Through the centuries decades I’ve been asked a thousand times, “Mike, why do you write?” Being of eastern European descent I always answer that question with other questions. “Why do I write?” you ask. “Why do I breathe? Why do I eat and drink?”
That’s about how important writing is to me.
It is a given that reading begets writing. As a kid growing up in The Bronx, and being pretty much a loner, I read a heck of a lot of books. My parents didn’t have much money, so instead of buying books I haunted the aisles of my school library, as well as many branches of the New York Public Library. It got to where the librarians knew me on a first-name basis. (Although when they said “Mike” it usually sounded a lot like “Schmuck”.)
So reading all of these books generated story idea after story idea, numerous ones swirling around in my brain, just begging to be put down on paper, all of this at a
young age. Since adventure-fantasy, sword & sorcery, and science fiction topped my favorite genres, at least twenty or so of my early novels (seventeen of which got published) fell under those umbrellas.
Back then I never considered my NEED to write; I just loved doing it. But in retrospect I came to realize that, to some degree, I ran to the typewriter to cope with—or escape from—the realities of day-to-day living. The strange worlds that I created—Reglathium, Boranga, Shadzea, Berbora, and others—were great places in which to—well, HIDE, I guess.
But I began to understand my need to write during the 1980s when I wrote my first contemporary novel, a horror story titled The Well. (Bantam published it in 1991, and I reissued it as The Modoc Well in 2011.) I won’t get into specifics, but someone I was quite angry with at the time got wasted in the most brutal of ways—on paper, of course. I am by nature a passive guy, but who knows to what extremes an individual can be driven? Doing it on paper proved a great way of venting—and avoiding a life sentence for murder. (See my post, “Writing to Vent.”)
True story: back then I had a tee-shirt made that read, Writers do it on paper. Someone read my shirt, looked up at me and said, “So do puppies.”
I did something else in The Modoc Well that became a precursor for nearly all my subsequent writing: I made a statement. I’d researched the Modoc tribe of northern California for background to my story and was touched by their history. Ultimately I devoted most of a chapter to the main character, Greg Lowell, telling his family about the Modocs as they visit a historical site.
The same sort of statement came about in my second contemporary novel, Demon Shadows, this time with the Washoe tribe in the Lake Tahoe area. And, to an even greater extent, in The Burning Ground, partly about the genocide of the Maidu tribe in the Sierra Nevada foothills during the Gold Rush.
Nor did I let the genre stop me from making statements. In my supposed “funny science fiction” trilogy, Bicycling Through Space and Time, I dealt with matters as diverse as bullying people who are different, the lunacy of war, an homage to a great singer, and a personal loss, among many other issues.
As I write this, the international community is deciding what to do about a rat-fuck psycho (sorry) who has gassed to death hundreds, maybe thousands of his own people. This brings to mind the theme of my recently released thriller, Freedom’s Hand, in which a small army of rat-fuck psychos take it upon themselves to eliminate all of this country’s minorities. Hate Never Dies, I pointed out last month in two posts. Check them out. In Freedom’s Hand I write to vent; I write to make a statement; I write in anger; I write to cope with the images of the tortured faces of those I grew up with in my neighborhood, survivors of the Nazi Holocaust.
Why do I write? I write to live.