By Earl Staggs
Sometimes writing is as easy as filling a glass with water. You turn a handle and it gushes out. Other times, it’s like growing a tree. You dig a hole, plant the seed, and it takes forever to grow.
A couple months ago, I saw a call for submissions for a short story anthology with a deadline of thirty days. Plenty of time. Problem was, I had no idea what to write. The idea didn’t come until the twenty-eighth day. Once I had the idea, however, the story flowed. I wrote it in one day, polished and tweaked it the next, and submitted it on the last day. Happily, it turned out to be – in my opinion – one of my best, and it was quickly accepted. Sweet.
But then, there’s this novel I call JUSTIFIED ACTION. I came up with the idea ten years ago and just finished it last week.
The idea was a good one, I thought. My protagonist would track down and terminate terrorists. The unique thing about him is that he wouldn’t wait until they killed innocent people. Once he determined without a doubt they were going to, he’d take them out. It would be a Mystery/Thriller with tons of action and suspense. Think Jack Reacher meets Jason Bourne, and they watch Dirty Harry movies.
I came up with a great name for my protagonist. Actually, I borrowed his first name from an old John Wayne movie. I don’t remember the name of the movie, but in it, The Duke played a character named “Tall.” Perfect. I needed a last name for him, of course, and that took a little while. I wanted a name with strength and solidity, but not an overpowering one. Eventually, I settled on “Chambers.” He also needed motivation to do what he did. That came in a simple credo: “Kill one terrorist, save a hundred lives.”
So with a great idea and a character named Tall Chambers, I began writing the book.
And that’s where it bogged down. There had to be more to it than a guy running around killing bad guys to save innocent lives (even though that’s something most of us would do if we could). He had to be a real person with a real life, not a superhero with super powers. I wanted people to relate to and identify with him in other ways. That was the hard part, and that’s why it took ten years to write it.
I worked on it sporadically over the years, going back to it between other projects. I wrote a bunch of short stories, most of which were published, and a novel, which was also published. When I thought I had something for Tall, I’d go back to him and write more. I’d turn the handle, but the story didn’t flow. It trickled. I’d hit another dry hole and have to put it away again.
Eventually, but oh so slowly, Tall Chambers developed. He became a guy with twenty years in the Army. Over his military career, he became a man with strength and principles and rose to the rank of Captain. He taught hand-to-hand combat, small weapons, and explosives. His principles led him to punch out a superior officer, an act which resulted in his being demoted and assigned to a desk job. That’s where he was when the opportunity came along to leave the boring nine-to-five world of bureaucratic inanity and return to action with a special agency that dealt with terrorists.
But man cannot live on action alone. He needs something on the softer side of life. Like a woman. Tall fell in love – a forbidden love, mind you – with a woman who was off limits to him. They married against the wishes of her father, a powerful man who then became a powerful enemy.
And then. . .
Well, I won’t bore you with more of the story. But I will tell it all finally came together – after ten years -- and I’m happy with the way it did. I don’t mind telling you, I’m proud of the final product.
But ten years!!! Good golly, Miss Molly, that’s a long time.
I don’t care. It's okay. It feels good.
So celebrate with me. Raise a glass of something and toast my achievement. Smile with me, a smile so wide you have to turn sideways to go through a door. Join me in cartwheels out on the lawn.
But please don’t remind me that I now have to write the synopsis and query letter, send it out to agents and hope one of them likes it, then hope the agent can find a publisher.
That could take another ten years, but that’s okay, too. It still feels good.