by Terry Hargrove
I own the most aggravating, and therefore effective, alarm clock ever invented. It moves around the bedroom while I sleep, then shrieks like a jet engine every morning at 4:55. My wife has thrown it away three times, but it always crawls out of the dumpster and makes it way back to the table beside my bed. Yes, I hate it too, but it keeps me and my neighbors from being late to work.
But I can’t shake the feeling that I’m always late for other more important things. I didn’t learn the alphabet until I was 6, didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 20, didn’t graduate from college until I was 26, and didn’t find the girl of my dreams until I was almost 40. I fathered a son at 48, moved to Connecticut at 50, and became a reporter and columnist at 51.
So it’s no surprise that I got into the writing game late. I didn’t hurl myself onto paper until I was 37. I always thought I might be a writer someday, in the same way that I believed I might someday be a cowboy. But horses have to be fed and are expensive compared to legal pads and pencils. All a writer needed was commitment, and a few other very important things.
A serious writer can’t ignore the importance of creating the perfect writer’s stare. It’s never too soon to start thinking about that photo on the book jacket, so I spent hours inspecting myself in the mirror, trying to get the perfect half-smile, that captivating look that suggested a bemused knowledge.
“I need my make-up mirror back,” said my wife.
“In a few minutes,” I replied. “Hey, what do you think of this look? Do I look confident and intelligent?”
“What’s wrong with your eyes?” she asked.
“I’m trying to raise one eyebrow,” I said.
“Give it up, Mr. Spock” she said. “It makes you look like you’ve run afoul of the middle linebacker. Is this really important?”
“Of course it is,” I said. “Millions of people might see this face someday. If I look like a troll, they won’t take me seriously. In our world, it’s all about appearance, baby. If I look wise and compassionate, then I will be. To them, my readers. You know.”
“I always thought there was more to being a writer than looks,” she said. “Like, oh I don’t know, having something to say? Since you’ve decided to become a writer, what are you going to write?”
“I can only handle one thing at a time,” I replied. “I’ve spent three months working on my writer’s stare. When I settle on that, I’ll have to spend this summer working on the writer’s walk.”
“Writer’s walk?” she laughed. “What is that?”
“You know. A writer has to walk down country roads with a dog beside him. I’ll need you to take a few pictures from behind. For the inside of the book jacket. How is anyone ever going to take me seriously if I don’t walk down a country road with a dog beside me? All the great writers do that.”
“You’re making that up,” she said.
“You think so? I guess maybe Virginia Wolfe didn’t walk down country roads, but Hemingway did. Hemingway, now there was a road walker. That’s the kind of image
I want to project. My dad’s name was Ernest. Terry Hemingway. That has a ring. Jeez, I’d forgotten all about pen names. That means I’ll have to put off actual writing for at least two more months.”
And so it was that six months later, I was ready. I bought a word processor, 2000 sheets of paper, and sat waiting for inspiration to take over. I know this is the point where a lot of writers bog down, but not me. While I was walking down country roads, losing dogs at a frightening rate and discarding a thousand potential aliases, I had been nurturing an idea about mythology and high school students, and one year later, I finished The Immortals of Olympus High! I thought it was grand, so I hurried to share it with the world. The search for an agent was on. This can be another time when writers bog down, but not me. The tenth agent I contacted liked the idea, and I signed a contract with him. Now all I had to do was wait a few months, then wealth and fame would surely come. I decided to fill the time by writing a sequel, then another, then another, then another.
The few months stretched out to three years. I wrote five novels for young adults, the Immortals Series, and I was sure I was going to be bigger than King or Rowling. But a thing happened, and not a funny thing. After fourteen rejections, my agent dropped me, saying that no publisher was interested enough in the first book to take a chance on five of them. I fell into the damp, dark realm of writer’s despair. I boxed up the Immortals Series, left my word processor in storage, and moved to Connecticut.
Then I went to work for the Pictorial Gazette, in beautiful but expensive Old Saybrook. As a reporter, I cast a critical eye on my works, the lost works of The Hargrove, as I call them, and realized the most likely reason they weren’t published was because they weren’t very good. If I had spent more time on character development and less on perfecting my writer’s stare, they could have been better.
The irony to all this is that I was published eventually. Don’t Mind Me is currently #2,084,623 on Amazon.com’s sales list. With a bullet. OK, not a bullet. What do you call those things trebuchets hurl? Big rocks? Yeah, one of those. Tragically, there is no photo of me on the book cover.
Now, what does all this have to do with my alarm clock? I think alarm clocks not only keep us from being late, they also tell us when we’re early. I’ll be 55 this summer and that’s kind of old to be doing a complete re-write of five novels aimed at teens. About 25 years too old. But this is me we’re talking about. I’ve always been late for the most important things. And you wouldn’t believe the roads up here. Connecticut has some of the best country roads I’ve ever seen.