Thursday, July 07, 2005

Suffer the children

In her July 6 post, Demented Michelle* told the story of a dickwad psychiatrist who told her she didn't have sufficient life experience to be a writer (she was a teenager at the time). This jogged my memory the way a swift kick will turn over a Suzuki Samurai. Here's my tale. Summer after 6th grade, I decided to write a novel. This would be qualitatively and quantitatively different than anything I'd ever done before. I would research this one (five minutes with an atlas to figure out the names of a few cities and rivers south of Moscow). For a change, I would have a plot (stolen from Edmund Cooper's 1971 novel The Overman Culture), a theme (be brave and you'll get the girl), and an exciting climax (stolen from the movie version of Crichton's The Andromeda Strain). The title of my magnum opus, which worked out to be about 114 handwritten pages, was The Control. In September, I handed the manuscript off to my 7th grade English teacher, who was cute, and she handed it off to her student teacher, who was not. This bothered me right from the start. See, I'd developed a crush on my English teacher, and I'd come to see my book as a way of expressing my feelings to her. Did I mention the climactic sex scene, richly realized in ways accessible only to a not-quite-seventh-grader? Hot monkey love, as imagined by someone who hadn't even had his first wet dream. The student teacher hung on to the manuscript forever. Honestly, looking back on it, I feel sorry for her. I really do. That manuscript was awful. She would have been well within her rights to say, "Doug, I feel terrible about this, but my dog ate your book." Instead, she made two mistakes: she read my story, and she gave me her honest opinion. She took me into a narrow room. Harsh light glared from the window behind her, placing her in stark silhouette. I remember her breath so well that my overly educated nose now recognizes it as tooth decay halitosis as opposed to sinusitis halitosis. She told me that I should be very proud of myself for writing such a long story. She'd never read anything nearly this long from any of her students. ("So what?" I thought about saying afterwards. "You're a student teacher. You've been at this, what, a year?") Then she lit into it. Mostly, she objected to my inattention to details. In the action-packed climax, for example, the hero and his girl roll down a hillside in an electric car. They're thrown free of the car. Unfortunately, the car's vacuum tubes have all burst, creating a powerful suction effect sustained just long enough to make the scene work. Yes, vacuum tubes. This was 1972, after all, and a futuristic electric car had to have vacuum tubes, BIG ones, and scads of 'em. Our hero struggles valiantly to help his injured girlfriend up the hill, away from the car's irresistible suction. Because, you know, if he failed, they might both get sucked into one of those tubes. The student teacher also had a problem with the sex scene. "I think this is something you should revisit when you're a bit older. There's a lack of experience here, and it shows. Painfully." Well, I'm not sure she said 'painfully', although I am sure it's true. Unlike Michelle, this crushing criticism did not put me into an extended block. I had way too big an ego for that. I figured the student teacher was a jackass who didn't know anything about science fiction and didn't know how to, you know, suspend disbelief. Besides, I'd already gotten distracted by school politics, and my plans to run for student body president quite eclipsed my writerly ambitions. I wonder if she really did put a chill on my muse. Throughout college, I never could finish anything I'd started. Then med school happened, and then residency, and before I knew it I was middle-aged. So here I am: I've racked up a few life experiences, gotten knocked around a bit by Fate. Now that I've had a few wet dreams, maybe I could write that sex scene. D. *Michelle: aren't you ever going to get tired of people calling you Demented Michelle?

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I was a teenager, I applied to one of those writing correspondence courses. As soon as they learned my age, they wanted to enroll me in their young writers program. That ticked me off. I wanted to be a real writer and not get stuck in some juvenile program. I could get that at school.

Needless to say, I never enrolled. After not hearing from me, they started sending letters to my parents, trying to tell them the importance of enrolling someone of my talent into their course.

I received my first publishing credit (and got paid for it!) a couple years later.

Sometimes, I think some adults are just jealous of children and teens that demonstrate any type of talent. Discourage them. Beat them down. Convince them they'll never achieve their dreams and will end up with jobs where they have to say stuff like, "Welcome to Wal-Mart."

7/07/2005 11:07:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

I wonder if any of those correspondence courses are legit. On TV, I see the same commercials I saw as a kid promoting a correspondence art 'college'. Draw this pirate and you too might qualify for enrollment. Yeah, right.

On the one hand, a 'young' writers program might be justified because first timers (of any age) usually don't know how to take honest criticism. I'm beginning to suspect there's precious little connection between age and maturity, though, so a 'young writers program' (with an age cut-off) is probably wrong-headed.

My morning ramble . . .

7/08/2005 07:46:00 AM  
Blogger Demented M said...

Oh, thank you for the laugh today. I needed that. I think I would pay money to read that sex scene, I bet it would be funny.

I feel like a prude, I didn't start doing sex scenes until I was an adult.

I answered your question about the Demented thing on my blog. I didn't realize when I chose it that people would think I should be addressed as Demented Michelle, like it's a royal title.

And I'm curious, what sparked the question?

M

7/08/2005 08:36:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the one hand, a 'young' writers program might be justified because first timers (of any age) usually don't know how to take honest criticism.

Yep, first time writers... and screenwriters of any age.

Too many screenwriters seem to think, "If they don't recognize how great my screenplay is as-is, I'll submit it elsewhere."

A-ha! That's how we end up with those crummy "SciFi Channel Original" movies!!!

7/08/2005 09:02:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Hi DM -- I think I answered over at your site. I can't get over feeling impolite about calling you demented. No matter how true that apellation may be ;o)

Happily, that manuscript is long gone. Some things are simply too painful to revisit.

Anon: I've dabbled in screenwriting with a fellow who had actually had some success (I think he sold a script to one of the Star Trek spinoffs). So I know (a kind of second hand knowledge) what you're talking about, and I also know that screenplays are devilishly difficult -- far moreso than prose.

7/08/2005 10:58:00 AM  
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