Part 2: What I Left Out of Broken Child Mended Man & Why

What I Left Out of Broken Child Mended Man…and Why

Story 1: Mr. DJ, keep playing that song!

From eighth through tenth grade, I DJ’d several school dances. I can’t recall how I landed the gig, but one of my favorite memories had to be Mr. Tepper’s reaction when I played Sex & Candy by Marcy’s Playground. I’d never heard the song before that moment, but I was immediately hooked by the suave vocals and guitar play. Of course, that was interrupted by Mr. Tepper’s authoritative yelling, Hey! Hey! Hey! You can’t play that type of music here. As he approached, I just placed my arm around him and replied, Mr. Tepper, Look at all these people having a good time. We shouldn’t mess that up. I tell you what, let this song finish, and I’ll put on something I know you’ll like next. To my surprise, he let it go. I played Sweet Home Alabama, and the rest of the night flowed without a hitch.

Story 2: Toilet through the windshield

After arguing with Miriam about how uncool putting an old toilet in the back of my hatchback was and taking it to the county dump before school, I reluctantly jammed the disgusting old commode in the hatch and slammed the trunk. To my surprise, the top portion burst through the back windshield shattering glass over the gravel driveway. My immediate reaction was, “Oh, come on man!”

I tossed the toilet in the dumpster and rode silently down the long stretch of route 211 without a back windshield. Glenn sat in the passenger side in disbelief as well.  The following weekend, I was able to locate a replacement hatch at a neighboring junkyard in Culpeper County.

Story 3: Being tested early

By this time, I’d fully morphed into a teen in reasonable control of my emotions when it came to anger. However, the new me was tested early when I overheard Rick, a kid I didn’t get along with, say “nigger” within earshot in the hallway.

Without hesitation, I stepped into his personal space and asked him to repeat what he said. He retorted that it was just a joke. I want to hear the joke. I like to laugh too, I assured.

Okay, here it goes: People were flying on a plane, and it was going down, the stewardess said that we are going to need some people to jump out of the plane so it doesn’t crash, so we are going to start in alphabetical order until we can balance the plane. So will all African-Americans jump off the plane. Nobody Moved. Will all Blacks, please jump off the plane. Nobody moved. Will all colored people, please exit the plane. Nobody moved. A black child leaned over to his dad and said, “Daddy, we’re all of those!” The dad said, “Not today, son, we’re niggers!

I contemplated my reaction while Rick and his friends nervously anticipated my response and ultimately decided to give a smirky chuckle before replying, “It was kind of funny, but you’re still a jackass, Rick. I headed to class and didn’t think any more of it. A year before, I would’ve smashed his face into the adjacent locker. That moment let me know I was gaining an upper hand on my inner demons.

Story 4:

I can’t recall why I decided to join a bunch of Oakwood boys that cold winter night to egg an all-girls dorm other than suffering from boredom. Nevertheless, I put on my neon yellow jacket, grabbed a carton of eggs and marched out the door. About ¾ of the way through my carton, I hear someone yell, “Stop right there!” Everyone scattered, but the bright lights from the golf cart drove directly toward me. I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” I put the jets on, and burned through the middle of campus. That poor security guard didn’t stand a chance as I high-tailed up the step to my dorm room and the third floor and tucked into my covers for the night. 

The bright-yellow jacket was evidence, so I decided to refrain from standing out too much in case I happened to run into the guard somewhere down the road. My mother didn’t have a winter jacket, so I ended up concealing it off campus and donating it to her.

Other considerations:

During my high school years, I maintained a closer relationship with my mother than I revealed in the book. I ultimately decided to leave the relationship out of that section and throughout college since transitioning between storylines and chapters became increasingly difficult. I couldn’t overcome the challenge of making sense of my feelings at the time, which included a mix of resentment, sorrow, and a compelling need to help because she was my blood and reason for existence.

There’s also a noticeable gap in stories between playing with my friend, Scott at his house during my K-3 years and when he was the best man in my wedding. He was my best friend throughout school, but we did some pretty stupid stuff that wouldn’t have made sense in the grand scheme of the person I was becoming. I was a different person with him; not that he was a bad influence, but we were just boys looking for trouble. For my many faults, I ultimately decided that some skeletons were better left unturned.

I’m sharing these anecdotes because it will be helpful for writers to understand that it’s okay to leave some items out. For me, it was a problem with transitioning. Luckily, the flow ended up working throughout the book.

Between my wife and editor, I also realized the need to tone the wording down a bit to make it more relatable to the reader. Coming fresh off a dissertation, I was still in academic mode. After reading and re-reading, I noticed how snooty I came across. Realizing this shortfall, also forced me to interject more humor throughout, even if it was at the expense of my reputation (i.e. smoking weed). Have people pre-read your writing and be open to ideas that will help it flow.

I was writing BCMM in chronological order when I decided to write a chapter about my high school girlfriends and sports in the middle of the book. I don’t have an earthly idea, why I decided to do that, but thankfully my editor pointed it out. As difficult as it was going to be to piecemeal the stories back into finished chapters, I knew it had to be done for the reader’s sake. Just be open to constructive criticism and ideas from differing viewpoints. It’s all in the name of making you a better writer.

Broken Child Mended Man is nearly 400 pages long, so it was necessary to cut out unnecessary stories and long-winded recants when I could sum it up in a paragraph or two. Anyone who knows me, understands how difficult such a process since I can go on and on about most topics.

Next Blog for the So You Want to Write a Book Series:

Editing…Ain’t Nobody Got Time or Money For That!

The Broken Child Mended Man e-book is available at several online booksellers:

Part 1: In Search of Inspiration

This above all else: To thine own self, be true.
— William Shakespeare

With regard to the direction I wanted to take Broken Child Mended Man, I had several choices. The book could’ve been very dark, but I wanted to steer clear of the victim mentality. Instead, I like to think of myself as the imperfect victor. It could’ve been melancholy, but who wants to read a book that only leaves them somber in the end? In short, I chose a mixture of hardiness, humor and some madness to reveal an enigmatic, yet personable writing style: 2 parts raw grit, 1 part inspiration and 1 part relatable. I tried "finesse," but it didn’t reflect me in the end.

I’ve published academic pieces, but I didn’t necessarily hone in on a writing style until I began my memoir project.  The following books helped me discover my artistry as a writer:

Makes Me Wanna Holler by Nathan McCall

I chose a more vulnerable route thanks to McCall’s Makes me Wanna Holler. His keeping-it-real style veers from the typical flawless characters portrayed in many childhood biographies. While McCall portrayed himself as a victim of his surroundings, I didn’t share his life sequences that led to his prison sentence and eventual redemption. The actions he engaged in were unforgivable to some of his audience as depicted in his brutal Amazon reviews, but I ultimately respected him for putting his reputation on the line. It was risky and even gutsy and that’s how I wanted to engage my readers. Accept me or not; this is who I am. 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

My adventures with the Hillside Gang could’ve easily been left out of the book, but I eventually convinced myself to leave it be to serve as a reprieve from the heaviness in the second section of the book. The good-naturedness throughout Huck Finn inspired the writing style for my adventures along the Virginia countryside. It was also helpful in terms of where I needed to interject humor throughout an otherwise serious story.

Finding Fish by Antwone Fisher

How do I most effectively let the audience enter my psyche? My writings most closely emulate Antwone Fisher’s. Albeit, more poetic, the feedback I’ve received thus far has most certainly made the impact I intended by allowing the readers into my childlike mind and grow with me as I was coming of age, which was comparable to Fisher's approach. Fisher was a less flawed character and he overcame his unfortunate circumstances in a well-described suburban setting. My book certainly left holes since I didn’t find my father or long-lost siblings. Fisher was in a much different and more complete spot than when I decided to unveil my past, but he was an astounding guide nonetheless.

Sounder by William H. Armstrong

How do I write about rural poverty in a compelling enough manner to make people care? The raw finesse in Armstrong’s Sounder fit the bill. Although I read this book somewhere between sixth and eighth grade, it had a profound impact in relation to my life. Every day was a struggle to survive, and that’s how I ultimately related to the sharecroppers in Sounder. I reread the book before completing Chapter 2: Virginia Raised.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

I was an ugly child...or was I? I guess it depends on who you ask, but some convinced me that I was unworthy of acceptance. I refused to succumb to the conflicting and relentless critique of my black peers, but the damage they managed to inflict was seemingly everlasting. I sympathized with Morrison main character, Pecola Breedlove, if for no other reason than I just wanted to be accepted. I didn’t necessarily want blue eyes, but there were instances when I simply didn’t want to exist. If I were invisible, then I’d be impossible to judge. Then I could be the judge of my mahogany skin tone, weathered brown eyes, plum-colored lips, prominent nose, kinky hair and elfishly sexy ears and realize the unique handsomeness bestowed upon me. Unfortunately, that didn’t occur until my late 20s. It’s unusual for men to write about this level of insecurity, so I used the only inspiration that could empower me to overcome the fear of revisiting my most detrimental self-doubt.

The Color of Water by James McBride

There were several different directions I could’ve taken my writings, but this magnificently written work by McBride inspired me to take a more appreciative approach to my foster care experience. While there were certainly some dark moments throughout Broken Child Mended Man, the darkness didn’t consume the story.

Who Would Have Thunk It by George C. Fraser and Emma Fraser-Pendleton

I knew the writing process would have heavy moments that were going to be a challenge to deal with. The only way to combat my internal conflicts was to add an element of humor.  Given my foster care experience, Who Would Have Thunk It could’ve had a solemn feel to it, but the Fraser siblings’ writing managed to effectively circumvent those feelings by interjecting chuckling elements throughout the book. While their humorous stories were much cleaner than my antics in Broken Child Mended Man, their book served as my inspiration to break up the hardships I experienced.

Of Mice & Men by John Steinbeck

Out of all of the books I’ve read since truly discovering the joy of reading during my teenage years, I have yet to find an author who is as masterful at descriptive writing as Steinbeck. I didn’t go into as much exhaustive detail as Steinbeck is famous for, but his vivid descriptions served as a guiding light when describing Rappahannock County, VA and Philippi, WV.

Did my writing in Broken Child Mended Man remind you of other author’s you’ve read in the past? Let me know in the comments section.

Next Blog for the So You Want to Write a Book Series:

What I Left Out of Broken Child Mended Man…and Why

The Broken Child Mended Man e-book is available at several online booksellers: