She reads and I see the words go in her: "So there's this boy."

She looks up from the paper, says, "'So there’s this boy?' You can't start a story that way."

"Why not?" says complaining me. "It's my story."

"If you want people to read it you have to write it like a story."

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"It means there are rules of story and unless you're John Updike you don't get to break them."

I point to the paper she’s holding, the one that took me two hours to type on my dad's old selectric. I touch the five pages still on the kitchen table that took me an hour apiece and a bottle of white out to produce. She's an English major so I wanted to write her something. I would have been better off scratching something asinine in wet cement.

I say, "That's a story. Right there. If you'd read past the first sentence..."

"I can't read past the first sentence if I can't get past the first sentence. The first sentence is an indication of what's to come. I’m looking at six pages of, 'So there's this boy,' and I'm thinking of how much it's going to hurt."

"Hurt?"

I don’t know what makes me do it, other than her. I pick up the pages. I fold them. Stuff them in my pocket where they don't actually fit so I've got a wad of paper shedding white out flakes hanging from my pants.

Then I grab the one from her hand. She realizes what I'm doing at the last minute and squeezes her fingers tighter.

So then the page rips.

"Look what you did," I say.

"Look what YOU did," she says.

"Give me that," I yank the paper shard from her hand and size it up against the rest of the page. It fits. It's all there.

She won't read it. I wrote it for her and she won't read it.

"Are you okay?" she says, as if there's any way I could be.

"Duh—like, no," comes out.

She says she's sorry. I tell her she's not. She does this sort of thing on purpose. Over and over. Why do I let it happen?

Why oh why oh why?

Because she's got this feeling all around her. Because when she's next to me that feeling gets in me and things get calm. I hear stuff going on in my head I never knew was there. Some of that stuff I like a real lot.

Totally selfish. Probably. Totally.

The next thing I hear is, "What are you thinking—come on."

"I'm thinking I'm an idiot," I say. "I don't know why I try these things. You know, I wrote that for you. And if you won't read it, I guess I'm just stupid."

"Cut it out," she says. "Self-pity looks bad on you."

I take the pages out of my pocket. Hold them up.

"This—um." It’s ridiculous. I have to clear my throat to keep talking for some reason. "This took a while."

She snatches at the paper, and I yank my hand away so she can't get it. But a page falls out because I’m not holding it right. It’s the last one.

So now she's got that.

I try to take it from her but she hunches over and pulls her arms in toward her chest. I can't get hold of anything.

Then she sort of relaxes.

"Oh my God," she says.

I was really hoping she might say that if she ever got to the end of it.

"Did you write this?"

It's my white out. Six layers and she's wondering if I wrote it. Or maybe she isn't and just needs something to say.

She reads it again.

"You should read the whole thing. Not just the end," I say.

Her head moves slightly with her eyes as she reads. Left to right. Top to bottom. Then back again. Over and over.

About seven times.

Then she sort of has tears in her eyes.

And I've got this goddamned ring in my pocket.

If she'd only read the whole thing she’d know it was there.

I'm afraid she never will so I take it out. Show her.

"You have to start it from the beginning," I say. "It's a whole story. You can’t just read the end."

She gets real close.

She says, "So there’s this girl..."

That's how it starts.

I was in the sixth grade when I decided I wanted to become a writer.

I was not -- big surprise here -- a very social or popular kid. I had a geek haircut and thick, Coke-bottle glasses with dark frames. I wore clashing strains of plaid. I looked like the secret son that Buddy Holly kept chained up in his basement.

One Friday in English class we were given back our spelling tests from the previous day (I got a C -- a pretty typical grade for me then). Our teacher, a great guy named Steve Shroeder, informed us that our next assignment, to be done in class that day, was to select seven words from the test and write a story using those words. Everyone groaned, including me.

Then I picked up my pencil and started writing.

Twenty minutes or so later, everyone else is sitting there staring at their papers and I'm still cranking. I wrote right up until the lunch bell rang.

It was a child's first attempt at a horror story. All about a haunted house and a photographer who snaps a picture of the moment of his own death three days before it happens and doesn't discover it until he's developing the pictures and sees himself standing in his darkroom, looking at a newly developed photograph, while behind him this slimy, awful monster is creeping through the wall behind him. He turns around just in time to see a clawed hand reach for his face. The end.

I figured the story was going to get me in trouble -- I attended a Catholic grade school and most of the faculty -- nuns and otherwise -- thought I was "disturbed." (I lost count of how many times I was called into Sister Barbara's office for a "chat" about "my problems getting along with the others.")

The next day, Mr. Shroeder hands back the papers. He had written a big-ass "A+" in bright red ink at the top of my paper, and on the back of the last page he wrote: "Great story. You should do more."

I had written stories before that I'd kept to myself for fear of how people would react to them. This was the first time anyone had ever read something of mine -- and an adult, no less -- and they'd really liked it. It was the first time in my entire childhood I suddenly felt like I wasn't useless.

That really was the first day of the rest of my life, and I owe a lot to Shroeder. I don't know where I'd be now if I'd gotten the reaction I expected to get.

I didn't become a writer until I learned how to write words, at the tender age of five years old, in the Santa Fe Maria Montessori School in Solonas Beach, California, just outside of San Diego. My first "story", if you could call it that, amounted to about two paragraphs. Two paragraphs of half-baked fiction for a five-year-old, let me tell you, is a Herculean effort. I don't remember the premise for the story, but I seem to recall it being inspired by a recent episode of Scooby Doo. Bygones. We all have our inspiration.

I guess that was the point when I realized that I loved telling stories. After that, I did a lot of them, most of which have become victims to the ravages of time, moving from place to place and plain old forgetfulness. As I grew in years my stories grew in length and complexity. All but a literal few of them had never been seen by another person until I was somewhat older, in junior high school. My first publicized story was titled "Death Be Not Kind"- a story about a man who outwits a female incarnation of death and, as a result, wins immortality but it's a pyrrhic victory... he ends up without his soul. A quaint little tale, all of maybe two thousand words in length with a vocabulary that was much more advanced than that of a typical junior high-schooler. It was published in the school newspaper, the best-selling issue of the school year as it turned out. All around the school I became known as The Writer. "Hey, it's Jay, The Writer. Come on over here, Jay, and tell us a story."

I read all kinds of books as a kid, mostly sci-fi and horror (V.C. Andrews, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Jonathan Swift, Madeleine L'Engle and a cornucopia of others). Having done so allowed me to gain a healthy appreciation for all kinds of genres, which in turn allowed me to have literary freedom in my own pursuits. I've written fan-fic, hard SF, spec-fic, horror, psychological thriller-type, erotic, comedy, adventure, fantasy... the full gamut of stuff that I'd read I also wrote, when the mood struck me.

I have a cardboard box that I've hauled around with me ever since I was sixteen years old. It has mostly very old stuff in it that I've written, most of it unfinished ideas, but I periodically browse through it. I do so to remind myself of my love and zeal for the written word, to remind myself that I've grown and advanced as a writer over the years. Some people have photo albums of their past, snap-shots of their youth and life. I have my Box, filled with thousands of words that I've written, and it serves me just as well. In a sense, I think it does an even more precise job of putting my life into a certain sort of context, much better than any photo album ever could. I see, between each of the lines I'd written, ideas and philosophies which have either been nurtured to maturity or cast aside as mental drivel.

All those stories and concepts, all those tales and never-lived adventures, they comfort and surprise me. I guess, in a sense, that I write for the sake of the young man who can be found in those pages. I write in rememberence of that young boy's dream and passion, his logophilia. I write because I like to tell stories and, like a teacher who loves to see a spark of understanding in a student's eye, I simply thrill at seeing a person's gaze turn far-away as they read something I've written. I have not had many adventures in my life, despite the twists and turns it's had, but I've concocted hundreds of them. I've put make-believe fantasies down on paper and, when I shared them with others, was able to live out and share those adventures in some small way.

As well as being a story-teller, I am a make-believer, an embellisher, a liar. I make things up and pray that when others see those made up ideas, they come across as believable and entertaining. There is nothing more enjoyable for me than to actually watch someone suspend their disbelief, even if they aren't reading one of my stories. It's fun, to me, to see a person sort of disappear into a book's pages as the world around them drifts away into nothing and gets replaced by a fictional world contained in black-and-white text. It becomes a sort of reaffirmation of the human animal, a touchstone of faith in humanity, a declaration that we, as a species, are not without imagination after all.

It feels like a personal sense of purpose has been attended to when I write. Like some people were created or wired in such a way that they simply could not avoid doing certain things. It doesn't matter if they become rich and famous doing what they were born to do, as long as they do it, to fulfill that purpose, that need which was bred within them, like an accident of karmic genetics.

Over the years I've come to find that when I share a story I'm working on with a person before it's completed, I never do complete the story. By then, what's the point? I've told the story, taken a person on a make-believe adventure. I have done my duty as a story-teller and told a story. I suppose that if I want to become more prolific and successful as an Author (and there is a difference), then I should not share my stories until they are done and then only do so when the person I'm sharing my story with happens to be a magazine or book editor. But sometimes, man, a story just begs to be told, like, now. And at those times I simply cannot hold back; I open my mouth and words come out, words which form sentences and tell of a world and people which do not exist.

Anyway. That's why I became a writer: I was a writer before I ever knew there was a word for it.

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