When I was in elementary school, the Daughters of the American Revolution held an annual writing competition for 5th and 6th graders. The story I wrote for this in 5th grade is the earliest fiction I remember writing. The entries were hand-written. My poor penmanship probably prevented the ladies of the D.A.R. from comprehending my story. This, and the lack of effort I put into the tale, led to failure in my first writing competition.
In 6th grade, I tried harder, and my penmanship must have become more legible. I won the award for my school. I had to read my story in front of the assembled Daughters, which terrified me, but I got a little medal to pin on my chest that said, “Excellence in History.”
The theme of the contest that year was travel in colonial America. I hit that theme hard. In the space of five or six handwritten pages, my protagonist used about 10 different methods to move from point A to point B. Point B was Bunker Hill, where there happened to be a battle raging. Having gotten my main character to his destination, I wasn’t sure what to do with him. Since there wasn’t any D.A.R. contest for 7th grade, I wouldn’t need a sequel so I killed him. He died heroically, like a patriot. It didn’t hurt to hit the Daughters in their collective soft spot.
The summer after 6th grade, I decided to write a mystery novel. I had it all figured out: whodunit, why and how. It turned out that was the easy part. The hard part was all the story that needed to come before the big reveal at the end. After about a dozen handwritten pages full of scintillating dialog, punctuated by dramatic sips of coffee, I decided to take a break and go ride my bike. Riding my bike was easier, but very time-consuming. It took up the rest of the summer, so I didn’t get to do more work on my novel.
Through high school I wrote short stories for no particular reason. I’d hammer them out on my mother’s Smith Corona. My typing was no better than my penmanship, even after the keyboarding class. My mother was the only one who read my stories. She had to see where all the white-out was going, after all.
In college I took a couple of fiction courses, but most of the fiction I wrote was in papers for my other classes. I’d become practiced at inventing facts that seemed plausible to instructors who didn’t have time to check. College was supposed to be about learning to think critically, which was exactly how I was judging which bullshit I could get away with.
Since my school days, I’ve done less bike riding, which has allowed me to finish some novels. Certain things have come full circle. I’m still looking to hit the emotional soft spots, but for an audience wider than the D.A.R. I still usually figure out the endings before the beginnings. I’m also still busy judging which fabrications will fly. Fiction is all one glorious lie, and like any good lie, it should always be plausible.
Even my penmanship and typing are still lousy. The only thing I’ve lost is the medal that says, “Excellence in History.”