Thinking about writing.

Getting after it.

I started off Nanowrimo on November 1st this year with just an idea, though my main characters are ones that I have been friendly with through my last two books: the time-traveling monk and a bell that is a bit of a diva. I am happy to report I have had my butt-in-chair for at least two hours for 19 days straight. And though some days my word count has not been very impressive, I have plotted all the way to the end of this second book and planned a few scenes for the third, including the ending for the whole series. As a bonus, I have actually drafted 16,537 words. I’m a little behind—I’m supposed to be at 31,000 or so to be on track to “win” Nanowrimo (writing 50,000 words in the month of November)—but in my mind? I’m way ahead of where I was in October, when I had decided it was just too hard, this writing thing, and maybe there was something else better I could be doing with my time.


Today is my dad’s birthday. He would have been 94. I remember a conversation we had when I was home from college one Christmas. So far in my college career, I had majored in chemistry, architecture, interior design, and toyed with going pre-law but wasn’t sure. He wasn’t one to give advice, my dad; he was more likely just to state the obvious. Like when I told him I wanted to be a doctor when I was a junior in high school, he said, “I hope you’ve got some money stashed somewhere ‘cause I’m not gonna be able to pay for that.”

But that Christmas, the one I’m talking about after my sophomore year of college, he actually asked me, “Well, what do you really want to do? What have you always wanted to do?” And I said, “I want to be a writer.” He said, “I like writers. You gonna write like John Graves?” I said, “No, Charles,” and we laughed because it was kind of a joke about how much he loved that regionally-well-know-but-otherwise-obscure John Graves’ book, Goodbye to a River. He read it before bed every night like some people read the Bible.


I remembered him every time I sat down to write this month. I remembered his scratchy white beard, his skinny and strong old body in a plaid Pendleton shirt, his stumpy and melanoma-scarred hands folded across his lap. I remembered how he smelled like cigarette smoke and crude oil and leather.

“I’m gonna write like a cross between Stephen King and John Steinbeck,” I told him that day.

He nodded his approval. “Well, you better get after it,” he said.


It’s been 30 years since that talk, 28 since you and I followed John Graves’ journey down the Brazos in a canoe, and nearly 12 years since that day I last saw you alive, Memorial Day weekend of 2006, where you slept in the nursing home with my cat Charley on your old feet while I read Goodbye to a River out loud to you.

I’m getting after it, Charles. Trying, at least. You know it takes a little time to get to things. I’m working hard on a book that is a cross between The Stand and Travels with Charley (with a little science fiction thrown in to keep it interesting). I think you would like it.


One Reply to “Getting after it.”

  • Beautiful essay. Struck home. I lost my father at the age of nearly 94 just last March. He read every one of my published books, even though he really only liked to read science fiction. I miss him so hard.

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