A Hotplate, a Chair, and a Bed . . .

Only a few months past twenty-one, I received my col­lege diploma and rushed forth to conquer the world. The world turned out to be larger, more complex and sillier than I had imagined; I decided to settle for conquering just a little section of it all for myself. At that tender age, I had worked as a stock boy, a grocery store clerk, a state park forest ranger, a drummer in a rock band, a guitarist in a rock band, and in the politics of the civil rights move­ment. I had somehow managed to win three creative writing awards, two from the Atlantic Monthly, and had sold a few of my paintings to people who obviously had no con­ception of good art. The only problem was that I was broke, busted, flat, penniless.

Of course I got married immediately. Dear Reader, she was intelligent, creative, warm, sexy, had quiet, darting dark eyes that took everything in like universal magnets. What else could I do?

I had been trained as a teacher of English, and my first job was in a small Pennsylvania coal mining town which fell into the fabled Appalachian Poverty Belt (because all the coal was gone, but the miners were not). I worked under the Federal Poverty Program for damned little money. The only house available to rent in this metropolis of a thousand citizens was a seven room monstrosity which con­sumed a week’s pay in rent and another week’s pay in fuel oil. We moved in with just a bed (which was a used studio couch, really), a chair for each of us (second hand kitchen chairs), and a hotplate. Hugh Hefner wouldn’t have called it luxurious, but it was home to us.

For nearly three months, those items sat in our seven rooms. Thanks to repeated “wedding gifts” from my par­ents who could ill afford to give them, we began to buy used furniture. And thanks to my discovery that I could do some carpentry and a good deal of upholstering (which amazed everyone who knew me as a clumsy muddle-fin­gers), and thanks to Gerda’s nimble sewing fingers, we had a semblance of civilization in four of the seven rooms by the fourth month we lived there.

But there were always bills, and there was hardly ever money to meet them. I had been mailing stories to Ed Ferman at Fantasy and Science Fiction for some months, hoping to pick up more fuel oil money (I wonder if Hem­ingway ever wrote for fuel oil money?). One day a check arrived for $120.00 for a short story.

My life has never been the same since then.

There is nothing in this world which can hook you like creative writing. To see the words appear out of the type­writer which has sucked them from your brain via your fingertips is close to tripping on Owlsley Purple. No mat­ter how hard you work on a story, the check you receive always seems like a gift, for writing the story was so much fun it was almost pay enough in itself. And then there is the ego-blast of seeing your name and story in print . . . and hearing from fans who like it (and even hearing from those who hate it, because that shows they at least care) . . . and that Big Dream in the background of your mind that someday it is also going to pay you well. . . .

So they should have narcs who go around checking on creative writers to see if they are getting hooked on their fantasy worlds, because fashioning a science fiction story-future can be like flying on any plastic fantastic chem­ical. . . .

At the time of this writing, three years have passed since that first story. I taught a year and a half in a suburban school in the meantime, was accused of teaching dirty books when my class read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Heller’s Catch-22, and Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. None of these were dirty books, of course, but the accusing ad­ministrators did not seem to have time to read what they were putting down. They preferred to judge by cover paint­ings and a local fanatic’s opinion. Because of this (and the migraine headaches it was causing me) I quit and began writing full time. And now, after twenty-eight stories and fourteen books, the Big Dream is coming true.

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Categories: Koontz, Dean