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Between the pages, Past
A Mystery Column
By Dennis Collins

So you want to write a book…

It was about twenty years ago when I decided that I was going to write a book. I’d toyed with the idea for maybe ten years before that. I knew that I didn’t have the credentials to write non-fiction but those kinds of projects looked boring anyway. I had spent a lifetime reading mysteries and they were what I knew best. Besides, they were my favorites.

I was reading a newspaper one day and was drawn to an article by a picture of an old man, hands raised in a boxing stance. It was a short article, maybe three or four paragraphs. The man, ninety three at the time was helping out in his grandson’s store when two armed robbers walked in and demanded cash. The old man disarmed both of them and beat them unconscious with his fists, then called the police. Seems the old guy had been the heavyweight champion of Canada at one time and had never stopped working out. Then about five years later that same photo caught my eye again only this time it was the man’s obituary. As soon as I looked at the picture, I remembered every word of the earlier story. That’s when it hit me… if your story’s strong enough, it will make a lasting impression.

So I set about writing an epic for the ages. I was unencumbered by the challenges of success because I knew absolutely nothing about the literary world with all of its rules and customs. I forged ahead with pencils and legal pads until I had about ten thousand words and decided that I was writing pure dreck. I threw my project in the bottom drawer of a desk and it remained there, undisturbed for at least six months.

When I finally dragged it out and read it through, I realized that it wasn’t as bad as I thought. So I began writing again. When I reached the twenty thousand word plateau I once again became frustrated and it went back to the bottom drawer.

Some time later I bought my first computer. It was probably just to help justify the expense of my new electronic toy but I once again resurrected the old manuscript and laboriously transferred it into my word processing program one letter at a time. The more familiar I got with the computer, the more I looked forward to the task. I began editing as I went and soon I was over forty thousand words. It was then that I realized that I had no idea how the story was going to end. Finally I had the incentive required to finish it. It became… The Unreal McCoy.

My formal training consisted of one community college semester of creative writing where we spent the entire semester studying Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. I’m convinced that, if you have a basic grasp of the language and a good story in your head, all you’ve got to do is write it down. Grammar and punctuation can be fixed. Don’t be intimidated. Write!

2013 Past Columns