Anyone who considers him or herself a writer of any kind, has likely heard some version of the advice “write what you know.” Simple advice, and good advice, in my opinion. But when I was in junior high, no one had yet passed that little bit of wisdom along to me; or someone had, but I’d decided, as kids will, that it didn’t apply to me.
Whatever the reason, at age 13, I thought it would be a good idea to write a book about 5 couples, 5 adult couples, who set off on a summer-long vacation sailing down the coast of South America. After their boat sinks during a violent storm, they find themselves marooned on a deserted island.
Obviously I wasn’t an adult, I’d never been on a sailboat nor visited South America and I had no idea if there are even any islands in that area on which they could have been marooned. I knew nothing of survival, didn’t have a clue about what kind of physiological effects castaways might experience and was equally in the dark about how adults interact with each other when no kids are around. How could it be anything but awesome?
I don’t remember exactly what prompted be to write my “book,” as I called it (100 handwritten pages felt like a big deal in 7th grade), but it had something to do with the five girls I most socialized with at school. Each one of them was represented by a character in the story. They picked their character’s name and even clipped magazine pages and pictures that showed how they and their husband/boyfriend in the story looked.
I would write in the evenings and the next day at school I’d read the new material to them. I remember being very careful to make sure no one was given significantly more or less page time than the rest. The area that mattered most was, of course, the love scenes; which is where my vast stores of inexperience were delightfully showcased.
“I love you too, baby,” Steve said, and he took her in his arms and kissed her soft lips gently and lovingly. For a while he just held her there in the soft moonlit night.
Darrel took her in his arms and said in almost a whisper, “I love you, too.” Then he kissed her ever-so tenderly upon her baby-soft lips.
Finally Kris broke the silence. “Oh God,” she said. “Why does this have to happen to us?”
“I guess we just have a lot of luck,” Brent said.
“Yeah,” Cari said. “All bad.”
“Darrel,” Stephanie cried. “Hold me. I’m scared.”
“Where could he be?” Cari wondered nervously. “This isn’t like Steve.”
“Maybe the headhunters got him,” Kris suggested
“I hope not.” Cari said. “His head wouldn’t look good hanging on a wall.”
Whether she’s on a sinking ship or searching for her lost and possibly dead boyfriend, nothing keeps the wisecracking Cari from getting in a good one-liner. Oh that Cari … she’s incorrigible!
But it wasn’t all fun and games. The Islanders also had its serious moments:
Darrel picked up the shoe , thinking that Steve must have lost it while being chased by a wild animal He looked at the sky and yelled, “Do you see me God? Do you see what you’ve done? Look at what you’ve given us to remember Steve with!” Darrel was now crying as he yelled. “One lousy, stinking torn up tennis shoe, that’s all! How could you do this to him? Why, why, why?” Darrel’s voice lowered. “I’m sorry, Steve,” he said.” I’m really sorry.” Darrel hung his head as he walked back to the hut, his shoulders shaking, crying out loud and unashamed.
The one area where I didn’t try to wing it, was sex. Which is kind of a shame, because I would have loved to know what my adolescent version of sex looked like. Based on the kissing scenes, however, it’s a pretty safe bet that it would have been tender and soft. I got around detailing their sexual exploits by taking the soon-to-be-naked couple out of the scene. At any moment a couple might suddenly go for a walk, get some fresh air or or go find a quiet place to be alone.
Everyone came rushing at the hut, but Kris stopped them. “I think they want to be alone,” she said to them as she peeked in. “Now I know they want to be alone” And she pulled the door shut.
On TV shows like Survivor Man and Man vs Wild, the hosts repeatedly stress just how difficult it is to find food and water in a survival situation. Fortunately for our castaways, they landed on an island with a wide variety of edibles and a fresh water stream.
The girls found bananas, pineapples and coconuts. Cari cut some pieces of bamboo like straws and put them in the coconuts.
I don’t recall anyone having a knife with which Cari cut the bamboo, but things wash up on beaches all the time. I guess someone could have found it. I also don’t know if bamboo would grow on an island in that part of the Pacific. But that didn’t concern me. Realism and details only slowed down my storytelling. And I was already busy juggling couples who all wanted their fair share of kissing and walking away.
It seems finding groves of fruit trees on an isolated island in the middle of the Pacific just wasn’t good enough, because this happened:
Cari had found some wild grapes growing in the jungle and the boys were trying to make some wine in bamboo barrels from them.
And also this:
“Oh, could we really?” Kris asked.
“As soon as we make some lobster traps and put them in the water,” Steve told her.
“Good,” Cari said. “I’ll make the pots tomorrow.”
With the abundance of food available, no one worried about contracting a runaway case of the munchies from smoking the weed Kevin found growing in the jungle. For some reason, no one recognized the weed as weed, which can only mean they all thought it was perfectly reasonable to just smoke whatever random jungle plant they tripped over. And I made no effort to explain where Kevin got rolling papers. But based on the story so far, it wouldn’t have been too far-fetched if he’d discovered a ZigZag tre.
And it wasn’t just food, drink and drugs the island cranked out, it also produced a great number of cliches. I think this may be my favorite:
He looked down at and saw a spider walking on Candy’s foot. “Look out for that spider,” he warned her.
“Where?” Candy said as she jumped aside. That was her mistake. When she jumped, she landed right in the middle of some quicksand.
Because of course she did! Everyone knows that uninhabited islands are just lousy with quick sand. Just like they all have tribes of indigenous people who regularly use the other side of the island for human sacrifices. It’s science! Look it up.
The Islanders goes on for almost a hundred pages, all painfully confirming that it was written by a 13 year old. I can’t address every cringe-worthy passage here and I don’t want to spend my next 10 blog posts dissecting the story. But I also don’t want to deny anyone the pleasure of reading this master piece in its entirety. The best solution seems to be making it available to anyone who’s interested. So I’m going to set up a separate blog where I can post chapters of The Islanders and possibly some bad poetry and embarrassing diary entries, to share with the world.
You’re welcome …
Update: I’ve started posting chapters of The Islanders on my newest blog, Terribly Earnest.