Writing to be Understood
I asked a friend of mine to take a look at my website today, and was surprised to receive feedback that what I had written gave the impression that I was some starving, no name writer. To date, I have been published in 17 magazines and have compiled over 25 manuals in the past seven years.
Another comment that my friend made dealt with my description of a writer as a person who was sitting in the corner of a bar or restaurant dutifully recording what our eyes see. Due to my friends comment, I now feel I need to elaborate with a story or two — moments in my life that led to publishable short stories.
Perhaps I should talk about the New York club in San Jose, Costa Rica. The year was 1983, I had some time and decided to plan an excursion to the capital city of San Jose. I went alone, more of a side trip that lasted all day. I did not have enough currency with me, so I stopped into the bar to see if the bartender knew of any place I exchange my money. One of the patrons in the bar happened to mention that the appliance store across the street could change my money. The patron decided to escort me across the street to the appliance store, since the store owner was a personal friend of his. He introduced me, and I gave the owner about $150 to exchange for Costa Rican currency. One thing that caught my eye in the owner’s office was a photograph of him with a younger man in fatigues, the owner sporting an AR–15 assault rifle, and the younger man armed with a Russian-made AK–47, the photograph obviously taken deep in the Costa Rican jungle.
After thanking the owner and the patron of the bar, we made our way back to the New York club. I offered to buy him a drink. Several hours (and many highballs) later, I soon found that I was in the company of a former Army captain. He had a lot of interesting stories to tell — about the jungle, about the seedier side of San Jose, as well as tales of lakes hidden deep in the jungle harboring many secrets, including a new secret that he embellished in his drunken fervor. My new friend bragged that only a few days before he had tracked, ambushed, and executed a pair of drug dealers. To support his claim, it was not long before a much older man sauntered into the bar, and told him in Spanish that if he kept talking about his deed, he would likely end up dead. My new friend nodded, then excused himself, and followed the older man out the door.
My stint in the Navy took me to places that many people would not even dream of going. Perhaps I could talk about the time that I was in Hong Kong, in 1985. I’d found a very interesting bar called Susie Wong’s. Whatever I would find myself in a new city, and out alone, my first instinct — after purchasing a drink at the bar, was to find a nice seat against the wall, so that I can see everyone that walked into the bar. As a writer, unless you meet a character, you need to develop the ability to observe. It is these moments of observation, that can give you ideas for your stories. As a writer, especially a fiction writer, you’re better off watching than getting involved.
That day, I was noticed by a gentleman with an Irish brogue. He told me his name is Gordon McClintock, and that he was a financial planner. I didn’t know why, but there was something about a story that did not ring true. One of the first questions that Gordon asked me was if I was an American. I told him yes, I was. Mr. McClintock made a decision to elaborate about how bad the American government operated. He continued to talk about the ugly American, and how I should be proud of my heritage. At that point I decided to buy him another drink. After his drink but delivered to the table, I asked him why he felt such hatred for the American government. And he prattled on for another hour, defending his words — meanwhile, I was pressing him with drinks. It took about three hours for Mr. McClintock to crack, but I did finally get the truth out of him. After about the 10th drink, Mr. McClintock began to change the subject, and talk about all the goings-on in the bar that we were now in. Gordon related vivid details of assassinations, murders, and brawls that were a regular occurrence in the bar (especially at night). His next confession, was the reason why he was in Hong Kong in the first place. Gordon McClintock, it turned out, had been a member of the IRA (Irish Republican Army) , a well-known terrorist organization of the time. Mr. McClintock also admitted that he was married to the daughter of a Chinese Triad chieftain.
When I am relating or true life stories, not fabrications. However, if it were not for these moments in my life, if I had not been in the corner of the bar, being quiet and unassuming, these characters for my stories would never have come to mind. And so my friends, I have always lived for moments like these — those precious times in my life that provided me the fodder for my now published science-fiction stories.