I had always been a storyteller, ever since I could talk, though when I was young, I could say very little due to a speech impediment. Maybe I told stories to only myself before I ever learned to give the stories to others, like ghetto-wrapped gifts, the corners of loose leaf paper sticking out the edges of the package.
Maybe the lack of speaking much or the lack of friends not speaking resulted in propelled me to read constantly, almost ferociously, as if I were in contest with every other six year old. I remember being incredibly proud in first grade of having read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when most kids my age could not read at all. So maybe it was only natural that by age eleven, I finally announced I would be a writer.
While my parents sat watching some sitcom on TV, I marched into the room and announced my plan. I would write a book, I said, and then I would publish it. At the age of eleven, I possessed very little actual knowledge of the publishing industry. I believed that once I wrote the book, I needed only send it to “The Publisher” so he could sell it for millions of dollars. Then I would drop out of school and never have to deal with stupid long division again or memorize the capitals of all the states or write in cursive (why did we do that again? I still can’t write in cursive.)
At the time, the family shared a desktop computer in my parents’ room, and any time they were not paying taxes or my brother wasn’t loading extremely long movies, I would write. I was not just going to be another kid who liked to write, either. I’d be a WRITER, which would mean I was published. Now, as you get older, the level of publishing changes. For example, I have now published some short stories, poems, and numerous journalistic articles, but that makes me a WRITER, not an AUTHOR. And maybe, I also would like to be an AUTHOR soon. Still, I charged on ahead with unbridled optimism that I could write better than at least most eighth graders.
By now, I had already given up on “kid novels.” If anyone was to take me seriously as a writer, I needed to read the great classics. I’m not sure I read anything else until maybe ninth grade. In a way, this helped immensely, immersing myself in such great works of literature so young. Now, however, I often return to comic books and YA novels because they are really fantastic, and why didn’t I read these while it was socially acceptable to do so? Oh well, I’ll make up for it now.
Also, when I began writing this novel which had something to do with a guy named Mr. Capri and a guy name Mr. Paradox collecting jewels to become magical and evil, I used 24-point font. Obviously, by using such large font, I could write more pages and therefore be seen as more intelligent and impressive.
“Derek, you wrote a 300 page novel?”
“Yes, I actually wrote ten novels.”
Fifth grade: the year of a ten novel series, each maybe ten thousand words each. Then again, combine all these, and at least I wrote something truly novel-length. Of course I would go on to try to write many more novels over the year, roughly a different project each year. I learned to query and all about publishing, and I began building credentials from shorter things I had written. Eventually, I started this blog and wrote a new novel that I’m quite excited about and may actually be worth publishing.
Back to fifth grade…
Most of the names did not stick, although Mr. Paradox was probably the best villain name ever. My main character, I named Declin. I asked my mom what a good name would be. She was reading a book by an author named Declan, so she simply told me that. I misspelled the name, of course, and that spelling stuck with me. I vowed back in the fifth grade to use “Declin” as a character name in whatever novel I published first. I held myself true to my word at eleven. Go check yourself: new novel, same name.
But I am still proud of myself for that feat. Fifth grade ain’t easy for anyone, especially someone just then learning to speak properly and socialize with, you know, “other people.” This story does not signify anything, only it tells a story. Sometimes stories must be told, though. Sometimes, I am arrested by the need to tell a story, say something, so I sit down and write it, even if it might not mean something. Perhaps that even more than wanting to be taken seriously, that caused me to transcribe that first battle of good and evil between Declin and Mr. Paradox.
Maybe even today, I’m still telling stories just to tell them, not because they might mean something, the themes bold and life-changing. But simply because they are stories, and when you’re a writer and have a story to tell, you can’t not tell it.