What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been

by J.D. Rhoades

And you may ask yourself, “Well….how did I get here?” 

-Talking Heads 

One of the blogs I
check out on a regular basis is the one belonging to the wonderfully named
Sparkle Hayter. (Yes, she says it’s her real name, and it’s one of my favorite
names ever). Sparkle wrote a funny, sexy, and smart mystery series featuring
intrepid All News Network reporter Robin Hudson: WHAT’S A GIRL GOTTA DO?; NICE
GIRLS FINISH LAST
; REVENGE OF THE COOTIE GIRLS; THE CHELSEA GIRL MURDERS; and my
favorite, THE LAST MANLY MAN. I first encountered Sparkle when we both hung out
in the internet newsgroup rec.arts.mystery. She was kind enough to name a
character in her werewolf novel NAKED BRUNCH after Yours Truly. Okay, the
character was long dead before the book even started, but still.

  Sparkle’s been a stand-up comedian, a cable
news reporter, a writer, an artist, and generally a really cool person, so when
I found she had a blog called Moons of Saturn, I subscribed immediately. That’s
where I got hooked on one of her loves:  Indian pop music, particularly Bollywood
soundtracks. You may think the whole musical movie thing is cheesy, but I defy
you to listen to something like Chaiya Chaiya 
for more than thirty seconds without beginning to involuntarily dance in
your chair.

   So I
click through a few weeks ago and find that the blog name’s changed. It’s now
called Bombay Talkies, because Sparkle’s got a brand new bag: as a writer on
the subject of Indian cinema, living in the city of Maharashtra. Kind of a strange place for a girl from Canada,
but as Sparkle says in her profile, “Life is strange and full of lots of twists
and turns. Roll with it, when you can.”

   Which
brings me, at long last, to my point. We don’t always end up at the destination we set out for. When I went to college, my major was what at that time was called RTVMP:
Radio, TV, and Motion Pictures. I wanted to be a filmmaker. That is, when I
wasn’t trying to be Hunter S. Thompson. “Hey,” I thought, “How hard can it be?”

Unfortunately, I
discovered two things: first, being a filmmaker meant spending a lot of time
trying to scare up financing, which I loathed; and second, that to be Hunter S.
Thompson, it wasn’t enough to stay loaded and wild most of the time, you
actually had to write something.

   So
neither of those dreams panned out. I ended up working in local TV, behind the
camera, working on shows like a locally produced kid’s show called “Frog
Hollow”
(which featured a puppet named, I swear, Androgeena),  and an outdoor show called “The Southern
Sportsman
,” which was a half hour show consisting of two segments: (1) Host
hunts and kills something, and (2) Host shows you how to cook it.

Only problem with
that job was, it didn’t pay squat. So I ended up scuffling around in a variety
of media related positions, including club DJ’ing and ad sales for a country
radio station so low on the totem pole that they didn’t even register on the
Arbitron ratings. Then I started dating this really cute law student. 

Now, if there’s a
book lying out, I’ll pick it up and start to read. And when I picked up a book
on Constitutional law that the really cute law student left lying around, I was mesmerized.

  See, most law school texts present the
principles of law in a series of written cases–records of court decisions. And every case
starts with a recitation of the facts. In other words, every case tells a story. And
when you’re reading Constitutional or Criminal Law, fairly often it’s a case of
injustice, of some poor bastard getting worked over by the system. Miranda vs. Arizona? Poor
dumb bastard didn’t even know his rights, so how could he get a fair trial? Gideon vs. Wainwright?  Poor bastard got
screwed because he didn’t have a lawyer. And so on. Those stories, more than
the legal analysis of the facts that followed, were what made me think that
this whole lawyer thing might not be so bad. Plus, and this was no small
factor, I discovered that people would lend me money to go to law school and I
wouldn’t have to pay it back till I got out. “Hey,” I thought, “How hard can it
be?”

Next thing I
knew, I was in law school.

    Fast forward a few years. I married the really
cute law student, who quickly decided that the practice of law wasn’t for her.
I’d hung in there, but it was finally beginning to dawn on me, after a
disastrous stint with one of those personal-injury law firms that advertise on
late night TV, that I wasn’t loving it either. I moved back to my home town, but law practice still got on my nerves. An editorial I saw in my  local
newspaper tripped a switch in my head. I wrote a letter to the editor asking
“Mr. Editor, what color is the sky on your planet?” Another editorial sparked
another similarly snarky letter. So the editor in question , a classic old-time
newspaper guy named Brent Hackney, rang me up and asked if I wanted to do a
regular column. “Hey,” I thought, “How hard can it be?” Next thing I knew, I
was writing a weekly column. The answer to my question, of course, was the same as always: “a lot
damn harder than it looks.”

After a couple of
years of this, Brent said to me, “You know, you’re a pretty good writer. You
ought to write a novel.” I thought about it. “Hey,” I thought, "How hard….”
Well, you know the rest. Call me a slow learner.

I wrote a novel.
It sank like a stone. I wrote another.
It got picked up, along with another I hadn’t even written yet. I started
meeting people who wanted me to come and talk to them about my books. I wrote a
third novel, then a fourth. And here I am. It ain’t India,
but it’s sure not where I expected to be.

So, writers and readers: what destination did you start out for? What strange
places have you ended up along the way? And how did you get here?

6 thoughts on “What a Long Strange Trip It’s Been

  1. pari

    J.D.,I’ve always written, but for thirteen years, I wanted to go into international law. That’s why I studied seven languages and was an exchange student to two countries.

    After my stepdad died, I realized that what I wanted to do — int’l environmental protection — was far too frustrating. I ambled around for several years, taking odd jobs that most often involved communications (including waitressing) and writing. I had no idea I was doing PR until someone finally pointed it out to me. I stumbled into journalism, too.

    Too many people have heard how I finally wrote my first manuscript and the second, both of which never sold . . . but I was hooked.

    Reply
  2. Louise Ure

    Dusty, you and Sparkle both amaze me.

    I have a different version of “how hard could it be?” It comes from a charity concert I was organizing with Robin Williams, Joan Baez, Paul Simon and forty other luminaries.

    Paul Simon (without Garfunkel) stood at the apron of the stage. The fans called out for “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” That was Art’s song. Paul strummed a few chords, said, “Why not? What could happen?”

    Sometimes the “what could happen?” works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

    Reply
  3. Rae

    What an interesting question…I’ve always thought the journey was every bit as important, if not more so, than the destination.

    I’ve taken a few interesting detours:

    When I was a junior in college, a sorority sister and I decided to go to San Francisco for spring break. I will never forget crossing the Bay Bridge at 2 a.m. and seeing the city lights twinkling. I knew I had found my home, and moved to SF from northern Idaho within days after graduating.

    Then there was the day about 20 years ago, when I went to interview for an administrative assistant position and ended up counseling bereaved families in a funeral home for several years.

    A few years ago, I was looking for a book to read on a long flight. The one I grabbed blew me away, and I wanted to know more about the person who wrote it. Turned out the author had a website, and a message board. And here I am 😉

    Reply
  4. Mark Terry

    Great idea, and ain’t it the truth?

    If asked in high school, I would have guessed music. Then for a number of reasons I got a degree in microbiology and spent about 6 months after college actually working in an infectious disease research lab before ending up in a clinical genetics lab. I started writing my senior year in college, inspired by an essay by Stephen King called something like “The Making Of A Brand Name.” I wrote a lot of unpublished novels, fully intent on someday being a fulltime novelist.

    Then someone asked me to write an article and I got paid for it and I wrote more and got paid for them, too.

    Now I’m a fulltime freelance writer and a novelist. Maybe someday I’ll get to that fulltime novelist thing, but the fulltime freelance thing works just fine, too.

    Reply
  5. patty smiley

    Dusty, just think of the material you’ve collected for your novels in all those varied careers.

    When I was young, I used to worry that I’d die before I had a chance to use every creative cell in my brain. I’ve used quite a few, but hopefully, there are still more in there to challenge.

    Reply

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