In May 1972, in the English Philosophy Building of the University of Iowa, professor David Morrell held up a copy of the book he published the previous year and asserted it represented the future of modern American fiction.
My high school friend Dennis was also in the class and we were skeptical. Morrell wasn’t wrong.
The book was titled First Blood and has been in continuous publication ever since. In 1982 it was made into a movie starring Sylvester Stallone. There were sequels. A student of Hemingway and John Barth, Morrell wrote First Blood while at Iowa where he taught English until 1986 when he gave up tenure to write full time. Last count he had written 32 books.
Morrell is the only undergraduate professor I continue to follow. That’s because when social media rose in the culture he adapted to it and is a constant presence on Twitter and Facebook. He’s easy to follow. Yesterday he posted a link to a video about writing which arrived as I’m figuring out what to write next year.
“The point is to have the passion and the drive to see in a book that it can make you a better person,” he said. “So that even if the book is not published you haven’t wasted your time because you wrote something that is truly important to you.”
That’s good advice. Write to make yourself a better person.
If I took any lesson from Morrell it was his practice of taking a deep dive into techniques he would depict in his fiction. Over the years he learned mountain survival skills, firearms handling, how to drive in emergency situations, and how to fly an aircraft. All of this training served his thriller writing. The take away for me was that writing must be grounded in experience. Not only so it reads well, but so we understand and can communicate life experiences faithfully.
During end of year holidays Big Grove and the lake district gets quiet as people settle into home, family and community. It is respite from the increasing turbulence we see in our politics and in society. I use this time to gain perspective on what I’ve done and written. Today the days start getting longer — an embarkation point for what’s next. Not sure what I want except forgiveness and redemption.
Midst gardening, farming and living there will be writing. I hope to improve my skills and stay grounded in reality… and to become a better person.