One of the more common questions I hear when chatting with people about writing -- whether it
be fanfic, original stories, my writing, or other people's stories -- is, "What made you want to write
this story?" Where did the idea come from? What was the genesis or motivation for a story?
I don't have anything remarkable to say about the process of getting Past Tense on to the page,
so I'll give the genesis/motivation topic a shot today.
The biggest portion of what spurred me to write Past Tense are John's mixed feelings toward his
father, and some things I have learned over the years about the difficulties some parents run into
while raising an extremely gifted child. Since John skipped third grade and went to MIT, I think it's
a safe assumption that he was, and is, blindingly bright by Earth-standards; in a word, gifted.
That conclusion eventually led to some daydreaming (probably while vacuuming, which I find
impossibly boring and thus often leads to the blossoming of all sorts of weird ideas and dozens of
plot bunnies) about John's backstory and what might have occurred during his childhood in order
to create both the love and respect he has for his father as well as the lingering anger and
As for the specifics of what transpires in the first half of the story: A close friend of mine, one of
the brightest of the bright, overhead a conversation between her parents when she was about
twelve years old that was similar to the one I wrote between Jack and Leslie Crichton. In her case,
she hadn't gotten in trouble or been expelled from school. Her grades simply were not what they
should have been based on what her teachers knew she could do academically, and her parents
were trying to figure out how to get her to work harder. Typical of that era, no one went to the
kid and said, "You're smart!" because they figured it would go to her head and she would become
some kind of egomaniac. So she didn't understand the conversation she overheard, and it wasn't
until much later in life that she finally put all the pieces together and realized what was stashed
between her ears. Unfortunately, there are often some social and self-esteem ramifications when
a child is extremely bright, and unless those are handled with as much deliberation as the kid's
education, childhood can sometimes turn into one long misery. That is what happened to my
friend. (She eventually got things sorted out and is now teaching gifted kids.)
What I saw in her was very similar to what I was seeing in John's relationship with Jack, so I threw
in some cause-and-effect to kick off the conversation, and went with it.
As for the second half of the story ... that came from a little closer to home.
First, I take it almost as a given in life that each generation of parents will not make the same
mistakes as their parents; they will come up with entirely new mistakes all their own. I know this is
an oversimplification of a much more complex tangle of emotional cause-and-effect, but it's close
enough to what normally goes on that I'm willing to leave it as a qualified immutable truth (if there
is such a thing).
Second, a therapist providing some counseling to one member of my family once said that it takes
seven generations for a family to finally cast off the residual effects of some type of abuse or poor
child rearing ... in essence, to finally move beyond that initial mistake. My family twisted this
around so it no longer meant what the therapist was talking about, and turned it into a running
punchline that tends to crop up whenever we are talking about our own or our family's failings.
We refer to it as "seven generations of bad genes."
The point has nothing to do with my family's rather peculiar sense of humor, but rather with the
concept that it is very human and very natural to swing to an opposite extreme if we are trying to
avoid committing the same mistakes as our parents ... to the extent that sometimes we commit
new mistakes of our own in the process. And therein lies my motivation for writing John's
discussion with his son. John will not avoid talking to DJ about his intelligence if for no other
reason than because he desperately does not want to make the same mistakes as his father.
Is it the right way to handle DJ? Or will the kid get so caught up in the knowledge that he is
smarter than everyone else that he will be transformed into a lazy, arrogant, egotistical slacker? I
doubt John knows. What I do know is that he cannot choose any other course of action because
of what happened to him as a child.
How will DJ turn out, and what mistakes will he make as a parent?
Only time will tell.
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