Sunday, June 17, 2012

My First Big Fish, my Father's Gift

When fear crept into my life as a youngster, I sought out the safety of his arms. He was a giant to me, tall, lean, and squinting his firm brow out in defense of the sun's smile. His strength was not only measured in muscle but in wisdom. His even manner settled all those around him, like the keel of a finely made boat. He, like a boat, would rock in turbulent waters just enough to give, always able to stay upright.

He amazed me at how he could untangle a net or tie a knot even the biggest fish could not compromise. The water’s edge teased him with gentle splashes, urging him to slip the rope, pushing the two of us to places where monsters lay waiting for the patient toss of the bait. His hand was so gentle on the pole that he could feel every ridge of the sandy bottom until the slightest ripple gave away the presence of scaly prey.
His bare shoulders, dark and tan, bowed in perfect form, silhouetted against the sunrise—my father, the angler, embattled with the tug of a monster.
"Here son", my father offered, a smile as big as the distant horizon on his face. "You reel him in." He passed the burdened rod to me. I was far too excited to insist he do it, the excitement swelled in my legs as I stumbled over to his end of the boat. Cautiously, I stepped over tackle boxes and paddles, in order to position myself next to my grinning father. . No higher than his waist I stood as he placed me between the gunnels and his towering frame. With one hand, I reached for the corked end of the rod, and then another, all four of our hands together worked in unison in order to subdue the frantic monster that steadily pulled the line from the screaming reel.

“Time to tighten down the drag, boy. Are you ready?”

I was not able to make a sound come forth from my mouth. The euphoria of the fight had me and pulled at my thoughts as hard as the fish. As I nodded my head in response, at that same moment, an enormous splash broke loose my voice, the first of several "oh my God!"

"Now that's a big trout boy. Start taking the line back now," My father encouraged. He slowly, one hand at a time, released the rod to me. The pull was more than I had bargained for. My small frame and 75 pounds of fighting muscle went to work. Between me and the trout—which my father said had to be at least 10 pounds—was a thin, clear strand of hope that I prayed would hold.

Please let me get him to the boat. My silent plea was reassured with the knowledge that my dad had rigged the tackle. His success with behemoth Texas speckled trout was legendary, and this one would be my first big fish. The bow of the rod lessened from a strenuous burden to a gentle pull with each lunge the fish made. He was giving in—and not a moment too soon. I could feel my strength starting to fade as well. The day he so gently passed that burdened rod, one hand across the other to me, he firmly ignited a fire that still burns to this day.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thank you for giving me the greatest gift of my life. I love you.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

It's Okay to Be a Rookie, or a Tadpole

All writers have to, at some point, start being a writer and paying dues. Just because you've written a little book that you think is a Pulitzer Prize winner doesn't make it so, doesn’t make you a Hemingway. What it does make you is a beginner, a naivest, a rookie, and a sucker. And that's okay; that's how everyone starts—at the bottom of the swamp, a lousy tadpole without legs to swim to the top.
So as a tadpole, what do you do? You relax, keep your mouth shut, grow some legs, learn as you go, and develop your talent. Don't just imagine you have the talent because you feel that you do; allow others to confirm it. Prove it.

There will come a time in your writing career when your voice will be strong, and I don't mean your 
writing voice. I am talking about the voice of a writer in demand. That is what you aspire to become: a writer in demand. That gives you clout, that gives you power, and that gives you the most important thing of all: options.

How you use that power will determine how you survive in the literary world. If you stand upon your talent, like a rooster on the dung heap and crow with your chest sticking out, you are not humble and your fall will be great. When you come to your senses at the bottom of the pile, you will smell the stench of your arrogance. How you deal with the odiferous smell of your stupidity will judge how fast you recover and how far you climb the next time.

Remember, it’s okay to be a rookie. Anyway, there is no other way. Beginnings are good things. But don't be a stupid, arrogant sucker. Keep your mouth shut, learn, be patient, and the literary jungle will allow you to, at least, survive.

Looking forward to hearing about your own writing experiences and your thoughts on my first book, Forgiving Waters.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Whaddya, a Scaredy Cat?

When I answer anyone who asks me, “Where did you learn to write?” “Who is your favorite writer?” or, “Where did you go to school?” the look on their face quickly fades from a glowing inquisitive smile to a vague scowl, barely visible, but definitely disappointed. I explain that I have read only 20 or 30 books in my entire life. I don’t have a favorite author because I just don’t read. My education, as far as writing is concerned, is as threadbare as a welder’s blue jeans. My schooling doesn’t go much farther than high school, which I barely made it out of. However, I do enjoy scribbling my thoughts onto paper and reading them back to myself.

Writing, to me, is freedom. When I write my thoughts on paper, and then go back later and edit them so they make some kind of sense, I find clarity. I take that clarity, and I organize it into a complete story. We all do it. We daydream, make up stories, embellish, and just plain entertain ourselves when no one’s looking. My mind (and yours!) is a wonderful place to be free and explore both stupidity and genius.

I used to talk to myself a lot when I was a child, and my father would say, “Stop! If you keep doing that, someone will think you’re crazy.” I knew my father was wrong, even at the age of five. I still talk to myself and at times I rant, but it’s okay; I know I’m not crazy. What is crazy is someone pointing their finger, not literally but in a verbal way, and saying, “You can’t write because you don’t have the education for it.” Granted, not many would be so bold or rude and say that to you. If someone does, I don’t think you should talk to that kind of mean-spiritedness anyway. Everyone has a story; if you want to see how good the story is, express it on paper, even if “someone will think you’re crazy” or you’re the only one that reads it.

Some people refuse to write because they are poor spellers and they think punctuation is a mystery that cannot be solved. Don’t let that stop you. Punctuation can be tricky, and I am the world’s worst speller. I couldn’t spell my way out of the fourth grade if you held a screaming eight-year-old up next to my ear. Admittedly, it will take extra work and effort to get your writing to where it can be passed off as legible, but that is part of the process. That’s where hiring a good editor is of utmost importance— someone you trust, someone who understands your focus, but also is a professional, practiced in editorial with good testimonials. It all begins with you, though. The writing.

Break those chains, whatever they are, and write. From within, you will find the motivation to at least amuse yourself. You might even find others are entertained along the way too. Pour out your thoughts onto paper. Get lost in the pen and see where it takes you. Then revisit it after it’s had some time to marinate on the page. I know you will be surprised.

One last thought and I will use the words of a world-famous editor to get my point across, “Whaddya, a scaredy cat?” Now go write something.
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