By the time I wrote my first bona fide short story, I’d made only one prior attempt at written storytelling—the little elementary school play I talked about, which we wound up having to turn into a melodrama because, well . . . it sucked.
I’d been creating story in my head all along though. It just happens, I don’t know why. I wind up playing out a scene in my mind—I’ve gone ahead and
appropriated adopted Stephen King’s term for this: “mind movies.” But I can’t count these, really. And if I did—and could somehow recall them—there’d be a gagillion of them. And they’re not really stories, as much as vignettes. Beyond, then, the melodrama and my mind-movies, there’s, of course, the writing fugues I’ve also written about—much to my em-bare-ass-ment.
However, when I picked up that copy of NIGHT SHIFT by Stephen King in the Oahu airport on my way back from Senior trip . . . uh, my life changed. A week later I’m sitting in my car at the entrance to a parking lot—I was working as a parking lot attendant—and I began to write: “The Dark Child.”
I don’t even have that as an electronic file. But I do have a hardcopy. So, here it is. Near as I can tell, the first line of fiction I ever wrote:
And because it’s a thought, the first full sentence that follows it:
No, God damn him, Margaret thought to herself, throwing the laundry basket down onto her old Kenmore washer.
And because I like the third sentence . . .
She was starting to hate her son.
I wrote this long hand. I still have that, too, complete with margin notes and editing marks (my own, since back then I didn’t know a codified system existed.) I’ve even got a dot-matrix printed version, complete with the pages still attached together all accordion-like.
And my prized possession—something I just re-discovered in prepping to write this little post: a rejection note from Playboy magazine.
See even back then, with the limited research I’d done, I knew Playboy paid real bones for fiction. I was turned on to that by none other than Mr. King himself, who did pretty nicely, as I recall, in the early days selling to these mags. And you know what, I had no compunctions about it, really, since I knew that despite the joke, the acquiring fiction editors knew their stuff. That’s not an easy sell with many folks I know, but oh well.
In any case, the story is very much in the early King short story tradition. And why not? That’s exceedingly good stuff. Still holds up, if you ask me. They’re compulsive reads. I toyed with the notion of synopsizing the story here. I killed that stupid idea for two reasons: one, I hate synopses—I’ll pontificate about that at some point; and two, I may post this at some point, and I hate spoilers. But I will say this, there’s a bit from the final scene that haunts me still, that I can’t get out of my head to this day. I’m guessing that’s a good thing. Or a creepy thing. Pick your poison.
I s’pose the real point in writing about this at all is to give some props to Mr. King—not that he needs them from me. Still, while it’s true that prior to “finding” King I was playing mind-movies and the like, and one could argue I’d have wound up writing anyway, his work kicked me in the arse and got me doing it. I must cop to the fact that it was fits and starts for years: a short story here and there, and a novella at one point—one I still like the concept for, but which I can likely never publish because a few years later Mr. Dan Simmons published a brilliant novel entitled CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT, which pretty much carried the same premise, and did it _way_ better than I did.
I found a way to get at the joy of writing by reading King. Much as I found a way at the joy of rock music by listening to Poison. I moved on from both, which doesn’t mean I don’t still think they’re both fun and filled with awesome (I’m still a fan of both), only that once I got rolling, I found more to like—more fiction, more rock. I’m mighty glad of both.
The other thing this sort of obviates (like that word?), is my affection for dark fiction. My first completed novel was a horror novel. That’s another one I still hope to publish. We’ll see what happens.
As for “The Dark Child,” I still dig the story. I didn’t pull any punches at the end, and there’s some rough stuff there. Oh, the story has rough spots. But I was writing on pure instinct and adrenaline, and honestly, I still think there’s plenty of merit to that.