Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tracking Back Around

I was a bright kid, but that didn't stop me from not giving a damn in high school. Hell, maybe it's why I didn't give a damn in high school. Like a lot of smart people stuck in bad schools, I felt less than motivated throughout my teen years. As a result of that, I didn't do as well in class as I could have and had to miss out on the one AP class my high school offered: English. Given that English was the only thing I cared about in high school, missing out on the one chance at a real English class was pretty heartbreaking. The closest thing I could get was taking standard English from Mrs. Joyner, the woman who taught the AP class. At my school, senior English involved stuff like Macbeth, Chaucer and, most importantly to me, Beowulf. For a kid who had grown up reading fantasy novels and playing Dungeons & Dragons, Beowulf was a revelation. Here was the foundation for every epic fantasy hero I'd ever loved. Tolkien was in there, more importantly Howard, and I loved every single line of it. When it came time to take our final exams in that class, Mrs. Joyner gave us the option of taking the test or re-writing the Beowulf epic in our own fashion. Being a writer of some burgeoning talent who at the time was obsessed with Stephen King's Dark Tower series, I decided to re-write Beowulf as if it had occurred in that world. The resulting manuscript was close to twenty single-spaced pages. Mrs. Joyner loved it and asked me to read it for the class. If you ever need to put an entire room full of bored teenagers to sleep, read them a Dark Tower retelling of the Beowulf story. Regardless of the audience reaction, Mrs. Joyner said something that day that has never left me; "Don't you all think Brett will be a great writer some day?" Those words still resonate with me every time I sit down to write. I've girded myself with them throughout the years and despite moments of complete creative lethargy, her words have always helped me soldier through and keep believing in myself.

So when I sat down earlier this year to start thinking about concepts I'd like to work on as a comic writer, Beowulf and the Old West came back to mind. I won't go into a lot of detail, obviously, because I don't want you dingoes stealing my baby. Needless to say, I've come up with a fairly cool angle on the story that adds a lot of my own personal touches and seems, so far, to resonate with the limited audience I've introduced it to. While I have other projects that I'm working on, any of which I'd be glad to have published, it feels important to me that this Beowulf story be my first. I owe it to the teenage me that saw a future with so much potential and I owe it to Mrs. Joyner for teaching me to believe in myself.

Oh, in case you were wondering, I spent the second half of that year as Mrs. Joyner's teacher's assistant. She slipped me all the AP reading material, let me grade all their reports, and at the end of the year sneaked me into the AP exam. Entry-level college English successfully skipped.

Thanks Mrs. Joyner. I'll make you proud.

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