Why I Write
By Marlon Rice
As early as I can remember, she would give me books, require me to read them, and then ask for either a verbal or written summary of the book. That lady and I went through this process more times than I can remember.
By age twelve I had spent time with every major name in literature: Alex Haley, Octavia Butler, Langston Hughes, Toni Morrison, George Orwell, Claude Brown, Mark Twain, Richard Wright, Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, J.D Salinger, V.C Andrews, John Steinbeck, William Golding, even Shakespeare – I read works from each of them and had to tell my mother all about it.
I don’t think she succeeded in making me heir to the crown of the most voracious book reader in Bed Stuy. I would say that I’m somewhat of an avid reader. Not the competitive eater, but more of a three squares a day and occasional snacks kind of eater. However, she succeeded in doing something special. You see, somewhere within the process of reading these great books and then talking to her about them, I fell in love with great stories, and the telling of great stories. Reading all of these different authors forced me to begin to recognize the difference in the style and texture of how to tell a story. The moment that I noticed those differences, I began to search for my own voice and how I would tell a story.
There I was, a twelve year old with a dream of telling stories like the greats. I would tell my mother, a legal secretary, that I wanted to write books when I got older, and she would look at me and say, “Baby writing is good, but writers don’t get a pension.” I’d turn to my father, a New York City Police Officer, and I would tell him that I wanted to write books when I got older and he would say, “Son you can write all the books you want, after you take the Police exam, get on the job and retire.” It wasn’t that they were intentionally doubting that I could indeed become a great writer, they were just being practical. You see, when you become an adult the responsibilities of caring for yourself or a family can begin to take the wind out of the sails of your dreams. Pretty soon you’re a husband and a father and dreaming takes a back seat to being practical. Their advice was of a protective nature, tried and tested by the very ones advising me. It’s hard to argue with success, right? So even early on the dream was in danger of being deferred.
Dreams are resilient creatures though. They must be because right out of the starting gate they are attacked by doubt and practical advice. Funny thing is that I did not listen much to my parents as it dealt with this particular issue concerning writing. The child they were advising did not even know what a pension was, and he didn’t want to be a cop. No, he wanted to live the dream. And that is what I did. I wrote all of the time. I wrote stories and poems. I wrote rhymes, essays, and ideas for television pilots. I would even write love letters, not just for myself but for whatever friend needed one. I don’t know if Baldwin or Golding started out ghost writing love letters for friends, but I’m sure they could relate to my hunger to be expressive, and my naive search to find my role and my pace within the craft of writing.
Yes, I was well on my way to becoming one of the greats. But something happened. I grew into an adult. I had my daughter at the age of 20, and immediately I had to become practical. Three years into college at Morgan State University, I set aside and deferred my education so that I could be a father. The same thing happened to my dream. It was deferred in order for me to handle my responsibilities. I couldn’t spend hours writing anymore; I was working two jobs, trying to squeeze both the abandon of youth and the practicality of fatherhood into my life. It was a busy time. No time to dream.
Langston Hughes said, when pondering on what happens to a dream deferred, that maybe it just sags like a heavy load. He was right. Not living my dream made me a different person, a bit more sullen. I did not love telemarketing, or security, or working in the mailroom, or any of the other things that I did at one time or another to make ends meet. I simply submitted to doing them to make ends meet. The dream though never disappeared. In fact, it sat in the pit of my stomach like rotten meat making me nauseous, leaving a feeling like I would die if I did not throw it up.
Ironically, the one thing that cured my nausea was the same thing that inspired me to dream way back in my childhood bedroom: reading. I started taking books to my security job, and I would read while on post. I reread the authors I read in my youth: Orwell, Butler, and the regular cast. I did add just one new author to my precious circle of trusted scribes, Mr. Walter Mosley. Before I knew it, I was reading on every shift. That heavy load in the pit of my stomach began to lighten with every finished work. Lord of the Flies, 1984, Black Betty, with every novel it was coming back. That feeling was coming back. I was dreaming again.
Once I felt it, I could not help myself. I began to write. This time, it was different though. I wasn’t the same teenage kid searching for his place. From all of those past journeys into multiple genres I did learn something. I wanted to write novels, just like the ones that had nurtured this energy in me at the beginning. So I started to write a novel. When you actually begin to walk towards your goal two things happen. First, with each step you get closer to your appointed destination, as with any journey. Second, each step makes you stronger and more prepared for the next step. It’s like working out, the more you work out the stronger you get.
What began as a walk, became a jog, and then an all out sprint towards the goal of finishing my first novel, Blow One Down. It was a passionate obsession, something I thought about with every free moment during the day, not unlike the feelings of a fresh, new love when everything is so right and exact. Doing something you love to do gives you that feeling everyday, even if it isn’t yet sustaining your lifestyle. I must admit, I do have a career now that I enjoy and that sustains me. However the feeling of challenging yourself to make your dreams into reality is a process that strengthens the mind and the soul far beyond what you do for a living. If I’m a little lucky, and a little blessed I will someday be able to do what it is I love for a living.
In the meantime I plan to continue to love the process, and to keep that same passion for telling a story. This is the way to turn your dreams into reality. Love and enjoy the Process, which is the journey from where you start to your destination. Keep the passion, which is the love and respect for what it is you want to do. When you love something, when you really love it you will do anything for it. That is the passion you need to make your dreams come true. The point is doing what you need to do to keep that passion burning. For me it’s simple, just give me a great story to read. Am I a great writer yet? No, I wouldn’t say that. Not yet. But you know what? I’m living out my dreams.
Langston Hughes offered many possibilities for what happens to a dream deferred, but his last option was the most important because it explains what should happen to all dreams, even the ones deferred. He asked, “Does it explode?” The answer is yes.
Make your dreams, even the ones you may have deferred, make them explode into reality. Don’t let them dry up, or fall into the pit of your stomach. Take them and make them explode, blow them up.
For more information on Mr. Rice, contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
BLOW ONE DOWN
Come out and meet the author at his next three booksignings:
What really does happen to a dream deferred? Those dreams we have as children of what our lives will become, do they really dry up like a raisin in the sun?
I have a mother who is a voracious reader. As long as I have known her she has approached reading like it was competitive eating, devouring multiple books in the time that it takes most readers to finish just one. As I am her oldest child and only son, she made a deliberate attempt to pass on her passion to her “baby boy.”
Damon woke up this morning to his normal life, in his normal townhouse next to his normal fiancée. But after a call from his friend Freedom, things begin to unravel until ‘normal’ is as knotted and as jumbled as tangled yarn. In order to untangle this mess Damon is going to have to settle with his past. That is, before his past settles with him.
Damon’s uncle Jomo used to tell him that good decisions yield good fruits, and bad decisions yield the fruits of punishment. Damon made one real bad decision five years ago, but he has cut that part of his life away. To him, Brooklyn doesn’t exist anymore. He doesn’t know it yet, but Freedom’s phone call is bringing it all Back. By the end of the day, Damon will be forced to reap what he has sown.
Blow One Down is a hard-boiled story about a bad day. It is about a person destined to destruction through a flaw of character and conflict with society. It is a blatant, raw story told from the inside out like a journalist reporting live from the scene. By showing the aggregate result of making bad decisions, Blow One Down reveals the thin boundary between order and chaos within the context of cultural struggle and depiction of common urban themes.