The History of Friday 10:03 (Part 4)

Saturday, January 05, 2008

(This will make more sense by beginning with
Part 1.)
A fair question would be to ask what first attracted me to the story of Caryl Chessman. Much later, I spoke with someone who had known him in prison and considered him “pure evil.” Others report his brilliance and charm. That’s not really contradictory, because the most dangerous evil comes packaged with charm. What seems certain is that he was one of those individuals who actually do better in prison than outside. Inside for most of his adult life, he could never stay outside for long. Yet once he was back in, he rose to positions of trust. As a jailhouse lawyer, he may never be excelled. I saw questions about redemption, and where its thresholds might be.

Out of prison, Chessman supported himself on hold-ups, but was never suspected of murder. He was executed for a kidnapping he may never have committed. I saw questions of justice, and how a society could pursue it. Then, as I mulled a possible character from the Chessman story, I began to wonder: What would happen if—instead of my character becoming a jailhouse lawyer—he became a jailhouse guru, writing books that developed a spiritual following? In my own life, I was trying to sort through the questions—or even the existence—of religious truth, for which my character could be a vehicle. My story still had 40 years to shift and sprout new directions, but this is the ground from which it grew.

In the meantime, during the second summer after my high school graduation, I wrote a different novel, a murder mystery in the context of Vietnam Era draft evasion. The following summer, I rewrote it. Then I transferred from community college to UCLA and entered my novel in a UCLA student novel contest. My 512 page manuscript lost to a 30 page first chapter from a novel that never would reach page 100. I had to turn twenty-one without my Pulitzer, but I was learning valuable lessons about the writing life.

(Go to Part 5)

3 comments:

This is an interesting story, Brian. And lots of good background and groundwork for a fairly profound novel . . .

Nicole said...
January 6, 2008 at 9:08 AM  

Thanks, Nicole. I apologize for not having any new spiders pictures to post for you. I'm actually having to spend my days writing. :)

Brian said...
January 6, 2008 at 1:43 PM  

I'm so glad!

Nicole said...
January 7, 2008 at 9:31 AM  

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