So Much for THAT Idea

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Tool #1 for writing the great American novel.

People have been asking me when I was going to write a book ever since I was in junior high school. Some of them claim I have a way with words perfectly suited to a novel while others who have heard me tell stories throughout the years say I need to get them written down.

Well, for various reasons, I haven’t spit out the Great American Novel yet. I primarily blame the fact that I no longer drink liquor to excess as the main cause of my creative dearth. As anyone who has studied American Literature — AFTER the Puritans, of course — can attest, to be a famous American author, one should be consistently somewhere between two sheets in the wind and completely knee-walking drunk to do any work of substantial literary merit. Myriads of American Novelists from Edgar Allan “the Raven” Poe all the way to Mr. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas himself, Hunter S. Thompson all sought their inspiration in the cups or other, even more potent doorways to alternate realities. Faulkner to Fitzgerald, Kerouac to Capote, with Tennessee Williams, Raymond Chandler, and my fellow South Carolina boy Pat Conroy thrown in for good measure — all red nosed lushes of the highest order and more than one dead of complications from alcohol well before their creative genius was fully spent. Yes, alcohol and drugs it seems are the keys to unlock creativity in American men of letters, and who am I to gainsay arguably the most famously alcoholic American novelist, Papa Hemingway, who gave the sagacious advice, “Write drunk; edit sober.”

and Tool 2 for writing the great American novel.

However, since I prefer a happy marriage to fame and fortune and walking upright hangover free to lying on the bathroom floor with an ice pack, a glass of ginger ale, and a heart full of the-morning-after regret, I have been a teetotaler for nearly twenty years. Understand please, I have no quarrel with the fruit of the vine, the clear nectar of the potato and agave, or the golden honey of the oaken barrels; in fact, once upon another lifetime, I made good acquaintance with Messrs. Jim Beam, Jose’ Cuervo, and the Lynchburg Legend himself, Jack Daniels. I’m afraid, however, that we all got along far too well and the good gentlemen simply didn’t know when to leave and I hadn’t the heart to throw them out. We have long since parted company, however and since I’ve no desire to tempt fate or further trash my liver, I willingly choose to forgo the traditional lubricant of the creative gears of the American novelist.

Of course, the other — and more reasonable reason — I have yet to grace the Amazon hot 100 (or some such list currently topped by the pornographic 50 Shades trilogy) is much simpler. Writing a book is hard — extremely hard. It takes great focus and discipline and I am woefully lacking in both. Still, riding down the road last week, a great idea for a novel struck me hard. I’d just watched the “Spear of Destiny” episode of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded the night before on the History Channel and the Lance of Longinus had been poking my mind ever since.

He’s the guy with the spear.

For those who don’t know, the nickel tour of the legend of Longinus goes something like this. According to church tradition, Longinus was the name of the Roman soldier who stabbed Christ in the side with a lance while Jesus was hanging on the Cross. From there, further traditions variously have Longinus’ blinded eye being healed by a drop of Christ’s blood or his being cursed by Christ to walk the earth (a la the Wandering Jew) until the Second Coming.

I adore history from all periods and I’m not picky. I enjoy social and political history just as much as military history. So I thought, “why not write a novel about the adventures of Longius after his contact with Christ on the Cross.” I would take the tradition of him being doomed to wander the world and walk him through time on a series of adventures. I even figured I could make a series out of the idea and have Longinus — usually going by some pseudonym — participate in wars and events from 33 AD all the way to the present day. I tell you truthfully, I was excited and pumped up about this project. It seemed like just the thing to keep my mind off the present difficulties I’m having in multiple areas and maybe, if someone besides Budge, liked the initial book enough, I could contribute a little more to the family income.

I was all ready to get the first novel going. I was going to have Longinus as a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan. He’d get what would be a mortal wound on any other man, but since he’s cursed, he’d recover in the body bag and cut his way out, terrifying the poor morgue worker in the process. Then Longinus would befriend the worker and start telling his story.

I was READY TO GO!

Then I sat down to do some research. With one Google search on Longinus, my entire project collapsed like an over-risen cake in a 7.5 earthquake. The very first entry on the search results page just wadded my whole idea up and tossed it in the wastebasket as if it were a piece of junk mail or a late credit card payment notice. Someone else had the same flash of insight I did and started a series called Casca: The Eternal Mercenary. In 1979. It’s up to 37 books now. So who, pray tell, was the author who crushed my dreams? This guy

Well, crap.

Yep, Mr. “100 men we’ll test today, Ballad of the Green Berets” himself — Staff Sergeant Barry Sadler, Green Beret, Vietnam War hero, songwriter, top 40 artist, and — apparently — author of the first 22 books of the series I had just planned to write. I knew about SSgt. Sadler. His Ballad of the Green Berets is one of my favorite songs from the ’60s. I just had no idea he’d written a book — or 22 — about the character I wanted to bring to life. The series has continued, written by other authors chosen by his estate, since Sadler’s untimely and suspicious death in 1988. It’s up to 37 now. Number 38 is coming out in 2013.

Wellup, so much for THAT idea!

Love y’all and keep those feet clean.

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