This Writin' Life
Chapter 1 by Mike Baron
I remember the exact moment I decided to become a writer. I was thirteen years old, standing on Main Street in Mitchell, South Dakota, outside Chappy's, a bar that had two racks of new paperbacks in the window. I was holding John D. MacDonald's second Travis McGee novel. It wasn't the first, because I remember looking for his name. I liked the way the guy wrote. There was his name on the cover. Obviously he wasn't doing this for free. MacDonald was writing for a living and I was buying his stuff. That's what I wanted to do. It was years before I picked up a pen, but the seed was planted early.
A couple of the Main Street pharmacies also had comic racks. It was sixty-two, and not much was happening, except for Uncle Scrooge. Uncle Scrooge's intelligence shone from the comic rack like a beacon in a storm. Carl Barks' Scrooge stories dealing with the nature of supply and demand are still relevant today, and probably more truthful and instructive than what is actually being taught as "economics." Scrooge teaches that the accumulation of wealth is the result of hard work, keen intelligence, self initiative, and good ethics. All elected law makers should be required to read the complete Scrooge, or at least spend some time in the private sector before running for office.
My parents encouraged me to read. There were incidents, like the time I was caught with a copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn in Study Hall. The principal told me, "Mike, I don't mind if you read this stuff on your own time. But please don't bring it to school."
Between my junior and senior year we moved to Madison, Wisconsin. I worked that summer as a dishwasher at Camp Indianola, and was in the old bunkhouse the night a tornado took off one wing. This was the second time in my life I had been in a building while a tornado turned the other half into kindling. Surely I qualify for some kind of Guinness Award.
I began writing for the high school paper at West High, on Regent Street in Madison. I began writing as a direct result of typing class. Mr. Higgins was the instructor, and there never was a more dour individual. He had a way of expressing disapproval by snapping his fingers at you impatiently, and cutting off his words as if you had ceased to exist. Many students wished him harm.
Not me. I took to typing like a porpoise to Persian waters. If you want to write, you must learn to type. Even if you just want to sell stuff on ebay, you must learn to type. What did I write? I wrote shite. What else do you expect from a seventeen-year-old, which brings us to Mike's Rules of Writing Number One: Each would-be writer has a million words of shite clogging up his system, and it behooves him to get it out as soon as possible, to get to the good stuff. In other words, if a writer you would be, start writing.
There are exceptions to this rule, and I would like to wring their necks. Neil Gaiman is one. If Neil ever wrote badly, it's well hidden.
I largely wasted my college education (if absorbing life can be considered waste) studying political science. I also took some writing courses, one with Joel Gersman, founder and director of Madison's Broom Street Theater, and another with Jerry McNeely, head writer for television's Marcus Welby, M.D. Professor McNeely said, "You make 'em laugh a little bit, you make 'em cry a little bit, you SCARE THE HELL OUT OF THEM, and that's entertainment."
On day I dropped in on the offices of TakeOver, our local left-wing, anti-establishment counter culture rag. It was in a shotgun apartment down by the rails, since torn down, inhabited by Mark Knopf, the editor and publisher. He was awash in free record albums.
"Where'd you get all these records?" I asked.
"The record companies keep sending them. Want some? All you have to do is write something about them."
I staggered out of there with as many as I could carry. One of them was Edgar Winter's Entrance, which remains a favorite to this day. More importantly, I learned a lesson. Free records if you write about them.
In spring of my senior year, I decided to write a paperback novel and make some fast bucks. Thirty years later, I succeeded in publishing my first novel, WITCHBLADE DEMONS, based on Top Cow's comic. Think about that. Between the time I decided to become a novelist, and got my first novel published, three decades. This doesn't mean the intervening thirty years was a wash. Far from it. But it does attest to both my determination, and the abysmal quality of my writing. I must have written thirty novels over the years, or one a year. When I look back on that material, I want to crawl into a hole and die.
However, when I look back on recent material, not so bad. So there is hope. The English writer John Braine, author of Room At The Top, advises would-be novelists in his book How To Write A Novel, not to attempt the deed before the age of forty. You simply lack the life experience. For the most part, Braine is correct, although there are again obnoxious exceptions such as Richard Price, whose brilliant first novels, The Wanderers and Ladies' Man were published while he was in his twenties.
On the other hand, anyone who has tried to read Clockers can see that Price has written himself right out of the entertainment biz. I love his film scripts, though, especially Mad Dog And Glory.
Mike Baron is the creator of the award winning comic book Nexus and during his career has written an enormous variety of comics from The Flash to The Punisher. His first novel, Witchblade Demons has just been published and he is currently writing the Kiss comic for Dark Horse Comics.
Visit our Comic Book News Archive.