I sat in a pew at my father’s Catholic Church. I was seventeen, and the priest’s monotone voice echoed off the walls, lulling me into some kind of distant hypnosis. I wasn’t sleeping, but I wasn’t awake. And suddenly, an image came into my head. It was some guy I never met chopping wood behind a house. Behind him were hundreds of cut branches. I gave the person a name: Bobby Wagner, and I wrote the scene down on the back of my program, in the blank space at the bottom.
I worked on ‘Bobby Wagner’ throughout the summer, not knowing what the hell I was doing. It started as a longish, sloppy outline of something I knew should probably be even longer. Ideas started popping off as I continued. I put him and a few other friends in a town called Ellis, Illinois. I put them in 1807, since I knew EVERYTHING about 1807…or not.
But I did know Native Americans were kind of still around then, so I made Ellis, Illinois (never been to Illinois either) into a mixed small town of whites and Native Americans, and every now and then a really angry general would come in with his rogue militia and threaten to kick them out. He liked to spit, I remember. A lot.
Thrown in there was a romance between Bobby and Daniella and the invention of baseball. When I entered college, and I realized I had a boatload of time between classes, there were choices to make. I could play video games, watch movies, screw around, or I could write on the top floor of the library in the corner for two hours, then go back and do all that stuff.
Bobby Wagner ended up as a screenplay. 90 pages. I submitted it to Slamdance Screenplay Competition and a judge called me and said: “Good stuff!” 200 fist pumps followed.
Of course I didn’t win…not even close, but someday I want to thank that judge. He could have said something horrible, but that single compliment sent me, for better or worse, down this path, into other screenplays, novels, and whatever else decides to appear.
How about your first story? I did happen to leave out the Atlantis short story I wrote when I was eleven, but it was two pages, and I dropped it in a puddle of mud. (Moment of silence).