By Bill Willson
I’m a writer. “So what?” you say. Let me tell you what. These days it’s a difficult statement to make under any conditions, but it is especially hard given the following facts. I have only been published on a very limited front. I have never been paid an obscene amount of money for my writing. Most of the writing group participants I have associated with are females, which don’t usually get the male point of view. In addition, the word writer in most of the dictionaries I own is defined with a definite reference to the word `author.’ I also find it necessary to explain the fact that although I earned a very good living writing legal documents for ten years before I retired, I had no formal, higher education in English or the field of writing and literature. Education was my dream, but it didn’t come until after I retired. But now I’m getting ahead of my story, which is about keeping dreams alive, and hanging on.
As a young boy I exhibited latent symptoms of my leanings toward letters. At age ten I rewrote the Puss & Boots story, substituting an alley cat and a rather scruffy rat for the main characters. At eleven I started, or at least attempted to start a “Sunshine Newsletter” with stories and Activities for Shut-ins.’ I loved to read and learned to read at an early age. Despite this I had a tough time in school, because we moved so often—two or three times a year until I was fourteen. — In the seventh grade I wrote a monthly cartoon strip for the school paper. I practiced cartooning in my spare time by filling EggShell art pads with characters I hoped would be published one day. The most exciting of which was `Captain Marvelous,’ a hayseed-like country bumpkin who was secretly a super-hero.
At age thirteen I was picked up drunk and disorderly, and spent the night in a padded cell at juvenile hall. Because of what I said while under the influence, I was charged with burglary and petty theft and put on probation. I was guilty as charged, and this was a major turning point in my life.
By the time I was in high school I had given up my interest in writing, and no longer had any interest in drawing. I wanted to become a Forest Ranger and a wildlife photographer. Despite the fact that I was without responsible parents who were concerned about my future, I still had dreams of going on to college. I wanted to be somebody. All through high school I lived with my sister and her husband, and I contributed to my mothers support in addition to fully supporting myself. In-spite-of working forty hours a week I managed to carry a B average, in a college preparatory program.
When I graduated I realized there was no way I could go to college and also assume full support of my mother, who by this time was no longer able to hold down a job. So, I joined the Navy and qualified for an allotment for my dependent mom. I spent four years in the Navy on twenty-eight dollars a month. The rest of my pay went home to Mom. As far as my educational dreams went, they had to be satisfied with correspondence courses, but I never gave up on my dream.
During my four years in the Navy I was trained in surveying and mapping, so after I got out I took a job in this high paying profession. I soon learned to love my work, and I worked on many subdivisions, schools, dams, powerhouses, oil refineries, high rise buildings, and a rapid transit system. My mom finally got a county old age pension and health care, and I got married and started raising a family. I never gave up my dream of a college education, even though I only got the chance to go part time now and then.
While writing legal, land descriptions during my last ten years of employment, I suddenly reestablished my love for written words. I took up writing as a hobby, and decided that when I retired I would try to write professionally. Miraculously my opportunity to do this came when, at age fifty-seven I was offered early retirement. It was a very generous offer, and after a few weeks hesitation and some financial counseling I jumped at the chance.
First I tried some newspaper work and PR work for a historical restoration project. The project fizzled when the head guy got arrested, and I soon learned I wasn’t happy writing about city council meetings, the escapades of the small town police force, the garbage problems, school board meetings, or the new teachers and principles in town. I learned that when you write the news, you can’t change the ending to the story.
I also learned from experience and from other writers I associated with that editors, agents, and publishers would not give any work the time of day without seeing a college degree of some sort in an author’s credentials. So, I took a deep breath, gathered together my sparse college transcript, and applied to the local college. I declared myself a candidate for a degree in English, while still in lower division working on general education requirements.
This was the second best decision of my life, next to getting married to my sweetheart 33 years prior to this. In eighteen months I had completed an AA, cum laud, and I was accepted to Utah State University’s professional writing track, with emphasis in technical writing. I loved my college experience, and despite my chronologically challenged situation, I managed to maintain a 3.6 GPA and get myself inducted into the International Golden Key Honor Society.
I didn’t work at a paying job while I went to school, but I did work. Before my graduation in December of 2001, I managed to complete my first nonfiction book “You Just Might be a Writer.” I also completed about three-quarters of the rough draft of my first novel “Guardian Angel.”
“Guardian Angel” is about my alcoholic father who dies in the first chapter and goes on into the spirit world to become my guardian angel. The book is based on autobiographical facts and my father’s rather sketchy biography gleaned from his old letters that I found after my mother died, and the oral history told by my older siblings, and aunts and uncles. I knew very little about my father before I started this work, because when I was five, he was ordered by a judge to leave his family until he could overcome alcoholism. He never did.
The journey of life has been as tumultuous as the raging sea, and at times as beautiful as a spring day. I love living and refuse to let life become a spectator sport. I intend to write, and hope, until I breathe my last and then ride my faith into the glorious unknown that awaits all of us. Above all I will never give up my faith that each one of us can determine our own destiny each and every day, just by doing the best we can and never loosing site of our dreams.