Is anybody reading this a fan of comic books? I used to be. My collection was massive until I was foolish and gave it away to a friend just before one of my families many moves. I collected all the classics, Iron Man, Thor, Avengers, X-Men, Silver Surfer, Captain America, and on and on. And in every series my favorite issue was the origin. That’s the issue where you learn how the superhero came to be, gained his abilities, what set him on the path to right all wrongs and defend the innocent. I know I’m not a superhero, or a hero, heck…I won’t even question a cashier when they give me incorrect change back, but I do have an origin story. My chronicle of the moment I became a writer. Some of my longtime followers may have read this tale before, so feel free to click through to the next blog if you wish. Hopefully the rest of you will find this enlightening, and maybe entertaining.
It was the late-spring of 1974. I was a junior in high school and the summer break was just over the horizon. Our English lit. teacher, whose name escapes me now, wanted to do something different for the end of the year. She devised an unusual project that the class would work on in teams and broke us down into groups of four members each. When she announced the names in each team it was clear she utilized some un-decipherable logic for selecting who wound up in what group, but when I heard the other names in my group I broke out in a cold sweat.
One boy I was friends with, another I vaguely knew, and the final name continued ringing in my ears. It was Vicki M. Everybody knew Vicki. She was a cheerleader, but not just any cheerleader. She was the prettiest, friendliest, most popular girl in school who was also blessed with intimidating intelligence. I had never spoken a word to her, not even to bless a sneeze. I was quite certain that if she said anything to me, all of my clothes would suddenly disappear and there would be no recovering from the depth of my nakedness.
I was just getting over the shock of finding out I was going to be on a team with the Vicki when we received our assignment. Each team was to create a ten-minute audio recording in the style of an old time broadcast serial such as Dick Tracy and Little Orphan Annie during the golden years of radio. The material used for the show also had to be from an original idea, meaning the groups had to write their own scripts.
The teacher let us devote the last thirty minutes of class to getting started on our projects, so everybody shuffled around chairs and we formed a circle. Vicki quickly took charge and asked if anybody had any ideas about a story. I lost myself in her hypnotic blue eyes and before I knew what I was doing, I volunteered to write the entire script. A bold move, certainly, especially considering up until then I had never written a story of any sort. But I had an active imagination and I knew it would be a surefire way to impress Vicki, so what the heck. Working together the group decided it would be easiest to do a radio spot along the lines of a Thriller Theater. Everyone looked at me and wondered if I could come up with something by the next day. “No problem,” I said, my sphincter now clamped so tight I couldn’t pass a microbe if I wanted to. What had I done?
That night I barricaded myself in my room with a legal pad, pen, a tall glass of milk and stack of Oreo’s. I was motivated by two forces, a deep desire to impress Vicki and become a blip on her radar, and a bone-chilling fear of failure. Surprisingly, the words started to flow almost immediately. I wrote a simple story involving a family who purchases an antique floor-standing mirror and the strange things that happen when their small son starts playing with a mysterious friend he sees in the mirror.
The rest of the team, especially Vicki, LOVED the story. We set about the task of recording the episode. There were acting roles to be assigning (Vicki was the mother), proper background music to choose, and figuring out how to create the different sound effects. The entire project took two weeks to finish, most of the time working at my house because I was the closest to school. Having Vicki in my house everyday was magical! My mom’s house the plants seemed to bloom brighter and the snacks she provided us never tasted so sweet.
Then the day came when all the teams were due to present their project. By luck of the draw, our tape was scheduled to play last. One by one we listened to each group’s tapes and I have to say the talent on display was truly impressive. Then it came our turn. While our tape played I stared down at my desk top, unable to look at my classmates faces, worried that my story wouldn’t be as well received as it’d been with my team.
Our tape garnered the loudest applause of the day and Vicki gave each of us a genuine hug.
But then our teacher called our group aside and demanded we tell her where we got the story we used, upset that we had not used original material as she had instructed. When we finally convinced her that I had written the story myself, she was so impressed that she urged me to submit the story to several writing contests. But I never followed through with her suggestions, preferring to stay out of the spotlight and be content that the act of writing itself was rewarding enough for me, that and the admiration of Vicky M.
I ended up writing for the school newspaper my senior year, but after high school my creative writing took a back seat to life. College, a career, a wife and three kids all ganged up on me and successfully forced my urge to write into an extended hibernation. But now it’s awake again…with a vengeance! I still carry the original copy of that script in my backpack, as a reminder of where my writing started.
How about you? What is your origin story?