When I was fifteen years old, I wrote a full-length novel. I wouldn’t start writing another one for another 26 years.
My dad was a semi-well-known comic book and animation writer and sometimes when we checked into hotels or were at restaurants, a desk clerk or waiter that were big fans of Warren Publishing, where he wrote most of his stories, would see his name on his credit card and actually ask, “Bill DuBay? Are you the Bill DuBay?” My dad lived for these moments and he would tell almost everyone we came across about these encounters.
So maybe some part of me wanted people to say the same thing to me. “Bill DuBay? Are you the Bill DuBay?” I mean why not, we had the same name after all. Maybe there’d be a “Jr.” tacked to the end of it but to me that way was the path to success.
Back then, I was an enthusiastic martial arts student. I used to go to Simon Rhee’s Taekwondo on Fallbrook in The Valley everyday. In one of the classes, I ended up doing a flying spinning kick and landed with my full weight on my right big toe, which as you can imagine is not the most optimal way to land such a kick.
It caused the bone to break through my skin and blood to spurt out in steady rivulets.
I remember calmly raising my hand and telling the black belt instructor, “Um…I think I hurt my toe,” a statement which she reacted to with much more urgency than I had delivered it. Long story short, I ended up on a table in my now bloody karate gi with a doctor yanking at my toe and putting all his strength into resetting it (which hurt like a sonofabitch by the way despite whatever meds they gave me) with my dad standing over me saying, “I don’t think you should do karate anymore, William.” I probably corrected him and said, “It’s taekwondo, Dad, not karate,” but hey, karate is easier to say so even I say it now.
I ended up on crutches with nothing to do and that’s when I read the first Stephen King book I’d ever read, which was It. I loved that book so much that by the time I was done reading it, It had inspired me to write my own novel.
My first novel was definitely inspired by It, no question about it, but I think it was unique in itself. Its title was The Wicked and now 28 years later, I don’t remember all the details but generally it was about five kids, all of whose parents were possessed by a random evil supernatural entity which they called The Wicked. Each of them had different experiences that lead to violence with their parents and they ran away from home, only to find each other on the streets. While living on the streets, they banded together to overcome this unknown evil entity which was possessing random people and causing them to become murderers, and somehow or another they succeeded, the end.
Thank you trusty old Commodore 64
The whole first draft took me maybe seven or eight months to write. I wrote everyday on my old Commodore 64 and never had any writer’s block. When I was done, I printed all 420 or so pages out on my dot-matrix printer, did some edits, retyped the edits, printed it again and marched over to my mom and dad’s room proudly carrying my hefty manuscript and said, “Dad, I’m done with my book and I want you to be the first to read it.” I don’t remember his reaction. He had known I was writing, but I’m guessing he was surprised that I had something so long finished. I gave it to him and left the room and then waited.
I don’t remember how much time passed but eventually one day we were riding somewhere in the car and I hadn’t heard anything about my book so I asked him what he thought of it.
“William, it’s a piece of shit.”
That, as you can imagine is not the response I was hoping for. He then went on to say that if I wanted to try and get this novel published then he would definitely have to edit it. To edit something so bad he would have to put in way too much time and effort into something that probably couldn’t be polished up to par anyway. I remember him saying something to the effect of, “I’m working on my screenplay right now and whatever I read while I’m writing influences my writing and I don’t want that piece of shit to bring down my writing.”
This whole conversation took place in the span of maybe two minutes as I sat in the passenger seat of his maroon ’84 Pontiac Sunbird, but the impact of those words took me almost 30 years to begin to recover from.
This was in May, 1990, a few months before my 16th birthday. I remember the date because I wrote the date on the first page of the next novel I had started writing soon after I handed my dad the draft of my first one. It was going to be called The Normy and it was going to be about a high school kid who didn’t fit into any particular clique, like the stoners, or the preppies, or the heshers. It was going to be a fairly light-hearted story about the horrors of high school, which was still a looming beast of an institution to me back then — a beast whose clutches I was thoroughly ensnared in, being a sophomore back then.
After that conversation in the Sunbird, I never wrote another word of The Normy. I never attempted to rewrite The Wicked, and any dreams I had of being a renowned young author remained trapped in the Sunbird, suffocating and dying of heat exposure as I went about the rest of my life as anything other than an author.
Dude, don’t tell me you gave your only copy to an old girlfriend
Well platonic female friend, but sadly, yeah I did.
A couple years after the conversation in the Sunbird, a platonic female friend saw the manuscript of The Wicked in my bedroom and asked me about it. I told her I’d written a novel and she begged me to read it. I told her no, it was a piece of shit, I wasn’t going to let anyone read it. Not fully knowing how to say no to women at that time (okay you got me…I still don’t), I let her take it home with her.
She did read some of it and gave me compliments and said it was amazing that I wrote a book, but her and I had our problems and I was stuck in this weird semi-love triangle with her and one of my best friends at that time, a love triangle where I was trapped in the friend zone. Her and I had a falling out and she still had my only copy of the manuscript. I probably had it saved on some of those big plastic floppy disks but this was a couple years later so I didn’t know where they were and I’d long since gotten rid of the old Commodore 64. I never did get the manuscript back. Some friends of mine went to her mom’s house years later to ask them about it but she told them she didn’t know where it was and that it was probably in one of the boxes in the garage. Just as well, I thought. It was a piece of shit anyway.
So as of now, more than 28 years have passed. I spent those years developing a good career as a software developer, a job I absolutely love. I play guitar and recorded several songs that I wrote with a good friend of mine. But I never finished writing another story.
My mentor who is my t’ai chi teacher and something of a therapist to me said that he has watched me over the years do and try a lot of creative things but never anything that tread on my dad’s territory. He pointed out that I learned to play guitar and wrote songs, something my dad never did. I went into web development, something my dad wanted to learn but never did. He pointed out that I always talked about wanting to write but I never did. He even tried to help me start writing again. We came up with a premise for a new book that we began to co-author together, but something always stopped me. I always abandoned my projects, including that one.
It was those words said in the Sunbird. They were still haunting me, even though I told everyone that I didn’t care and my dad was probably right.
Well, since then I’ve learned that my dad was a good man but like any man he had his flaws. I have my own flaws in raising my brother, who I’ve taken on as my own, but that’s another story. One thing I learned from my dad is that our words as parents can have a huge impact, and there are many moments I regret in raising my brother. We do our best. That’s all we can do. I always wonder which of my words have wounded my brother. Funny, I never wonder which of my words or actions have inspired or strengthened him. I only wallow in the guilt of knowing that I’ve hurt him.
My dad is the one who showed me by example that you never got anywhere in life without putting your nose to the grindstone and putting in the hard work. My dad was the hardest working man I’ve ever known, and I’m grateful to him for passing down that work ethic. Sometimes I’m even grateful that he discouraged me from becoming a novelist so young. Who knows, that way lies madness, maybe. Instead, I can be grateful for a good, steady career.
Get over it already, won’t ya?
Eventually in 2016, I finally said, “That’s it, I still want to be a writer and I’m going to write another book.” My dad passed away in 2010 and I can’t allow words he said 26 years ago to hold me back from my stalled dream. I cranked out 120 pages of my new book in the first month or two. My writing stalled for about a year and a half while there were some good changes in my life and I worked through some of my old issues and fears about writing. I wrote a couple pages here and there but mostly shied away from moving the story forward during that year and a half. My old fears about writing were still strong. It was as if I thought that if I finished my book, something large and bad would hit me like my dad’s words did after I finished my first one.
My wonderful wife helped me realize this while we were sitting down to dinner during a recent Disneyland trip. She said something like, “Do you hear your dad’s voice in your head while you’re writing?” and “you should just write through it”.
Those words spurred me on to pick it up again in spring of 2018. Now, I’ve been writing every day, rewriting and moving forward. Well, most days. I’m making some great progress and I can’t wait to see it finished.
It’s a lot more work than I remember. Back then, I sprinted through the pages with little time for second-guessing or rewrites. This time, I’m taking my time. Getting it right. I’m not sure when it will be done. I‘ll finish it soon though and then send it in for developmental edits.
I have to admit, deep down, there’s still that young boy in me that’s stuck in the Pontiac Sunbird. He’s still reeling from the impact of his father’s words. Maybe that part of me is one reason I’m taking so long to finish. But the day will come when I do let it out there just like I did when I proudly marched into my dad’s room with my manuscript in hand. I don’t know what to expect once I release it, but I hope that at least one person will say that it entertained them. Either way, I want to tell that boy in the Sunbird that it’s OK to come out. I want to knock on the window and say, “I’m sorry I took so long to help you achieve your dreams, kid, but you’re a good writer and your stories should be told.” I know he won’t hear it though. All he hears is ,”William it’s a piece of shit.” His world is still very much formed by what his father thinks of him, just as mine was and still is probably more than I want to admit. But soon enough, I hope to see that boy’s face on the back of a jacket cover, smiling his sheepish grin with streaks of grey that are now in his hair. I’ll tell him, “You done good kid. Keep it up,” and then I’ll sit down in the chair and keep helping him fulfill his — my — dreams of being an author who is no longer broken.