Finding Your Theme



When I was twenty-one I thought I’d write a paperback and make a couple thousand dollars. Easy money! I wanged away on my manual and accumulated several thousand words that amounted to nothing. I moved to Boston and wrote for alternative newsweeklies the Boston Phoenix, Boston After Dark and The Real Paper. Every day, after I’d interviewed musicians and written my column, I would wang away at my manual accumulating thousands of words that amounted to nothing. John Braine, in his book Writing A Novel, advised writers not to attempt it before they were forty because they hadn’t accumulated enough life experience to know what they were talking about.

There are always exceptions like William Styron who wrote Lie Down in Darkness at age 26, Richard Price who wrote The Wanderers at age 25, and Carson McCullers who wrote The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter at age 23. It’s all right to hate these people. There is such a thing as natural talent.

I kept plugging. In the meantime I found comic books as a creative outlet. I have always loved comics and I will always be involved with them. But those novels kept cooing to me in the wee dark hours of the morning. I disdained outlines or lengthy preparation. If Elmore Leonard could wing it so could I.

Only I couldn’t. My novels lacked theme and plotting. Most of all they lacked a convincing narrative voice. It is the narrative voice that draws you through the story and if the narrative voice is clumsy or off-putting, people will put off your book. There are terrific writes who can’t write a novel to save their souls. The brilliant historian and essayist Victor Davis Hanson wrote a novel called The End of Sparta, dealing with the same themes and story as Frank Miller’s 300. I couldn’t wait. Then I got it. Run-on sentences and endless, endless unpronounceable names, characters delivering lectures, it was unreadable and impenetrable. That’s just my opinion. Others liked it. But to see how historical fiction can grab the reader by the throat and drag him through the story so that he becomes oblivious to night, day, and the needs of the flesh, pick up any Conn Iggulden or Robert Harris, whose three novels about ancient Rome are delightful.

In the late nineties and early 2000’s I suffered a series of personal calamities that kept me from writing. I took a number of jobs including handyman at an anesthesia machine company, unloading automobile bumpers, and assembly line at a company that makes mouse pads. I moved to Fort Collins in 2003 and met my writing guru, Pete Brandvold. I kept developing comic book concepts and one of these concepts, a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead, wouldn’t let me go. The outline kept getting bigger. You have to write an outline for prospective comic book editors.

Several years after my late wife died, I started writing Banshees. Unlike my previous attempts, I was in control of the characters, theme and narrative voice. It was exhilirating. I could feel it in my bones.

Since then I’ve written a number of novels, most of which are horror. Banshees is horror. It will be published but right now my agent is concentrating on my new material. So what’s the message? Never give up, never give in. I have met people who want to write or do comics so badly they have destroyed themselves in that pursuit. Some of these people will never succeed for a variety of reasons. It serves no purpose to tell them that. There is always tomorrow.

Remember what Winston Churchill said. “Take away this pudding. It has no theme.”


6 thoughts on “Finding Your Theme

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