As a child, I had no inklikng where my writing career would take off.
Writing for me was based on the facts that I was a rather lonely child who was often picked on at school, and who had found solace in books rather than a social hierarchy of friends. I had my share of friends, yes, but these people were often far away in some regard, whether physically or intellectually, and I discovered at an early age that I was impatient with them, and they found me strange. My active mind however, adored intricate relationships and plots on the written page, and always was I moving. The Godzilla stories became rather trite for me, and my adoration for 50s science fiction movies began to grow after I was 10-years-old. I began emulating movie plots based on these Bs, and put together an interesting short story called “Whirlpools” – a story concerning bizarre whirlpools and waterspouts in the ocean that were destroying ships.
I can still remember a piece of one of my sentences from that story: “…from underneath the sea, the great hull of the ship moved across a watery sky…” I feel, even now, that was rather lyrical for a young fledgling writer. This was during the height of my fascination with science fiction movies, and I cultivated a strong interest in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. I read and reread his novels, At the Earth’s Core, The Land That Time Forgot, etc. Burroughs’ works are not a serious stretch in difference from Jules Verne, of course, but they were highly adventurous and opened a new world for me.
I too began writing stories that featured dinosaurs, with one of them not too unlike what would become Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park many years later. The titles of my works reflected my yearning to write “profound” and adult-oriented works, particularly a dinosaur story about a helicopter crew crash landing on an island called This Side of Paradise. I’m not certain what inspired me for that title, but it could have come from anywhere; I had thought it sounded cool and the word, “paradise”, conjured images of a south seas tropical island – a place where dinosaurs no doubt would frequent. Note that I refer to it in italics, because though incomplete, This Side of Paradise was actually my first attempt at catching Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels at their length. The plots were still rather shallow, and my characters were all based on the wooden stereotypes that were the staple of the 50s science fiction movie: an older, harried scientist, a dashing he-man hero, and a pretty girl who helped them, but most likely would find herself in trouble and needed to be saved by the aforementioned hero.
Women at this stage of my pubescence interested me, and I knew that they had a purpose; but at 11, this “purpose” still eluded me. I was rather innocent about sex and many other interests a typical puberty-stricken boy should have. Still, I could not leave females out of my stories; I liked them and they dressed up the scenery, and usually gave me he-man heroes something to save. I remember my mother once telling me in disdain that my female characters could be much deeper than what I created for them, but I scoffed.
My character relationships, however, made an abrupt change in course. This was primarily due to the fact that I was maturing sexually, and my view on females was maturing as well; it culminated in a realization as I watched fantasy television B-movie called The Bermuda Depths. This movie was produced by Rankin-Bass in 1978 and starred Leigh McCloskey, Connie Sellecca, Carl Weathers, and Burl Ives. The movie itself is rather cheap, and put together poorly, but the haunting features behind it actually lift it up a few notches. Weighed down by melodramatic acting and vague scripting, the story captured me and held me fast. It not only ignited a love for the sea, but it opened up wells of inspiration for my writing. The elements that made up the movie ignited tendrils of what had begun to grow during my discovery of Nathan’s Portrait of Jennie. They shared common ground in many aspects, and now visualized (I had never seen the movie, Portrait of Jennie, starring Joseph Cotton and Jennifer Jones).
The female lead characters in the stories made an impact into my writing; yes, they stirred my manhood, but they also created the notion of deeper and involved relationships. Connie Sellecca’s melancholy Jenny Haniver, a ghost from a shipwreck, so fascinated me that I began writing what would become my longest and most ambitious work yet. This story, “Fathoms,” was deeply based on The Bermuda Depths, and concerned a couple of marine biologists and a SCUBA diver who were searching for a giant squid. The story, of course, had the same vague elements of the supernatural in it as the movie it was inspired, but it also introduced a deeper love story involving the lead character and the mysterious girl from the sea. It numbered an ambitious 33 steno-notebook pages – the longest yet (including my earlier abortive attempt at a novel) – and I spent days writing it. I remember loving the story and being quite proud of it, although it mirrored the movie plot closely and even had some of the main characters.
Still, I held other literary interests, and within a year, had abandoned Edgar Rice Burroughs. “Fathoms” had opened something up inside me, and I wanted to delve deeper (pardon the pun) into literary relationships and stronger characterizations. However, I was still bound by genre-writing, but I found myself far more interested in television shows than books. This was not always the case, however, as my love for the sea grew, so did my literary views also. At this time, Peter Benchley’s Jaws was a blockbuster. My mother forbade me to see the movie, but I was able to check out the book at the local library. I couldn’t read all of it, finding Benchley’s contrived subplots involving adult-oriented relationships rather beyond my means to understand, but focused my study on the shark attacks and the climax that features Quint, Brody and Hooper at sea. Yet, though most of the tracts of character interaction in the novel lost me (specifically Ellen Brody’s affair with Hooper, and the dinner party scene), the expositional paragraphs intrigued me. Benchley had had a knack in evaluating the social setting of the locale, although in later reads, I found them to be rather lackluster. Make no mistake, Benchley had been a major influence on my early writings, however, he was a writer given much to the late 60s and 70s setting, and much of his opinions and style reflect much of that period, which, to my opinion, were rather bland and contrary.
This was the age of Jacqueline Suzanne and Sydney Sheldon and Arthur Hailey, where contrived soap operas in literature were the norm. What remains for Jaws, however, was the fact it was altogether new and frightening. The story, quite frankly, scared the piss out of me. It spawned a legion of nature versus mankind novels and movies, and I readily ate them all up. Yet, it was Benchley’s style that intrigued me, and I began to emulate him in my own writing. This culminated in my most ambitious work to date, a novel-in-progress called Depths. I had just read, for the first time, Benchley’s The Deep, and the story about treasure diving inspired me more than Jaws. I knew then I was going to write nothing but the sea, and my stories would be like Benchley’s. Depths became a rambling, episodic narrative that involved a young man and his friends who get caught up in some sinister plot dreamed up by a vague villain. That is rather ambiguous, but that story had no clear definition of plot, and I can no longer recall what (if anything) had been motive for the characters other than the bad guy causing the good guys trouble. I know it had something to do with the sea and SCUBA diving, but, in my efforts to separate myself from Benchley’s works about sharks and treasure diving and drugs, I was an author in search of a storyline. Needless to say, the novel ran on for 170 pages in a pencil-filled notebook until I altogether found it hopeless and abandoned it.
This was during 1979. At 170 pages, Depths was by far my greatest epic; its rival was a science fiction novel called Target White – a hodgepodge of episodes featuring contrived plots stolen from Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica – which I wrote at roughly the same time. Target White featured a protagonist named Ace Solaria, fighting a group of evil aliens much like the Cylons, while immersing himself in Star Trek episodes. To my credit, Target White was for mere recreation; I had no ambition to make it a serious novel. After writing a good length of it (approx 150 pages), I abandoned it.
– FROM “THE WRITING LIFE” – unedited; please forgive the rambling narrative.