SLIGHTLY OFF THE MARK
My birthday gift from last year made me ruminate. But I took some antacid, and I’m feeling better now.
The rumination, which improves with ibuprofen and ice packs, started with The Annotated Wizard of Oz. Emily saw me lusting after it at a bookstore, to such an extent that they kicked me out so I wouldn’t slobber on the pages. This addition of L. Frank Baum’s classic children’s book was heavier than the Obamacare bill and almost as wordy, although much easier to understand due to a great deal of, as you might imagine, annotation.
I’m a fan of annotation. Well, I’m a fan of history, of which there’s plenty as the book covers Baum’s life and the times he lived in, not to mention the original story itself.
But that’s not what caused the rumination, which I’ve just realized is like unwritten annotation. As I leafed through the book, I began to connect the dots. Not literally – nobody’s marking up that book.
As all 14 of my regular readers know – as I’ve repeated ad nausea to them, total strangers, and everyone in between – I finally got my first novel published last year. But only now have I realized how much my early love of the Oz books is connected to it.
Those of you who know the title of the book, don’t spoil it for the rest of them.
I never made the connection, despite the fact that one of my characters actually mentions Baum’s fairyland. I never made a connection between my writing career and the weather, either, which was foolish of me.
After all, the very first story I ever came up with was about a tornado.
I’ve told the story before, but here’s a quick recap: At a very young age, I dictated to my mother a story about a little boy who gets carried away by a tornado to the Land of Oz. I was too young to write, but she banged the opening out on a little manual typewriter that she later gave me, until I overworked it and the E fell off. Have you ever tried to write a story without any E’s? It’s possible, but not fun.
If I’d finished the story it would no doubt be what today is called a Mary Sue (look it up! It originated with Star Trek, one of my other early fandoms.) The boy character would save the day and have Dorothy Gale fall madly in love with him (even though she was an older woman), and end up staying in the Emerald City among all his admirers.
I didn’t finish the story, and none of it survives, which is a very good thing.
Eventually my parents got divorced, and I stayed in my childhood home with my father, who worked second shift. One afternoon when I was 11, my brother went off somewhere with his friends, while I stayed home alone. I was drawn outside by a strange stillness.
I stood in the back yard and watched while everything around me turned a strange, sickly green, which seemed to glow as if coming from inside everything. The moment made such an impression on me that when I started work on Storm Chaser some 25 years later, I wrote it into a scene.
Unknown to me, I’d become a bystander in the April 3rd, 1974 Super Outbreak of storms. Two of the twisters passed through Noble County; according to a map I saw years later, one touched down three miles from where I was standing. The other produced the longest damage path of the day, an F-4 that tore along for 121 miles.
Kinda spooky, ain’t it?
I was mulling all this over, as opposed to milling, which I also do for a small fee, when a writer friend of mine asked how I came up with the idea for Storm Chaser. Ideas, I declared, are like snow squalls – whirling around, filling the area, ready to be nabbed by anyone who wants one.
Now I realize they’re more like summer storms, just over the horizon and ready to strike at any time.
There are some forty official Oz books now, including the fourteen written by Baum, and dozens more unofficial ones. For years I’ve planned to someday write one of my own, but I realize now that Baum not only inspired my love of reading and writing, he inspired my interest in the weather and, ultimately, my first published novel. So in a way, Storm Chaser is an Oz book. (I included a more direct Oz connection in one of the stories from my just-released short story collection, Storm Chaser Shorts.)
Now that I think on it, maybe Baum was fascinated by disaster, himself. After all, in the first story Dorothy hitched a ride to Oz on a tornado, while in the third a Pacific cyclone swept her there and in the fourth a California earthquake started her on the path.
Maybe she saw the writing on the wall by the sixth book, when she decided to move there with her aunt and uncle. For all the dangers in Oz, at least the weather’s nice. While there’s no place like home, home is where you hang your hat (or in her case bonnet).
That’s the story of my rumination, which needed only a bit of mental salve. How strange it is, that it took me this long to realize my first novel emerged directly from my brief flirtation with tornadoes and an author who died almost a century ago. Some ideas get snatched out of the air, but others have to gestate, which is like ruminate only without the need for medications.
Someday I’ll write that Oz book as a tribute, even though at 120 or so Dorothy’s now way too old for me. After all, I owe my writing career to L. Frank Baum.