by David S. Atkinson
My story is one of those “character wakes up in a strange place with no memory of where he was before” type tales, because I don’t really remember when I came into writing. There must have been some particular moment, but I no longer remember what it was. I remember writing short stories, poems, and such at least as far back as fourth grade including a western mystery novel centering on the perpetrator possessing a brass knife that left a very distinctive wound, which fell apart when I couldn’t figure out at age 9 how a knife would leave a very distinctive wound.
For a long time though, it was bad. Very bad. I was into a lot of science fiction and horror at the time, so I wanted to write it. That’s all fine. I adore a lot of science fiction and fantasy out there, but it has to be good. Mine wasn’t…for a very long time. Still, I kept at it. I submitted my first short story my junior year in high school, done up on a typewriter sitting in a spare room of the foster home I was at for a year. I had a lot to learn. For example, I learned that postal submissions wanted return envelopes and didn’t care for single spacing. I also learned that the science fiction and fantasy I was writing wasn’t coming out anything like the science fiction and fantasy I was reading. My Lovecraft pieces were the worst.
My tastes started leaning more literary as I focused more on trying to figure out why my stories weren’t working. I figured I had to get the elements down before I could build interesting things with those elements, since building interesting things alone hadn’t been working so well. I picked up a few writers’ workshop courses in undergrad. Those seemed to help what was wrong in my stories, so I decided to go back for more. Once I had my law degree down, I went back for a BA in English as preparation for an MFA. Going through both of those, I finally started seeing my stories come up to where they needed to be to function.
This is where my novel in story form, Bones Buried in the Dirt, came from. As part of that very literary realistic fiction, I’d been doing a few child narrator pieces focusing on the same character. I started thinking about a whole series, covering a single story arc, which never brought the child forward to adulthood but instead gave impressions of the adult he would become. That gelled early into my MFA program and my work on that as my thesis eventually gave form to the novel.
Photos: Top, David, age 3 or 4, already committed to reading. Middle, Visiting the influential Balzac