Once divorced. Has fear of clowns — things you may not know about me

image Ned Hickson

This week, Marcia has asked us to tell something about ourselves that others may not know. Whether this is to help us learn a little about each other, or for Marcia to collect incriminating information, I’m not sure. But I DO know Marcia is a gracious interviewer who had me on her other site Bookin’ It last year, during which she hypnotized me into revealing things from several past lives. What follows is an excerpt from that interview that actually reveals some things about both of us…

Marcia: Welcome to Bookin’ It, Ned. It’s great to have you here today. Can you tell us a bit about how you became a writer?

Ned: I am frequently asked how I became a writer. Mostly by my editor here at Siuslaw News. Except when she says it, the words sound more like an accusation than a question. I can honestly say I’ve been a storyteller since as far back as I can remember, back before I could actually write words. My mom used to record my spontaneous stories on cassettes, which she lovingly kept, knowing that someday I would want them and be willing to pay any price to keep them from falling into the hands of someone like Jerry Springer. By the time I was in middle school, I was writing regularly and exploring storytelling through making my own comic books, stories on cassette with background music and sound effects, and eventually movies with a Super 8 camera. Yeah, I was that kid. After graduating from high school, I drove to Texas and found work as a busboy before eventually making my way into the kitchen. A few years later, I was promoted to head chef, then regional chef in Atlanta, Ga. But even while pursuing that career, I continued to write short stories and a mystery novel in hopes of writing full time someday. In 1998, after returning to Oregon with my family, I was hired as a sports editor and columnist at Siuslaw News here in Florence, Ore. That’s really where my “professional” writing career began. Clearly, I’ve always been a late bloomer.

Marcia: Wow! Like me, you started young. Unlike me, you have your tapes and movies to prove it. Also, unlike me, you didn’t wait until you were ancient before settling into the career you were obviously meant to pursue, for which I, like all your readers, am immensely grateful! Can you tell us a bit about who inspired you? What authors did you enjoy growing up, and in what ways?

Ned: I didn’t actually read much as a kid. *An audible hush fills the blog-o-sphere* However, my grandmother introduced me to the short stories and novels of Stephen King when I was in my late teens, which inspired me to try my hand at horror-themed short stories. It wasn’t until several years later, during my first marriage, that my horror writing really evolved and I found some publishing success. I don’t think this is a coincidence. Haha! Just kidding! *cough cough*

Anyway, on the advice of my grandmother, I read The Client by John Grisham, which inspired me to write my first — and only — mystery novel, No Safe Harbor. By that time, I had just settled into my job at Siuslaw News and turned my attention to learning the ins and outs of journalism and becoming a columnist. I had no idea what I was doing and it took me a while to find my voice, which began being compared to Dave Barry and Art Buchwald. I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea who they were. When I eventually found out and read their work, I was flattered. But more importantly, it gave me a lot of confidence in the voice I was developing.

Marcia: Okay, finding out you didn’t read much as a kid is startling, I admit (though it would take more than that to cause an “audible hush” to fall over ME, you understand)! But finding out you didn’t know Dave Barry made me gasp out loud! Art Buchwald, I can almost understand, since he may have been a bit before your time. But Dave Barry? I think I still have the shrine I built in his honor a decade or two ago, when he was saving my life through his humor. Tsk. I’m glad you have now been enlightened, and yes, you were being complimented, for sure. And you have definitely earned the comparison, though you certainly speak with your own voice these days. Can you tell us about your reading habits today? (Asks she, crossing her fingers that they have broadened a bit). Do you have a favorite genre that you head to as soon as you enter a bookstore? Do you even ENTER bookstores? 🙂

Ned: Admittedly, I still don’t read as often as I’d like to or should. The last book I read was two years ago. But when I DO read, I gravitate toward mysteries, horror or sci-fi. Someone once said horror is the flip-side of comedy, and that the same essential elements apply to both in order for them to be successful. Unfortunately, the person who said this was murdered by a gang of clowns…

(And there you have it. Things you probably didn’t know about me. To recap: Weird kid, chef, divorced and afraid of clowns. Probably more than you wanted to know. However, for anyone who’d like to read the complete interview, possibly because you’re serving life without parole, here’s a link to the original on Bookin’ It)

One of the biggest mistakes in my life? The time I quit writing

image By Ned Hickson
As I mentioned in the title to this post, there was a time I quit writing. Back in 2006. For almost a year.

It had nothing to do with the typical kind of frustrations every writer faces, such as not having a readership or being told it’s time to “get serious” with your life by family, friends or every publisher on the West coast. It wasn’t the result of drug addiction or alcohol abuse, although I did find myself addicted to watching Grey’s Anatomy, which made me WANT to drink.

Things were going well with my writing. My readership was growing and I had an agent working to get me signed with a large publishing house.

The problem came on my 40th birthday, when I was given the ultimate surprise gift: divorce papers and single parenthood. Though I can look back on it now and see it for the gift it was, at the time it was like George Clooney showing up on Grey’s Anatomy again: Unexpected and surreal, yet with the underlying knowledge that it was always a possibility, depending on how his other opportunities panned out.

In the span of 24 hours I had gone from celebrating 40 years of life, to life as a single father with two young children. And let me just say right now, Thank God for them. Nothing funny here, just fact: They saved me and were my daily inspiration. But to make ends meet, I left the editorial department at our newspaper and went into sales for almost a year. I also put my column on hiatus by being honest with readers, letting them know what was going on in my life and, for the time being, that I was having a hard time finding my “funny.” I also needed to focus on this transition in my life and the lives of my children. Most newspapers and their readers were understanding. Even supportive. But not all of them were, and I lost about 20 spots — which I understood; I’ve never fostered any hard feelings about that, EVER! I SWEAR!

Sorry…

My book deal also fell through. Probably because of the new intro I wrote, which began: I’m actually pretty funny, but let me tell you what I don’t like about my ex-wife…

Ok, not really. But the book deal was put on the back burner, where it eventually evaporated, much like my desire to write during that period. On the surface, it seemed like the perfect inspiration for a columnist — at least until I sat down to write about it. I didn’t want to become “the guy who writes about being divorced,” but my life completely evolved around that subject at that point in my life. At the same time, writing about superheated pickles and glow-in-the-dark mice seemed… trivial.

Silly, I know — but I wasn’t myself then.

Because of the importance of that last statement, I’m going to repeat it: I wasn’t myself then.

Even as I moved forward with my life, meeting and marrying the amazing woman I’ve been fortunate enough to call my wife for five years now, something was still missing (and no, it has nothing to do with male pattern baldness):

It was me.

Not until the following summer did I find that piece of myself, when I returned to the newsroom and began writing my weekly column for the first time in nearly a year. A few weeks later, on my 41st birthday, I started this blog as part of a gradual return to what I love:

Writing about my editor behind her back.

Ha Ha! Just kidding! I do that on Twitter.

What I discovered between those two summers was how giving up my writing meant giving up that part of myself that makes me whole. For writers, the written word is how we process the world around us and, perhaps more importantly, how we define ourselves within it. While most people are content experiencing life with their five senses, writers have a sixth sense that has nothing to do with ghosts or M. Night Shamalon Shamellon Shahma The Sixth Sense guy. It’s about taking those other five senses and interpreting them for ourselves and, if we’re fortunate enough, sharing that with others in a meaningful way — either through serious reflection, humor, fiction or poetry.

In the same way that sharing this life with my wife makes it real and complete, writing makes me real and complete. It’s not that I couldn’t survive without either one, I just don’t ever want to.

Nor will I again.

Unless my editor finds me on Twitter…

image (Ned Hickson is a syndicated columnist with News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, is available from Port Hole Publications, Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.)