Birth of a Catch Phrase

For the first fifty years of my life, becoming a published author wasn’t something I dreamed about. In truth, I never even considered the possibility. To younger me, authors were like movie stars, professional athletes, and rock stars — ethereal creatures blessed with a sublime talent. Aspiring to something so lofty just wasn’t practical.

Now that I’m an author, I see how wrong I was — on so many different levels. If I was in this for the money, I’d cut my losses and quit while I was ahead. But, as you’ll see, my motivation to write comes from somewhere else.

For most of my youth, I just was. I don’t remember thinking much about the future beyond some vague notion of a wife and kids and a job one day. I finished high school and entered college with no idea of who I was — much less what I wanted to be when I grew up.

The decade of my twenties really was the best and worst of times. I’ll never be so free — or so stupid — again. Coming out was awful, and wonderful. Exciting, but terrifying. Whether things had to change as much as they did is interesting to think about. Younger me didn’t always make the best choices. In fact, he almost never did.

But somehow, I survived my foolish mistakes and poor judgement. Good won out over bad, as I finally completed my undergraduate degree (six years later than originally planned) and finished grad school. My goal was a job with a steady paycheck and benefits. Ending up in a rewarding and satisfying career was just lucky. The success that followed surprised no one more than me. Hard work pays off, and working hard is easy when you love what you’re doing.

I’ve said many, many times in the intervening years that living to tell my stories about “the lost decade” is a miracle. Hence, I have an obligation to tell them. But telling them live or even via my blog poses certain limitations that prevent me from being entirely forthcoming. I thank God each and every day that all we had back then were Polaroid cameras. Evidence of my wrong-doing survives only in my memory, and I’m not talking.

Writing a memoir posed the same limitations. Disguising identities helped, but didn’t fool people who know me well. A lot of really funny stuff — funny to me anyway — got left out.

I didn’t think about genre when I started writing what would eventually become Until Thanksgiving. The idea was to convey the impact moving to DC had on me when, after more than ten years together, I parted ways with my first ex. Josh Freeman lives in the apartment I lived in, and eats at the same restaurants I enjoyed. But as a premise, real life rarely makes for a very interesting novel.

So I added a serial killer.

After that, the story took on a life of its own, changing from MY story to A story that draws on my life experience. Telling my stories through fiction gives me the freedom to embellish the hell out of the truth, adorning reality with extra details, semi-truths, and pure fabrications to suit my own purposes. The fun part is that nobody — or very few anyway — know what parts really happened and which are just made up.

There’s a lot more of that kind of thing in Until Thanksgiving than you’ll find in the prequel, After Christmas Eve. Josh retraced my footsteps in DC., so I had a lot of real experience to draw from. Philip’s story takes place when I was eight years old. The characters in both novels are assembled from bits and pieces of me, friends of mine, and people I see when I’m out and about.

The stories in my novels aren’t true. They’re made up. But I write what I know. Reality creeps into the story in interesting and unexpected ways. I don’t write fantasy. I write reality-based stories. Fiction that’s true enough for government work.

And that’s why “Writing stories true enough for government work” is my catch phrase. For now. One of these days, after another fifteen or twenty novels, I’ll deplete my supply of ribald anecdotes.

Nah. I ain’t dead yet. The fact I’m not adding entries to my database as often as I did thirty years ago doesn’t mean I’ve quit. And somehow, I doubt I ever will. God willing.