Sign up for The JA Pitts Newsletter for upcoming events and special offers

Archive for August, 2011

Poetry, Politics, Law or Fiction.

 

When I was nine, I decided I was going to be President of the United States.  I got really good grades, studied hard, and read, read, read.  By the time I was in sixth grade, I’d figured I’d be a lawyer.  My research had shown that was the best way to succeed in politics.  But, I had this amazing student teacher, Ms. Lowers, (like flowers) who taught us poetry.  I’m not sure if it was a crush on her, or the words.  I just know I was going to temper the law degree with verse.

I began to fill notebooks with poetry.  Some of it was horrendous, as you can imagine, but some was good.  Ms. Lowers thought it was amazing.  She made me a notebook full of her favorite poetry and rules for different styles.  I carried that notebook around with me for the next two years.

It also happened that Ms. Lower’s father was a lawyer.  She arranged it so I could write down questions for him, and she’d take them and get answers.  I don’t remember what I asked him, but she said he laughed and laughed before sitting down and writing my answers out long-hand.  I wish I still had those letters, for that’s what they were.  Encouraging, helpful, supportive letters from a stranger to this Kentucky kid who wanted to change the world.  I wish I could’ve met him in person.

Sixth grade was a fairly pivotal year.  There were HUGE things happening in my life.  My mother got remarried after being a widow with three kids for ten years.  Suddenly, I was no longer the man of the house.  This stranger had invaded, taken my place, and taken my mother away from me.

See, there was no surer way to get me to fight than to bad mouth my mother.  In sixth grade I got in a lot of fights.  I had a lot to prove, and kids that age really push the limits.  It wasn’t until I took down the school bully in the middle of our classroom that they stopped antagonizing me.

I thought I was going to be kicked out of school, but my teachers believed I was worthwhile.  When things got a little too out of control, they let me go into the library and lose myself in books.  I was way ahead of the rest of my class in most subjects, so the additional reading was great for me.

I discovered mysteries and science fiction, folktales and gritty non-fiction.  I read every book the library held on the Pacific Theater of WW2, as well as anything I could get my hands on that dealt with writing.

We moved the next year and I started junior high in a new town, with all new kids.  I found a core group of like-minded nerds and fell into Dungeons and Dragons in a big way.  I also found Lord of the Rings, Dune and Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever.  I read dozens and dozens of books that year, driving my school librarian, and public librarians crazy.  I read book on all aspects of medieval life, studied weapons and tactics.  I read folklore, mythology, detective stories and horror.  By this time I’d read all of John Carter of Mars and Conan the Barbarian.  I had grown desperate for story.

When I was fourteen, I borrowed my step-dad’s manual typewriter and began writing my first novel.  I was working with my buddy Allan Howell.  He’d write a chapter, and I’d write a chapter.  We’d discuss plot and narrative, character and cliff hangers between classes and during our free periods.  We wrote damn near the entire book by the end of that year.  Then he moved.

My first attempt at a book left for Florida and I never saw it again.  Sometimes I want to revive that book, write about the kids who flew skimmers on the moon and beat back an alien invasion while their parents were trapped deep beneath the lunar surface.

When Allan moved, I was pretty heart broken.  One day, my mother sat me down and pushed me until I explained why I was being so surly all of a sudden.

I explained to her that I had wanted to be President of the United States when I was a kid (like five years earlier) and that I wanted to change the world.  I wanted to fix the things I’d seen as broken — especially the way she’d been treated as a single mom in the early seventies when I first became aware of the world around me.  I wanted to fix the bigotry that plagued my schools, the racial battles, the sexism and the poverty.  We’d been damn poor until my step-dad came along.  Eating out of dumpsters poor.

But I’d given up on the law after seeing how the grown-ups behaved.  I remember Watergate and the end of the Vietnam War.  I remember watching Hank Aaron hit the home run that took him into the history books, and heard the anger and vitriol from the grown ups in my neighborhood, that a black man would dare to reach beyond his station.

I decided at the age of fourteen that I couldn’t beat that system.  I didn’t have the connections or the personal wealth to play that game.  I could only get into so many fights, until someone was going to beat me down.  So I changed tactics.

The year I was fourteen, I realized something more powerful than taking down bullies physically.  I realized I had something different.  I had a driving passion for story.  I’d read Charles Dickens, Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, Jack Chalker, Raymond Carver, William Shakespeare, Aristotle, Homer, J. R. R. Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Agatha Christie, Edger Allan Poe, Robert E. Howard, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and dozens and dozens of other authors. They had all changed me.  These voices had a power long after they were gone to change how I thought, how I perceived the world.

That’s what I wanted to do.  That’s how I was going to change the world.  One story, one book, one reader at a time.  It definitely wouldn’t be revolution, but I’d have more than the eight years the POTUS has to impact this world.  I’d have a lifetime and if I was good enough, a dozen lifetimes as people read my books long after I shuffled off this mortal coil.

I doubt I was very eloquent with my mom that day, but she understood.  She saw the need in me, knew how important it was for me fight against the fear and uncertainty, the anger and the sheer willful ignorance of the society around us.

So, at the age of fourteen I became a writer.  I sought story with every breath.  I faltered and fumbled for nearly a decade, finding my way through those rough and horrid teen years, but I want to college, got a degree in English and wrote, sent out my stories, and began collecting the rejections I knew would come.

But I never gave up hope.

And now, I have wrapped the third book in my Black Blade series.  My wonderful editor has accepted it as complete and it wings its way through the publishing pipe-line.

Today, right this very minute, people are reading my books.  They are seeing the world through a different set of eyes, and they are writing me letters expressing just how they are being impacted by my story.

I always knew I’d get published one day — knew that with enough work and perseverance I’d succeed in getting my work in front of people.  What I didn’t count on, with all honesty, was the mail I’d receive.

It’s not the negative stuff.  I can let that roll off my back.  I’ve seen enough of that in my life to have a nice set of skills to handle the whiners and the complainers.  I know not to let myself be wrapped up in the golly gee, or the ‘you suck’ mentality of most folks.  But there is another class of feedback that I hadn’t expected.

See, I wanted to change the world, give people hope, show them how to stand up for themselves, be who they truly were.

What I didn’t realize was that some of you would write to me and tell me just how much my stories changed your life.

And how utterly overwhelming it would be for me.

Next time I’ll discuss a couple of the letters I’ve gotten.  I need to do them justice, and this post is too long as it is.

Peace.

|

Uruz

The wild ox; strength and power.

Ansuz

Creativity; words, music, and art.

Othala

The troll cross; wealth and prosperity.

Sowilo

The sun; energy, honor, guidance.

Fehu

Personally earned or lucky wealth and prosperity.

Jera

The harvest; patience and promise.

Raidho

The chariot; journey and travel.

Note: This is not the real book cover.