I Am Addicted to Stories
For a long time I thought I simply enjoyed reading. As a boy I went to the library once a week, twice in the summer, and checked out as many books as I could carry. I started with John R.
Tunis and moved on to Robert Heinlein, Howard Fast, John Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe. They caught me with their characters, then dragged me, eager to learn what would happen next, from one end of the book to the other.
At some point it occurred to me that this was more than simple enjoyment. It was a compulsion. The world I lived in wasn’t big enough. To feel alive, I needed a second existence playing itself out inside my head, made up of vivid, colorful people whose lives had a shape and purpose. I might appear to be talking to you, but at the same time I was carrying on conversations with Ma Joad and Eugene Gant.
I wanted things to make sense. I wanted a beginning, middle, and end, and I found them in stories. Eventually, inevitably, I tried creating them myself. For twenty-five years I wrote books for young people—comedies, mysteries, sports stories, fantasies, historical novels. In those narratives, characters I wanted to know did things I’d always hoped to see. If my eyes looked glazed, I probably was spinning a story in my mind, watching it unfold and deciding how to put it down on paper.
Then, at age forty-nine, I encountered the most remarkable story of my life, and it wasn’t in a book. My wife and I, in the twentieth year of our marriage, had our first and only child. The fact of the birth was notable enough, but more remarkable were the unlikely, nearly miraculous circumstances leading up to it. I decided to write them down, if only for the benefit of our daughter.
When I finished, I found that I wanted to write more. I looked back on my life and was surprised to discover that it was full of stories. There was struggle, drama, pathos, and humor. Above all, there were amazing characters. How could I have missed them? These people had been parading through my life for years, yelling, screaming, joking, making faces, trying to get my attention, but I hadn’t noticed because, one way or another, my nose had been buried in a book.
I began to pay attention, and more stories took shape. Each represented a special time in my life and a unique set of characters. I realized that the stories dealt with some of the most difficult questions of my life: What do you do when a friend dies? What happens when you fail? How do you face a life without children? How do you face a life without God?
I love books. I always will. But I’m trying very hard to look up now and then to see the stories going on around me. They aren’t as straightforward and simple as the ones I read, but then the best ones never are. They aren’t neat. They have rough edges. They have beginnings and middles but don’t always have ends. That shouldn’t be surprising. What’s an ending but a wish?
We want things to make sense, and so we tell stories. Here are a few of mine.