have the form rejection. When I got it, I was so disheartened I decided to become a hack. I looked in the latest issue of the magazine, and there was an article about some island culture in which boys rode in long canoes and speared sharks as a rite of passage. I looked up those people online and researched how the hunt worked and wrote a short story specifically for Boy’s Life. It featured a sensitive young boy who was afraid to spear a shark but had to in order to be considered a man. It, too, was rejected, and I deleted it in shame. So far as I can remember, that was the only short story of mine that I’ve ever intentionally deleted.

I don’t know what the point of this post is. I wish it could be a recollection of my struggling days from the vantage point of an established author, a laugh and a shrug over the silliness of youth. But the truth is I’m still not published. I have an extensive rejection collection and I still love what I write. Of course, when it’s about a year old, then I can see how terrible it is, and even in an immediate second draft I can be quite ruthless when editing my own work, but I take an immense pleasure in my writing that is perhaps not justified. Still, maybe that love is necessary to continue writing, to work and improve in the vacuum of unpublished struggle, to move past the goblins and clowns and express the reality of people as I see them. It has been many, many years since I stood in that room and watched my uncle reading, and since then I have grown in more ways than one. But as an eager, unpublished author, am I really any different?