About eleven years ago, after my father died, my siblings and I were going through the apartment in which he and my mother had lived the last few years of their lives, when we found the first books I ever wrote. One of them was called “Jim, The Talking Fish.” On the cover, under the title and a picture of a green fish saying “Hi”, it says “writen [sic] and illustrated by David Coe.” The dedication reads “To Dad, who tought [sic] me to play Baseball well.” The book is “bound” with a piece of yellow yarn. The other volume we found, which I’ve misplaced, was a book about a pair of eagles who fight off a hunter. They might have been able to talk, too. Seems I was in the creatures-that-shouldn’t-be-able-to-talk-but-can phase of my artistic development. I’m guessing that I was five or six when I wrote them.
Okay, a few notes here. First off, in the interest of full disclosure I’m guessing that I since I couldn’t spell “written” or “taught” that someone helped me out with “illustrated.” Second, on the whole “Dad taught me how to play baseball well thing”: my Dad was a stockbroker and must have been in his late forties when I wrote that dedication (he was 43 when I was born). I think this probably explains why I never fulfilled my dream of making it to the big leagues. And finally, even back then I was far better at writing than illustrating. I’m not going to scan in my drawings; you’ll have to take my word for it.
I’m asked quite often when I knew that I wanted to be a writer. The short answer is that I always knew (my delusionary baseball dreams notwithstanding). These two books were by no means the only ones my siblings and I found — they were just the first. There are other novels, as well as nonfiction books on birds, space, volcanoes — pretty much anything I thought was cool. But the fiction was what I loved most. I wrote stories constantly, some of them quite funny, many of them utterly bizarre. I remember being in second, third, and fourth grade and wishing that we could skip math, science, spelling, and the rest, and just spend all of our time writing.
When I was in junior high I developed a habit that persists to this day. Whenever I experience something — a funny moment shared with friends, a beautiful sunset, some emotional trauma — I begin to write it in my head. I look for ways to recreate the moment as narrative. I imagine how I might write the “character” I’m with at the time. As I say, I started doing this years ago, around the time I was my older daughter’s age. I always thought I was odd in this way (as in so many others), that I was the only person who did stuff like this. Turns out, this is fairly typical. Lots of my writer friends did the same thing as kids, and still do to this day.
The other thing I’ve done off and on for all of my adolescent and adult life is keep a journal. I haven’t always been diligent about it, and over years the format of my journal has changed. In high school, college and graduate school I used a notebook and pen — simple, easily portable. Later I started keeping a computer journal. Today I blog. But the impulse has always been the same: I am driven to write down my observations, descriptions of places I’ve seen, emotional responses to things going on in my life. And to this day, whenever I travel I bring a notebook and a pen.
Catie, Misty, Faith, and I have spent a good deal of time here at Magical Words writing about the challenges that writers face, be they artistic or financial. This is a tough way to make a living, as you’ve heard from us time and again. But we always conclude by saying that a) we love it, and b) we write because we have to, because writing is in our blood. At RavenCon last weekend several of us on a panel about the business of writing gave this advice to people thinking about a writing career (I’ll paraphrase): If you’re looking at a career in writing because you think it might be fun and an easy way to make some money, think again; if you’re thinking about a career in writing because you can’t imagine doing anything else, and because stories and characters are clamoring to get out of your head and onto paper, then it won’t matter that the money sucks and the work is hard.
I remember how cool it was when my brothers, sister, and I found that eagle book and “Jim, The Talking Fish.” It was a light moment in the midst of a long, sad process. But I didn’t need to see those first books to know that I’d been destined to be a writer all my life. I’ve been looking at the world through a writer’s eyes for as long as I can remember.
What about the rest of you? How did your love of the written word first manifest itself? What was the first “book” you wrote?