Shut up and Write. My oldest boy said something to that effect to me one day after I started a long-winded verbal story from my past. I’m not one to shut up, much to the consternation of everyone who’s known (or will know) me. But I did shut up, that time.
I was a trucker back then, an owner-operator, but the engine failed in Forgy Trucking’s one and only power unit, and it pushed us out of business at the end of 2012. I wasn’t going to spend a minimum of $25,000 to build a new engine. I knew something big had just happened. I thought of a million different things I could do. Get back into the computer field, or write that fiction novel, or build some websites for clients, or write that fiction novel. You see where this is going, right?
Back when I was a computer geek, I blogged under the nickname OldGuy. Later, I owned BigRigPig.com and wrote a series of fiction articles about a trucker and his wife, and they had been received warmly on Twitter. One story was about hauling a giant inflatable balloon shaped like Obama to Chicago for some random event. One person replied “that’s the strangest trucking story I’ve ever read.” I asked “but does that mean you didn’t like it?” They replied they loved it. Every paragraph had taken them by surprise, and there was lots of humor along the way. I knew I was onto something. That story was every bit as strange as my novels Mirth Defects and The Seduction of Granny. I made up stories in my head and typed them down, and they were occasionally funny. But my favorite character was a guy named JD Ferguson. I started writing exclusively about JD.
Independence Day, 2015, we were doing the Forgy thing at my brother’s place. I wanted Mom to read something I’d written probably that morning. This was back in the days before I realized I couldn’t write third-person narrative. Mom starts to read and gets not even a paragraph into it. She stopped, grinned up at me with that Mom Look, and asked a Mom question.
“That’s your name now?”
“Well, not according to you, but if there’s a family secret I’ll–“
She’s trying not to giggle. She knows it’s nearly impossible to outmaneuver me in a verbal banter situation. In fact, if you get the last word in, it’s because I’m being polite. But it’s also impossible for her to not laugh. There were many more of those Wise Mom moments and I knew what she was trying to do but all I wanted her to do was read some before she wore out and needed another nap. And just before she did, she slipped into Stealth Voice Mom mode, the one where she can say things loud enough for her target to hear but other people can’t even read her lips. That Mom Look is not optional either.
“Finally gonna let it all out, huh?”
“Don’t act dumb with me.”
“We both know it’s not an act, Ma.”
She laughed again. Six weeks later, Mom was gone.
I spent a week with my sis, then went back home where I lived with my girlfriend. I set the alarm for four AM every morning so I could write, and every morning I was disappointed with what I’d written the day before. The stories were mildly humorous but they read as if JD was in a test tube being observed by the outside world. Something was missing.
One morning, the door to the spare room I used for an office flew open. I stared at the intruder but my head was stuck in the story I was writing. I couldn’t do much more than stare and blink, and my then-girlfriend came in and yelled “Do you even love me anymore?” I’ll only say it broke my concentration. I stood up and walked to the door of the room, and there was a chicken standing in the hallway. Not the downstairs hallway near the normal doors to the outside world, where a country boy might expect to find a chicken in the hallway. I’m talking the upstairs hallway. And that chicken would have had to go up half a flight, do a one-eighty, then continue up the second half of the stairs. Even I was impressed, and I watched Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom as a kid. I tried writing about that morning just for the practice but it wasn’t working. The thoughts that ran through my mind over the chicken incident seemed impossible to write about from outside of JD’s head.
The next morning I woke up at four AM, took the laptop outside to the picnic table, and began writing The Seduction of Granny in first-person narrative rather than third-person narrative. I was “Finally gonna let it all out” like Mom hinted. Instead of telling JD’s story from outside of his head I adopted JD’s attitude and viewpoint on life. I became JD, wrote what he experienced, and Magic began appearing in my drafts. When I reread them I wasn’t reading a story by some guy named Clint about a guy named JD Ferguson. I was reading a story by a guy named JD, and I liked him. He made me laugh even when I knew what was going to happen next.
I sent the draft for Chapter One of The Seduction of Granny to a friend and asked “Is this better?” His reply was a resounding “Yesssss!” By channeling an imaginary occupant of my personality I had found my voice by writing completely from the gut. I ignored all the free advice about how I should portray JD and let him speak for himself. JD Ferguson took on a life all his own. I couldn’t write down his thoughts fast enough. JD said what he felt, did what he wanted, and didn’t give a damn who was watching. My protagonist had taught me a lesson: Shut Up And Write.
I had sent draft chapters to friends, family and enemies before and received mostly silence. When I switched to first person I began getting lots of feedback. People loved JD and wanted more. I finished The Seduction of Granny and realized I should follow the advice of others who published before me: Give your readers a free book and the ones that like your style will become faithful readers. I started on the prequel, Mirth Defects, the story of JD’s childhood and his infatuation with finding his soul mate.
Howdy. My name’s JD Ferguson. Pleased to meet you.
I was born a poor white child in Des Moines, Iowa back when cars the size of apartments roamed the earth, telephones were nailed to the wall, and people sent Christmas cards to each other.
The difference between third-person and first-person was stunning, felt more natural, and silenced my worst critic: myself. I began sending out new draft chapters, and people responded. They weren’t moving to another part of the world to get away from me or looking for that bottle of hemlock they kept in the medicine cabinet. They loved JD and asked for more, and I couldn’t write fast enough. I ate, slept and wrote as if my life depended on it. I had learned to Shut Up And Write, and it made all the difference in the world.
Author of “Mirth Defects (Baby & Me Book 1)”