Starting Over, 1973-1975:
The days of Creative Writing classes were over. Worse, I had lost my two best friends—the real-life models of my Lenny character. One had dropped out of school during our tenth grade year after a long illness; the other had turned to drugs, axing our friendship and banding together with a handful of other drug users living in our small town.
With Lenny now living in Pittsburgh and his models no longer at my side, I ventured alone with Dave in my thoughts during most of my eleventh grade school year. He seemed the logical choice for my stories’ main protagonist since his personality was closest to mine and therefore, easiest to write. His antagonist, however, eluded me.
I wrote no stories about Ridgewood that school year and merely sketched some plots on paper while I pondered Ridgewood’s future. I also sketched Dave and Amy’s faces on canvas board for an art project during that time. My drawings were awarded a place in the art class’ showcase, so I spent more time drawing than I did writing until a new-found friend kindled an old interest. Together, we wrote sci-fi space stories during the rest of my eleventh grade year.
Rainy days and a baseball injury to my drawing hand during the summer put me in front of my typewriter. With no thoughts about protagonists and antagonists, I singlehandedly typed a rough draft about Vree. I put aside all that had happened so far and began with the words STARTING OVER at the top of the page. I wrote from Vree’s perspective, planning nothing and enjoying every surprise along the way.
After I finished the draft, I decided to add a situation and its resolution to the rewrite, which meant I’d have to map out events once I knew what the story was about. I didn’t know it then, but I had stumbled upon a formula for story writing.
“But … you never plan your stories,” a voice in my mind reminded me; “Ridgewood happens beyond your control. You’re merely a reporter of events, nothing more.”
“Only during the first draft,” I said. “After that, Ridgewood and her characters are mine to control.”
“When I leave the typewriter, time will stop for them until I return.”
“Then your stories will be fabrications.”
“That’s what stories are.”
“No. You wrote the truth about Ridgewood. Anything else will be lies.”
“My lies have always been Ridgewood and vice versa. I see that now.”
The voice scoffed. “So,” it said, “the vanished house with Craig Coleman inside. And Dave Evans and Hannah Kendall’s love interest that seemed inevitable before Vree’s reappearance. All lies.”
“Only if I choose not to rewrite those events.”
“What about pregnant Vree and your lovechild Nancy Pennwater Stephenson?”
“Look, voice, all that I’ve written—and all that I will write—will only matter if it becomes published. Anything less is a notebook of possibilities. That’s all.”
The voice quieted and left me alone to plot and write.
By Christmas 1974, I felt I’d discovered Vree’s purpose. However, staying the course and writing the second draft took me past my high school graduation in May 1975. I wrote the last sentence to that draft months later, days before Thanksgiving. Mentally exhausted and unsure of the story’s credibility, I shut it away in my notebook and returned to drawing and painting. I never wrote about Ridgewood again until long after I was honorably discharged from the US Navy.