The Write Stuff

I’m going to let you in on a little secret.

Until a few years ago, I never believed I would be a writer.

That’s not to say I didn’t believe I could write, that I had the ability to form cohesive sentences and paragraphs that made sense. I mean that I never really believed it would happen.

I’ve been writing as far back as third or fourth grade. I’d get bored in class and whip out a blank sheet of paper and my #2 pencil, and I’d scribble a fantastic tale involving me or my friends in a day or two. My stories never made the New York Times Best Seller List, but they did make my friends happy.

When I was in middle school, the local Daughters of the American Revolution sponsored an essay-writing contest. I wrote an essay about the fictional son of Paul Revere. And I won.

Then again, my essay was the only one submitted. I read it aloud at the DAR’s next meeting and went home that night three dollars richer. My accountant paid off his mortgage and bought a condo in St. Tropez.

I don’t remember much about what I wrote in high school, but I must have written something. One day, my English teacher, Mrs. Meigs, wrote this in my yearbook:

Terrell, I’m looking forward to reading one of your books one day.

When I first read those words, my jaw fell to the floor so hard it almost broke. It was like I’d discovered a secret power that no one else knew about. Her words became a life raft that I clung to many times over the years when I was lost and adrift in a sea of doubt. She not only encouraged me to be a writer, she expected it.

For the first time in my life, I believed in myself. I believed I had “the write stuff.”

In the early 1990s, when the internet was still in diapers, I decided to write the “Great American Novel.” Every night I’d come home from work and write for hours in a blue spiral notebook. I still have that notebook. Sometimes I will run across it as I am searching for something else. I always stop to thumb through its worn pages, smiling at my own handwriting scrawled in blue ink.

The novel was called The Penberry Disk. The protagonist, a software engineer named Jeff Penberry, is sent to London to get his employer’s new branch office up and running. After he somehow inadvertently gains online access to highly classified data on a prototype Russian jet, he is framed for the murder of one of his English associates. In retrospect, it’s a bit juvenile by today’s standards. The best things I can say about it is that I finished the manuscript, and I’ve learned much about writing since then.

I’ve also written a few short stories, of various genres, most of which you can find online at writing.com. The Floater is about Tom Six Horses, the fictional police chief of Fairhope, Alabama, who investigates a body washed up on the shore. I wrote one titled Holmes Again, which finds a much older Sherlock Holmes in an insane asylum. A Letter Found in My Attic, set in the 1930s, is about a boy who is imprisoned falsely for the murder of his alcoholic father.

In my spare time, (which is as rare as a J.D. Salinger novel) I enjoy writing short screenplays. Two of them, Son of David, and The Silver MacGuffin,have been made into short films, and I plan to film another one, Relics, within a year or so. I think the reason I do it is because I love writing dialogue. There’s just something about snappy dialogue that I find irresistible. Even Quentin Tarantino films, which often contain violence, are heavy on well-written dialogue.

Writing is many things. It’s expression. It’s communication. You could even call it art.  The writer paints a picture, using words and sentences as brushes, and your imagination as his canvas. Stephen King, in his book On Writing, even compares it to telepathy. A writer sits down, types out a few hundred words, which are later printed in a book. When you read the book, you are reading thoughts that originated in his mind. Voila!

For me, writing is therapy. When I am struggling with a problem, I will usually turn to writing. Sometimes just hammering it all out on paper (or the computer screen) will help me sort it out and provide answers. Even if I don’t find a solution, I find that my thoughts are more organized and less chaotic.

It’s been a few decades, but I have to say this now.

Thank you, Mrs. Meigs. You saw something in that young high school kid that he didn’t know he had. When you wrote those words, you gave him the key to a secret room. Your words gave him permission. Encouragement. Hope.

You saw “the write stuff.” 78

 

 

 

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