WHY MY FIRST BOOK WAS A MEMOIR
I'm always surprised when one of the very first questions I am asked is why I chose to write a memoir for my first attempt as an author. It's not that it's a bad question, it's that I had little choice, as it turns out. While it is my first book, I've been a writer for a long time, and a voracious reader since early childhood. I earned my bones as a pencil-for-hire technical writer starting at Transamerica, Countrywide, and Hallmark through the mid-Nineties but I'd been writing everything from business plans to training programs to technical specifications well before then. But always, on my own time, I was reading every kind of fiction and creative non-fiction.
When I finally found time to write as an author, which I had previously attempted two or three times over the years, there was a decision to make. What to write. I had three options. The first seemed obvious, I'd been deeply involved in the computer game business designing and overseeing the development of my own graphic multiplayer online strategy game. While the game was a critical success, these kinds of projects are expensive, and I fell a farthing or so short of what was needed. However, over the several decades I'd been subconsciously mapping out the details of the game I'd developed a back story. But it was a complex trilogy, which seemed like a daunting place to start. My second choice was a novel about a modern day off-the-grid outlaw living illegally on an abandoned boat boat in a rundown marina in southern California forced to make his living as an off-the-books as a private investigator,. I got pretty invested in this guy and thought I'd like to take on guys like Michael Connelly and Robert Crais. Ha ha. But then there was this real life story about the turning point in my life with a rock band in the mid-Sixties. The story almost told itself, and it seemed to stick in my craw, but I wondered if anyone would really care about some guys from the Midwest who almost made that climb to the top.
The final decision came from two conversations. The first was in a conversation with one of my band brothers, Dave. There are four of us, the four musketeers so to speak, who stay in contact 50 years after our adventure began, and we can't help ourselves as we reminisce about the odyssey we took. In this conversation Dave told me that the other two mentioned to him that they could only converse with one other about those times because no one in their real lives could relate to what they'd done and where they'd been. That seemed incredibly unfair. The next conversation was with my earliest best friend in high school, who'd introduced me to science fiction and board games.
When I'd left Indianapolis for parts West, we lost contact with each other. But, serendipitously, I discovered him again when I was home visiting family and bandmates. When I mentioned I was considering writing about what happened in my life after I left Indy, and would he be interested in reading that, he said he’d considered my experiences a "cautionary tale" to warn his own children of what can happen when you wander off the beaten track.
I totally got that. I'd lived in Indiana, it was an insular pace. Often hard for people there to relate to things far away on either coasts. But when I thought of all the adventures I've enjoyed reading, there a cautionary tale was generally at the root of it—maybe it wasn't such a bad book idea after all.
I began the process of trying to get things organized to write in early 1971, putting together calendars both in paper and spreadsheets, gathering photos, researching all the locations, music magazines, people who met, and who represented us, months of research. Though memoir, differing from biography and/or history, is a matter of opinion—what the memoirist remembers—I wanted use all the dates, times, and facts I could find as milestones to weave my memory around.
The next big step was figuring out where to start. I had no problem with the ending. It was dramatic and obvious. It was where to begin. Despite all the crazy and interesting, almost unbelievable things, that had happened to us, who was going to care about reading a history of my band, no matter how I described and related these events on my calendars. It was well into the following year before I realized that if I wanted anyone to be interested in this book, I was going to have to write it through my own lens, how it affected me. I would have to be the personal narrator. I struggled. I wrote about grade school, high school, discovering an obsession with singing, followed closely by an obsession with basketball, overshadowed by the mystery of girls. And then I tossed it all out.
I discovered memoir, in the sense that I hadn't really understood what it really was. I read other memoirists, mostly hated them, especially band books, until I read "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed, and "Candy Girl, A Year in the Life of a Unlikely Stripper" by Diablo Cody, and a novel that felt so much like memoir that I thought it counted, "The Descendants" by Kaui Hart Hemmings, and I got it. It wasn't about history, it was about emotion, it was about what the things that happened to you meant, not memorizing dates and getting times and dialog exactly right. And that left the largest stumbling block. I was going to have to dig into myself. It was a journey of the next three years to write about the six years of the memoir with look-ins to events back into the Fifties, and a journey into myself, then and how it affected me up until the present. I'm not a person who normally spends much time looking backward so it was liking pulling myself out of a dream after each writing session that felt like a fugue state.
Each draft vastly improved my skill in creative writing, though, bringing more and better descriptions of the band's experiences, but also found me digging into things about my own experiences I hadn't considered sharing with anyone. It was becoming more and more obvious, I'd have to be willing to strip emotionally naked to uncover the real story. And since it was about my band, appropriately named Stark Naked and the Car Thieves, perhaps that made sense.
I finally found my beginning at one of the lowest points of my young life at 24. My marriage to my high school dream girl, who'd rescued me from the pain of adolescence, borne our two beautiful young sons, and I loved beyond reason, was in trouble. The vocal group, that sang Acappella fifties rock tunes, and had changed my life in high school; that had recorded a record in a homemade studio that inexplicably outcharted the Beatles on Chicago's big rocker, WLS, for a few of weeks in January 1964, was scattering to the winds. Those winds of change were blowing and as they were slaming some doors, others were being blown open. So while this isn't quite where my story started, this is where Night People, Book 1 of Things We Lost in the Night, A Memoir of Love and Music begins.