49/300: Changing Direction

I’m a non-fiction writer. Nearly everything I’ve published over the last twenty years has been grounded in fact or, at very least, truth. My books, my work as a journalist, the ghost writing I’ve done – all non-fiction.

In fact, apart from college assignments, I’ve really only written two pieces of fiction in my life and both were intended for young readers. The first was an adventure story for my brother when he was learning English after my parents adopted him from Russia. It was like a bad Indiana Jones knock-off. The second was a chapter book that I wrote for my son and nephew called “The Red Backpack.” It fell somewhere between Gary Paulsen and Goosebumps. My mom loved it.

I don’t even read a lot of fiction. I love books about design and psychology, about history and sociology. If I pick up a novel, it’s usually one I’ve read before. I’ve read “The Old Man and The Sea” fifteen times. Or I’ll read every book by a particular author – John Green, John Grisham, Douglas Coupland – and the occassional Stephen King. Don’t get me wrong, I like fiction, but my brain knee-jerks toward non-fiction.

This year, I wanted to change that. I wanted to write the stories that have been dancing in my head for years, but I’ve never taken the time to write before. So that’s what I’ve been doing. A half hour a day, six days a week. And I’m proud to say that, this time next week, my first two novels will be done.

The first is called “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” It’s book one of a trilogy, a love story written from the perspective of the man in high school, just out of college and as a father. They say write what you know and, while this trilogy is not, strictly speaking, autobiographical, but there are moments in it straight from my life. The time I was shamed as a virgin by a drunk Italian guy when I was working at a drug store. The time I woke in the middle of the night with a fever and, a couple hours later, went through seven spinal taps administered by a young intern in the emergency room. Apart from that, not much else is true, but it’s a story that’s been in my head for a long time about how a man wrestles with being in love at different stages in his life and how love, itself, changes to meet his needs.

The second, which I had planned to write over the summer but decided to sit down and work on a few days ago (and boy did it flow out of me), is called “The Red-Eyed Monster Bass.” It’s taken from an experience I had last summer on a small lake in Northern Michigan. My wife and I were sharing a canoe with our son Dylan. It was hot, he was bored and so I started telling him stories about the legendary monster bass that lived in this small lake. I told him a story about the time, in the 1920s, the monster bass saved a professional water skier from certain death and how she went crazy trying to prove that a car-sized fish had saved her life. He took the story and ran with it. By the end of the day and over the intervening months, we’ve come up legend after legend of the Red-Eyed Monster Bass. The stories serve as the basis for the novel and my son, for whom reading has always been an assignment, is literally begging me to finish so he can read the book for himself.

When I have sat down to write fiction in the past – sporadically and distractedly – I have been able to come up with a good scene, a good line, an interesting character, but little else. I think it’s because I was trying to write a novel, instead of trying to express a thought. The breakthrough that has happened this year has been a shift in thinking. I wanted to write “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” (and the follow-ups “In Your Eyes” and “God Only Knows”) because I’ve been thinking about how much my relationship with my wife has evolved over the years; how we’ve grown and evolved together, how the feelings I bring to the relationship have grown as I have grown up. I wanted to write “The Red-Eyed Monster Bass” because I want my kids to find value in legend and imagination. I want them to love reading as much as I do and I want them to see how their ideas matter.

These little shifts have made a world of difference. It has been freeing, exciting and, yes, scary. I mentioned in a post earlier this year that I would be coming back and asking for support at some point and my plan, right now, is to publish both of these via Kindle after some editing. I hope to have them ready by the end of March.

Here’s where you come in. When the time is right, I’m going to ask you to read these books, if you’re interested. And if you like either one, tell a friend about them. Once it seems like they are viable, I’ll launch a Kickstarter to publish them in book form – not just eBook form. If you’re so inclined, support the campaign. If not, I understand.

Either way, the writing I’m doing now is no longer just for me. I’m writing for an audience and I’m writing with specific intentions. I thought by sharing them now, you might understand them a bit better later.

Thank you for your support so far and thanks, in advance, for helping in the future. This is quite an adventure for me and it can’t happen without you.

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