Writing: The obsession haunts me still.


THE OBSESSION struck me at an early age.

There was no way I could escape it.

I was barely a teenager, and my life had been basically divided into two categories.

I was reading a book.

Or I was looking for a new book and sometimes an old book to read.

I picked cotton for a penny a pound and saved enough money to buy books.

I picked up soft drink bottles on the side of the road and sold them for two cents apiece. After awhile, I had enough money to buy another book.

I borrowed books.

Thank God for libraries.

One night I finished The Guns of Navarone by Alistair Maclean.

A suicide mission.

Impossible odds.

No one expected to survive.

No one dared to quit.

I closed the pages, looked up at the ceiling, and thought:

I want to write like that.

I read Shane by Jack Schaefer.

A story of violence.

And love.

A stranger hoping to escape the sins of his past.

A stranger who would never outrun his past.

He did what he had to do.

Those who had to die died.

And then he rode away.

The stranger broke the heart of a woman married to a good man.

He left a young boy begging him not to leave.

I read it once.

Then again.

And I told myself:

I want to write like that.

I lived the pages of Nevil Shute’s On the Beach.

The world was ending.

Radiation was spreading across and around the globe.

People were dying.

Soon there would be no one left.

I didn’t even know why I should attend class.

It was a waste of time.

We were all doomed anyway.

And, when my senses cleared, I thought:

I want to write like that.

The years passed.

The obsession remained.

After sixty-nine books – both fiction and nonfiction – after hundreds of newspaper articles and thousands of magazine stories, after three screenplays and almost a thousand blogs, I am gripped by the same thoughts I had then.

I close my eyes and remember the storylines and plotlines and characters who gripped the pages of The Guns of Navarone, Shane, and On the Beach.

Nothing has changed.

The thoughts I had then I have now.

I want to write like that.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    I believe all writers have the same obsession. And we keep writing books because we don’t believe we’ve written our best one yet.

    • Which is your favorite of the books you’ve written – and why?

      Name a couple of books if you can’t pick just one.

      Or is it like trying to choose your favorite child?

      • Caleb Pirtle

        Alicia: I like the trilogy I’ve just finished, Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies, and Night Side of Dark, which is being revised and thoroughly edited. I created a different style for them, and I’m comfortable with it.

  • jack43

    My love of storytelling came first from storytellers. I am so glad that I wasn’t born in the Yankee states where storytelling never took root – well not as well as the American South. No politician, no lawyer, no preacher was worth a lick unless they could tell a good story. Men didn’t go to church to pray or to sing (God forbid, to sing or play a harp and yet that’s what they prayed for in eternity). They went to court houses, country stores, and political gatherings as well as churches to hear a good story. It wasn’t until later that I discovered some genius had been writing them down and binding them in books. Fortunately, I had the voices of those great storytellers to translate printed words into mellow tones and vivid imagery…

  • Don Newbury

    Beggin’ your pardon, you do write like that! But let’s not argue. In keeping with Jack’s observations, it occurs to me that I don’t recall anyone asking, “Have you heard the one about.”…this century!

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Don, “have you heard the one about” and “once upon a time” are the two greatest openings of all time.

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