The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step . . . and from the time that I sat down at Havelock Park one summer morning to write Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball, I always knew it would go far one day. I hit another milestone yesterday morning Oct. 13th, 2011 at 10AM. I wrote the final words, Fade to Black, on my screenplay adaption of the book.
In the past, when submitting manuscripts, I learned it is better to receive a quick, “NO,” rather than a slow, “MAYBE.”
When submitting my Kastleland game back in the 93 to Electronic Arts, the script went through four different gatekeepers and they were offering me a $85,000 advance with a 5% return on four formats, PC, Mac, Nintendo and Playstation. I jumped through every hoop they suggested, conducting a 1,000 kid survey, having a psychologist do a paradigm, and keeping my four-student crew on task to finish the script. But then, the slow MAYBE turned into an abrupt NO. The fifth and final gatekeeper shot the game down because there was not enough blood and gore. One step backward.
Blizzard creators of World of Warcraft was next in line. The two CEO’s of Blizzard were nice guys, and while they politely told me the game was too educational, they did pass it on to their parent company, Davidson’s and Associates. The gatekeeper there made me a promise, that if I found someone to make a prototype of my game, she would help me sell it. I could find no one in Lincoln at that time who was interested, so the game fell through the cracks. Another step backwards.
The final straw on this long journey came when I sent a $150 packet of material to GOD in Texas. Gathering of Developers, thus G.O.D. I kept telling everyone who asked about the game that Kastleland was in good hands now, because I had sent it to GOD. That was funny up until the time I called the submission guy there and he sheepishly admitted that they had “lost” my entire game packet. My faith in GOD went right out the window, the GOD of the video industry, not the God of the Universe. Ten steps backwards.
So when it came time to submit my manuscript of Beyond the Wind to publishers, I was a little reluctant. The first four submissions came back within four months. They were all a quick NO. Six months later, I received a First Class envelope from Haworth Press of Binghamton, New York. I knew what it was the moment I took it out of my mail box. But I placed that envelope next to my computer (within sight) and let it set there for over an hour before I actually took my letter opener to it. I was relishing the moment. A big step forward.
After reading the acceptance letter, I immediately called Cindy Gablehouse, wife of friend and fellow writer, Gary Gablehouse. I told her that my book had been accepted, which was ironic because Gary had just had his first book accepted that same week. So Cindy and I concocted a plan for Gary and I to get together that evening for a reading session. Before we started that evening, I slipped that acceptance letter into the pile of Gary’s loose pages and he picked it up, surprise written all over his face. It was a cool moment in time. Another step forward.
Haworth Press sold 10,000 copies of Beyond the Wind, a story about a young gay boy who contracts HIV, based on the life of one of my former kids I worked with (who died of AIDS complications at the age of 19). And so, I wrote a sequel, Out of the Storm, but before I could submit it, Haworth Press folded and closed its doors. Another step back.
But all along the way, everyone who read Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball, always said, “This book would make a great movie!” I had a wide-range audience, as well. Kids confined to treatment or detention centers, teachers, cops, probation officers, drug counselors, and common, everyday folk from ten-year-olds to eighty-year olds. So I knew then, that the story was demographically sound. Meaning, kids to grandparents could relate to the message and the story of Reason Nelson.
I had thought it would become a movie back when Patrick Swayze first bought a copy of The Kid, the Cop and the Con at our local Barnes and Noble, when he was filming that Too Wong Foo movie here in Nebraska. Some kid on the movie set happened to be reading my book and Patrick asked him about it. The next day, the kid called me and told me Patrick went out and bought a copy of The Kid! I was so excited, I called his publicist and asked her if I could give her a copy of 8-Ball to pass onto Patrick. She asked for a release form, so took her a copy of 8-Ball, the release form, and a dozen roses! I never did hear from Patrick, however.
Once when Tony Hawk came to Fast Ramps Skate Park, I was standing in line to get his autograph for my foster kid, when three kids in front of me recognized me. They walked up to Tony’s table and snagged a pen so they could get my autograph as well as his. Tony was curious, so after the kids explained that I was a local writer, Tony asked for one of my books. I happened to have several in my car, so I signed one for him, and as his crew drove away that day, my kid and saw Tony bent over reading my book. My kid said, “Damn, Tony Hawk is actually reading Scratchin’ on the Eight Ball!”
In 1992, while holding a book signing at Barnes and Noble, my aunt took a picture of me seated at the table. When I received the photos later, I noticed a kid standing just behind me, looking curiously at my books. He wore Go Big Red Nebraska football clothing from hat-to-shirt-to-coat. I took the photo into Nancy, the manager of B and N and asked her who that kid looked like, she said, “Oh, that’s Elijah Wood. His family lives in Iowa and he comes here for Nebraska football games.” Years later, I thought, “Just think I had Frodo Baggins at my book signing!”
Recently, while checking the Internet to see if Amazon was still selling 8-Ball, I discovered a Used copy was being sold for $38 in . . . Afghanistan! And once while talking to Denny Ladue, who played Detective Shepherd in the 8-Ball play, he told me where he first saw a copy of my book. “Yes, he said the first time I saw 8-Ball was when we were living in California. My daughter brought it home with her from her school, St. Teresa’s Catholic school. A few days later, I found a copy of the same book in a dumpster in my alley!”
Another time, my Aunt Darlene and I were at a garage sale, and she discovered a copy of 8-Ball destined to be sold, so she told the lady that I had written it. The lady asked if I would sign it, so I did, and she ended up keeping the copy. At another garage sale, I found a desk I wanted to buy. The guy had $150 marked on it, but when my foster son told him who I was and that I would write many of my future books on it, the guy knocked $100 off the price and I went home to write several books on that old desk.
The funniest story is when I was teaching my foster kid how to drive down at Middle Island around the cabins on the river. Jason went to turn around in a driveway when he nudged a lean-to garage support with the bumper of my truck. It came off of the supports and all of a sudden the lady who owned the cabin came running outside. I thought she was about to blow a gasket, but she took one look at me and said, “You’re that writer who worked up there at camp! My grandson bought one of your books and didn’t get it signed! Would you sign it for him?”
After signing her book, I offered to pay for the damage we had done to the garage, and she made a “tishing” sound with her mouth, saying, “Ah, hell with that! That’s always happening! My husband’s hit that pole three times himself!”
Another time we were driving around down near Horseshoe Lake, seeking to buy a cabin down there. My biker friend, Ben, a grizzly fellow, and my foster son, Jason, a shaggy-haired kid, and I walked up to the landowner to talk about leasing one of her cabins. She took one look at us and flatly stated, “We don’t want your kind down here!”
We drove away, laughing but as we rounded the bend to leave hillbilly/redneck heaven behind us, some lady standing in front of her own cabin flagged us down. Curious, I stopped my truck to see what she wanted. She walked around to my side of the truck and stuck out her hand, saying, “You’re the one who wrote that book. I’ve always wanted to thank you personally. I am the mother who called the Attention Center one night to tell staff that my son had planned to commit suicide. But after reading your book, he came in and woke me up and told me of his plans. The staff told me you weren’t working that night, but they assured me they would pass along my message. Thank you. Your book saved my son’s life.”
I drove away, amazed. Another step on the long journey. There we were sent packing by an obnoxious woman who, “didn’t want our kind” buying one of her cabins, and yet we met this grateful mother of a troubled kid, who gracefully thanked me for saving her kid. Irish irony, another factor in my life. Can’t have the good without the bad. One of my friends, who followed my journey throughout my writing career, once bought me a T-shirt that said, “When your ship comes in, you’ll probably be at the airport!” She and I laughed about it, knowing how often I had been the receiver of both the good and the bad.
But that same friend bought me a small Gnome for my collection a little later. It was a tiny little thing with a pointy hat and two sea-shells planted high up on his shoulders. I did not pay much attention to those two shells until one day months later, when I had hit a really bad spot in the road, I noticed those two shells resembled wings. And then I looked real closely at the name inscribed on the leaf on the winged Gnome’s pointed cap: Clarence.
Clarence was the name of the Guardian Angel in the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. I had just watched that movie for the first time. It was about a man played by Jimmy Stewart, who was about to jump off a bridge on a cold, snowy winter night, when Clarence came to him and showed him what this life would have been like if he had never been born. In the end, Jimmy Stewart was thankful to be alive, and Clarence received his wings.
Even as I write this, I keep glancing at that little Gnome seated beneath my mushroom lamp situated on top of my computer tower. Clarence has been watching over me each time I write a line, finish another book, complete another play. And as I finished my screenplay, I glanced up and nodded at the little guy and said a prayer. Hopefully, he’ll be watching over my screenplay as it travels to prospects in Callie and three more in Chicago, and perhaps he can turn all those No’s and Maybe’s into a big fat YES.
The thing is, I have always joked with friends, saying, “Yes, when 8-Ball is a movie and playing down at the Joyo Theater, if you bring an autographed copy with you, you can get in free! I’ll even buy the popcorn!”
Good Lord, I hope no one holds me to that flippant remark.
But then again, that would be a nice problem to have.