So, I recently published Little Flower of Luzon, a novel about a man in his late 30s who falls for a 17-yr-old Filipina, and their ensuing relationship that turns out to be as ill-fated as they come. Little Flower of Luzon was a labor of love as I mentioned in a previous post, but that novel was different from anything I’ve written in that it is realist fiction, a far cry from what I am used to writing. Or maybe that’s not what I mean. Some elaboration may be in order.
More than 30 years ago, before there was an internet, back when a mega-chain bookstore amounted to the likes of B. Dalton Booksellers, Walden Books, and that other one whose name escapes me, I used to go to, of all places, my local 7-11 convenience store that sold paperbacks. These were the days of Stephen King’s Cujo, The Stand, etc. At my local 7-11 I even bought a copy of Asimov’s The Robots of Dawn. In my little town there was a library, but the books there, the books I was interested in, at least, amounted to 1950s and 1960s era sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My local 7-11 store was within walking distance. So was the library. There was something about the smell of new paperbacks (yes, I admit here that in the dead of the night, I sometimes sniff new books in my collection. Go on, admit it. You do too.).
These were the days when I was 11 yrs old. By the time I reached my 13th birthday, I was making the trek to our new local mall located several miles from my home. My choice there was Dalton’s or Waldenbooks. I spent many afternoons bouncing between the upper and lower level of the mall, trying to decide which paperbacks I wanted to buy. It made my friends furious, but then they never loved books the way I did.
By the time I was 11 years old I had a paper route. Some weeks I went home with as much twenty dollars. Sure, I spent some of that money on the staples an 11-yr-old needs: soda, chocolate, bubblegum, the occasional comic book (this last staple was frowned upon by my parents, believing that a boy like me was better off using my imagination to conjure images of characters within a novel or a short story, their surroundings, etc. rather than having someone provide images for me…fast forward those three decades or so later, and I find myself chastising my 12-yr-old son about reading a book versus playing the xBox; but, that is tale for another time)–but the bulk of my hard-earned money from my paper route was spent on books.
From a very early age I was interested in what-if novels. The very first books I ever bought–with money my parents had given me for the book mobile at my grade school in Camden, NJ–were Dracula and Frankenstein. Both editions were paperback. It was autumn, crisp, dry wind whipped up red, gold, yellow, and brown leaves from the ground, and Halloween was not far off. It was one of the best days of my life.
So what’s all this have to do with my latest novel? If there’s a point then it is this: a writer never sets out to write in a specific genre. That sort of categorizing comes later. I know little about psychology, but I like to think, as a writer, I know something about the human condition. And I know that when a story needs to come out, regardless of whatever comfort zone a writer prefers, it will pour forth; reaching beyond what we are used to is scary, to be sure, but the end result is something far more rewarding. A story, any good story–any good story that the writer believes is true enough that his or her desire to get the story down trumps anything else in life–is a story worth writing.
One night I tried to explain to my son how it works, this writing life. I told him how, for me, ideas stew for some time before I write them down, how I write character sketches or scenes that have nothing to do with the story I intend to write just to flesh out a character more fully, how I often hear dialogue in my head and, every so often, verbally render those conversations just to hear what my characters sound like.
“So, you’re crazy?” my son asked that night.
Maybe I am, crazy that is. But I would have it no other way.