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Lots of writers get asked about their origin stories. For some reason, people want to know what prompted that all-important life-changing moment. What makes a person take that crucial step? It has to be something compelling, something important, something meaningful…right?
For me, it was a soap opera. A soap opera with an alien.
I kid you not.
General Hospital circa 1987-1993 was the genesis of the writing career you see here before you.
It started out harmless enough. You can blame my mom for that. Almost as soon as I have memories, they include sitting down to watch General Hospital in the afternoons. Then, when I was in 7th grade, Mom went back to work and set the VCR to tape GH. She and my sister and I watched it every day after school, fast-forwarding the commercials.
I didn’t care about the “normal” people on the show (Antonio Sabato Jr. was one of them, and so was Ricky Martin!). No. I cared about the spies. If you’ve ever watched the show, the period I’m talking about was during the Anna Devane / Robert Scorpio / Cesar Faison love triangle. This set the standard in my imagination for what could be done with backstory…and who am I kidding, frontstory, too.
There were parts of this that were incredibly stupid (we’ll gloss over the fact that an alien played a role in part of this storyline). But parts of it started making me think about character and why things happened the way they did. It’s one of the first times when my instincts went against the grain. I wanted the heroine to end up with the wrong man. And I had to wonder why.
Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
It’s next-to-impossible to summarize a multi-year storyline in one post. Suffice to say, there is a weird-looking European guy named Faison who drinks and smokes a lot, used to run an evil spy ring, and was in love with one of his agents. Seriously. His character’s occupations are listed on the General Hospital Wiki as follows: criminal, terrorist, adventure novelist, hypnotist.
His character’s occupations are listed on the General Hospital Wiki as follows: criminal, terrorist, adventure novelist, hypnotist.
Despite his panoply of occupations, Anna loved one of the good guys, Robert. She married him and had a daughter, and although they divorced, years had gone by and now they were on track to fall in love again. Re-enter Faison. Creepy stalker that he was, he tried to blackmail Anna into marrying him instead of Robert. She said yes, but only as a front so she and Robert could get some of their spy friends to help get rid of Faison for good. The wedding plans went onward as Anna once again played both sides. When it was finally time to send Faison away, Anna was there at the big reveal, where he learned she’d been lying to him the whole time.
I felt bad for the guy. I mean, here’s a dude who’s not great looking. That’s a euphemism for lie-back-and-think-of-England. But he’s rich and powerful and in love with the heroine. He loved her, her daughter, and would have done anything for them. Part of me thought that should have been enough. Sure, he was a dick to most other people. But never to her and never to her daughter. I wanted that to count for something more, when a person’s entire demeanor changed around the person they love. Some call this obsession. In middle school, I called it romantic.
When Life Hands You Lemons
But of course, the rest of the world didn’t see it that way. Justice prevailed when the evil Faison got sent away and our heroine, Anna, got back together with Robert. Bo-ring, I thought. That was about as interesting as my pre-algebra homework.
Then something happened.
I decided to try and write down what should have happened. Oh so slowly, the character of Anna realized Faison had a different side. Cold-blooded killer? Hardly. Try lovelorn and driven to distraction. My priorities and value systems were a bit off (still are), but I was experimenting with plot and character. It’s hard being twelve years old with glasses and braces and brains, when hormones are just starting to wake up and all anyone values is long, thin legs, something to put in a training bra, and a face that doesn’t need two plastic screens in order to face the world.
If I were looking for noble motives, I could say I was attempting to right a wrong. Correct an injustice. I felt someone with a purity of intention should have been rewarded. Especially someone with purity of intention and…how shall we say…a face made for radio. I related.
While my first attempts at storytelling have long since hit the garbage can, I never gave up. Luckily, I figured out that purity of intention, in fiction as in life, often just gets you a foot in the ass.
Luckily, I figured out that purity of intention, in fiction as in life, often just gets you a foot in the ass.
That’s when I gave up recasting my own story and started making up new people from scratch. Then I started beating the figurative crap out of them. My characters and I have had a much more pleasant working relationship ever since.
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