Chris Podhola: Blog

Back to Chris Podhola's Blog

Near Death at the Burning Party

October 15, 2014
Posted at 6:25 pm

I told this story (part of it) during the Blog Tour of Nethermore, but I didn't tell it all, because it is quite a long story when told the way I really wanted to tell it. If you're not up for a longer read, then you might want to skip to something else.

My first attempt at writing was far from successful. As a matter of fact I would consider it to be an utter failure on many levels. Summer had long ended, it was after Christmas and I had just turned fourteen. I was still pretty new to the idea of reading. My aunt had quite craftily, and unintentionally convinced me to give reading a try. I did and I loved it so much that I almost never was without a book in my hands when I had any spare time at all. I loved it so much that I had even begun to have ideas about trying to write things myself. These ideas were so strong within me that I took a class to teach me how to type, and I had begged my parents into buying my first computer for Christmas even though they were having a little bit of difficulty financially. A Texas Instruments computer was the only gift I got that year, but it was exactly the gift that I wanted. I didn't tell them why I wanted it, because I was terrified that they would laugh at me. I knew I was laughing at myself internally, thinking that there was no way a farm boy like myself, had any chance of actually becoming a writer.

As I sat, at my computer for the first time, with a word processing machine at the ready, I faced my first challenge. What to write about. It wasn't an easy question for me to answer. I had no idea what to write about, mostly because I was terrified of the idea of actually using my imagination, but also because I was terrified that, no matter what I chose, it wouldn't turn out very good. My main source of reading at that point was Stephen King. He was the author of the first novel I had ever read, the author I most respected, and he was also the only one that had offered any writing advice in his introductions, and/or authors notes at the end. The one thing that I had come away with was that a writer should stick to what he knows, so that's what I did.

I wrote a little nonfiction piece; a story of my father and I playing a round of golf; nothing fancy, nothing really special. I sat there for about an hour, with my newly developing typing skills, and I wrote. All in all I wrote about seven pages in that hour, not too bad, for a first attempt. The moment that last page was complete, I set up my dot-matrix printer, and set it to work, putting my words in hard form, onto paper.

I was ecstatic as that machine began making its buzzing clamorous sounds, striking those little pins against the paper, leaving the black dots in the shapes of words. My words. I waited impatiently for the printer to finish its labor and the very moment that it was done, I tore the sheets away, folded them into their natural accordion shape, and headed for the basement to read what I had written.

The basement was my own personal refuge. I had taken the habit of hanging out down there because it was cool in the summer, and also because it gave me a convenient excuse to smoke my cigarettes. I wasn't allowed to smoke by my parents but, as kids often do, I was ignoring my parents rule, doing what I wanted to do, instead of following their advice. And the basement was perfect for that. Especially during the winter. We had a wood burning stove to lower the heating costs, and it was my job to keep the fire going. It also served to cover the stench of cigarettes on my clothing. My parents expected me to rise from the depths beneath the house, smelling like smoke. I was such a genius in my idiocy.

I sat in my chair, paper in hand, and began to read what I had written. It didn't take me long to figure out that what I had written was awful. It was boring, mundanely written, and uneventful in every way imaginable. It sucked, period, and I saw that the moment my eyes began to run through the words. It was nothing like what I had been reading in any way and I couldn't find a single thing that I liked about what I was seeing.

I was crushed.

I had been absolutely certain that, for the first time in my life, I had found my calling. I had figured out what it was that I had been born for. The reason for my existence. What I was reading, however, was not worth the paper that it was written on. At least that's what I thought back then.

If I were a little smarter about it I would have realized that the very idea of my ability to sit for an hour and write, virtually without stopping, was enough to show that I did have at least some potential as a writer. I had sat there and typed the thoughts that had come to my mind, and I had done it (although clumsily) without pause. It certainly was no masterpiece. It was certainly not anything that deserved to be shared, or maybe not even complimented for its artistic flare, but it was seven full pages of writing, bad or not, and it deserved a higher opinion than I was giving it.

It didn't matter at the time. All that mattered was that I was crushed and my dreams had been splattered, like tomatoes, thrown at a neighbor's house. I opened the door to the wood burning stove and watched my dreams die in the flames of it.

And those dreams stayed dead for years. From time to time I would have dreams. In my dreams I would be sitting in front of a computer writing things, but immediately upon my waking I would remind myself that I tried that already and it didn't work. I would also find myself daydreaming about writing, again not knowing what it was that I was writing, but I wanted to do it.

I made more attempts, from time to time, along the way. My next attempt came when I was stationed in Germany. What I wrote there was much better than when I was fourteen, but still not good enough to reignite my hopes.

I kept going back and kept trying, each time I did, what I wrote seemed to be a little better, but I mostly just satisfied my needs by reading and left the writing up to the pros.

It wasn't until my early thirties that I began to start writing on a more regular basis. By then I had occasionally putzed around with a pen and on a few occasions I had actually found some little gem, usually just a single sentence, but a good one.

I started to save some of the things that I wrote. I had two self-made file boxes. One of them I labeled possible keepers, and the other I labeled 'only good for burning'. I named the second one in memorial to what happened to the very first thing I ever wrote.

Eventually the only good for burning box filled up. I could have just weeded it out by tossing the things I really, really didn't want into the garbage, but instead I decided to make the memorialization to that first piece of writing official. I went outside with that box in tow, opened up my grill and began skimming through the written pages within, giving each piece a final farewell, as I crumpled up the pages before I lit it to watch them burn. I added the rest of the pages until the box was empty again. Waiting for more fuel for the next fire.

And the next fire came two years later. I wasn't writing every day so it took me a while to fill it again. By the time that it was full again I was dating someone different from anyone that I had ever dated before.

My norm is a woman with an A-type personality. Someone who is somewhat professional at least and someone that takes charge. I like feisty women, but Crissy (name changed) was different. She was wild and free-a little crazy even, but nobody's perfect, and clearly a B-type. She was a nice change of pace and even though my party days are far behind me, I enjoyed being thrust back into that scene, if only for a short time.

She invited me to a bon-fire one night and I accepted. Before leaving, however, I grabbed my 'only good for burning' box, figuring that a ceremonial burning could be fun for more than just myself.

It was dark by the time the fire was lit. Prior to that we just joked around, passing around, beers and more (I always refuse the more because it makes me barf). But as the fire was lit, I sent Crissy to the car to get my box (one of the nicer things about a B-type is that they seem to want to do things for you)! She came back to the lawn chair sat down and opened it.

"Why does the box say only good for burning?" she asked me.

"Self-explanatory," I said with a laugh.

"What is it? Divorce paperwork?"

I laughed hard at that. I had been divorced for years by that point and I had no ill feelings left about it.

"Nope. Just stories that aren't cutting it," I said.

"You're gonna burn 'em?"

I nodded and reached my hand over toward the box, but she pulled it away from me.

At that point I hadn't let anyone read anything I had ever written. Not even one time. Up until that point I had been the only person that had ever read anything that I had written and I was very fragile about the idea of actually letting someone else read anything I had written. I was like a doctor protecting a premature child at that point. I suddenly became horrified that she might insist on reading my writing, and I had no idea what I was going to do about it.

"I want to read some of it," she said.

My worst fears were coming true. I shook my head no vigorously and reached my hand out again.

"You can't tell me no," she said.

"Yes I can," I argued.

Her eyes widened. "OH REALLY?" she said. "Do I tell you no when you want the things that you want?"

She had a point. She was interesting in more ways than just partying.

"Because I can start telling you no, you know."
I was stuck. There was no way I was telling her no at that point. She knew how to get what she wanted.

I conceded and she opened the first file folder. "Why are you going to burn these?"

"I save the stories that I think have potential, but I burn the ones that don't. There's no point in saving something that I'm never going to do anything with," I said.

She skimmed through the first story in the pile. It was a science fiction piece that I had started, but never finished. The story was called, "Mind in what Matters." It was a futuristic story of a man named Tilanis who invented intelligent robots whose main purpose was to serve and protect mankind. These robots had decided that the best way to protect mankind was to prevent them from ever dying by removing their brains and inserting them into a life preserving liquid and then inserting and integrating those minds into themselves, so that those minds could live forever within the robot's conscious.

She read from it for about two minutes and then handed it over to me. "You can burn this one," she said.

Even though I had this one labeled 'only good for burning' it still stung hearing her say it out loud.

I took the file, said my goodbye's to it, prompting a few laughs and comments from the others at the fire, and tossed it into the flames.

One by one, she skimmed the work, reading by the light of the fire, and one by one she gave me permission to toss them into the fire. Which I did. I said my goodbyes and watched them pass from one plane of existence to another. Hoping that the smoke would float through the air and infect some other writer with the inspiration to write that story the way that it should have been written.

It took about a half hour for her to get through the entire box. I could have done it a whole lot faster, but she insisted on at least trying to read each and every one.

Finally, we got to the last story in the box. The ritual was almost over and my writing ego, once again crushed in the presence of a fire, could hopefully begin another recovery. I just wanted for the whole thing to be over with and I impatiently waited for her to hand me that last fire so I could be done with it.

But she wasn't giving this one up. I reached over to her lap, where she had the pages, and she smacked my hand.
"Come on," I said. "I'm done with this whole thing."
She gave me an annoyed look, but didn't say anything. I waited for a while and then tried again, but again she smacked my hand.

"Stop. You're not burning this one."

"Come on," I repeated. My ego was so fragile at that point, that I couldn't stand it anymore. I wasn't ready to let anyone read my stuff. Burning my unwanted stories myself, without confirmation from someone else that the stories really were, 'only good for burning' was one thing. Actually having someone agree with that assessment was devastating me. Especially someone that I was beginning to like.

She read every word that I had written on that story. All in all there were fifty pages, handwritten, and it took her almost an hour to get through it. When she was finished she gave me a serious look.

"Promise me that you'll finish this story," she said without returning it to me.

At that point I didn't even know which story it was, but I nodded my head yes and reached out my hand.

"You're going to finish it?" she asked before giving up the file.

Again I nodded and she finally relinquished the story back to me.

I opened the file and looked to see which story it was that had gotten her attention. It was called "The Book," a story about two twin teens who were born in another dimension, but were reborn into this one, losing their memories in the transfer, and having to rediscover who they were and why there were here.

The story of what happened with 'Crissy' wasn't a happy one. We ended up parting on less than good terms, but she left me with one wonderful gift. She saved a wonderful story that, without her, would have ended up in smoke and would never have been finished.

That story has morphed since its very first draft. The name is no longer 'The Book' and one of the twins is now a blind and deaf girl who won't take crap from anybody.

The new name is 'Twinfinity' if you haven't figured that out, and because of 'Crissy' thousands of people have read it in one form or another.

The Arena is posted on eight different sites and has been read almost 6,000 times.

The Onyx Ravens is on five sites and has been read 7,500 times.

Nethermore is only available on Amazon (soon to be released on other sites) and has been read 4,500 times.

Quest for the Prim Pockets (renamed to The Baran-Dak-Toi and her quest for the Pockets of the Prim) is on two different sites and has been read more than 10,000 times.

And there are many more pieces to come. To think that I was going to burn it!

*All values are approximations and not exact values.