I developed a love for writing right at the end of my senior year in high school. It happened quite unusually, but it stemmed from an incident that very likely allowed me to graduate. It was FINALS time in our English Class and everyone knew from the start of the semester that the Final Exam was going to be a rather lengthy one, full of multiple choice questions and various other challenging stuff regarding the book we were charged with reading throughout the year, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five.
Now, I wasn't much of a test-taker, as you could have learned by interviewing any one of a number of teachers under whose tutelage I toiled, so when our teacher, Mr. John Sala, whom I candidly respected and admired, sternly allerted us that "Unless you are carrying at least a High B grade, you must take this final!" I heeded his words. The next day Mr. Sala approached me in the hallway and asked "Benn, why didn't you take my Final yesterday?" I very matter of factly said "Well, you SAID if we had a High B grade or better we didn't have to take the final, so I... His laughter interrupted me as he admonished "Come on, Benn, who are you kidding? You aren't even close to a LOW B grade in my English class, you know that?"
It was in that moment that I might have also cut my acting chops, when I offered "No WAY! Are you kidding me right now? I really thought I didn't have to take the final! Now what am I gonna do?" I actually KNEW what I was going to do because he told us the day prior that if we didn't take the Final and were supposed to, the ONLY way we could make it up was by taking a 5 question Essay Replacement Exam the next day; meaning TODAY, which he immediately reiterated to me. I had that alternative well in mind when I opted not to take the Massive Final with all the possible minutia that likely covered every page of Slaughterhouse Five; figuring I'd rather take my chances on 5 measily essay questions than something like the hundred brainbusters the rest of the Sub-B grade students had to endure.
He said I had to take it after my 7th hour last class. I had a study hall in-between, so I went to the library (that's a place where they have a lot of books you could read or check out and take home if you wished - for those of you who might have picked your head up out of your iPhone or other electronic device for a second and were wondering) and sat down with a hard copy of our dreaded semester-long read. I studied the front and back flaps like a madman and leafed through the parts of the book until I found characters' names -- in an effort to make some sense of them, and, at the very least, to get acquainted with their names -- just in case one of the 5 essay questions was about them.
7th Hour passed very quickly and I settled in...I was the sole test taker in the room; imagine that, and proceeded to take my Extra Special and Totally Private FINAL English Exam. Oh, wait, before that...you should know that my English teacher was also the coach of the Boy's Soccer team and he and I hit it off otherwise; I think in large part because he was a strong supporter of all the sports teams at school and I was in the starting lineup as the centerfielder for our Men's Baseball team.
I took the exam. It was somewhat challenging, but I let out a sigh of relief knowing that I avoided the other exam that I was certain to flunk misearbly. It didn't matter that each question required a minimum of 300 words in their answer, I just rambled on. Since I was the only one in the room, Teach checked in on me from time to time and courteously asked me how I was doing, and how much longer I needed. All in all it took me right around an hour to finish. The next day he came up to me in the hallway and said "We need to have a quick talk, can you meet me in my classroom NOW?"
YIKES, I was halfway between freaked out and all the way to frantic when I stammered that I'd be there in a couple minutes...after I went to the bathroom to either faint or urinate...or both! I finally summoned the courage to slither into his room, when he said "Take a seat, Benn!" He then said "Here's your paper!" and he practically slammed it down on the desk face down, saying "Well, turn it over!" I ever-so gingerly picked up the top edge of it, turned it over, and to my utter shock noticed a large magic-markered letter A with the + symbol after it! He was nearly as blown away by my reaction as I was by first glance of the grade.
He asked "How did you EVER get the idea of looking at Montana Wildhack as an Earthling instead of a Tralfamadorian? That's an observation I've never even given thought to, Benn! And, your other notions have my mind boggled about Billy Pilgrim and his plight, and so many other characterizations you've made!" I just sat there humbly, mainly because I was afraid if I opened my mouth I'd end up saying something that had absolutely nothing to do with any of those characters and I'd get busted. So, I just thanked him for that compliment; at which time he cleared his throat and admitted, as if confessing "You are the first person since I've been teaching who has ever received an A+ on my Final Exam!"
He picked up my A+ paper again and said " CONGRATULATIONS BENN, this will likely bump your Final Grade to either a High B or maybe even a Low A. I AM impressed!"
I thanked him and asked if I may be excused. I was, and, for some strange reason I found myself having to pee again!" Remember, I NEVER read a single full page of Slaughterhouse Five and I didn't want to stick around any longer...in case some other esoteric questions arose out of which I could not extricate myself through a heavy dose of B.S.
Perhaps you might understand how I began to like writing after that experience -- which ended on a much higher note than I'd ever imagined. I did not, however, write anything "officially" of note until 2000. They say "Write about that which you know most!" I had nearly 30 years of credit counseling experience under my belt when I wrote my first screenplay which I'm still attempting to turn into a motion picture. It is called "PAST DUE!" -- about a bill collector who steps WAY over the line in attempting to collect money from his debtors. And, along that same theme, I decided that when I left the credit counseling industry I was going to write a book that helped people get themselves out of debt, and, fast forward nearly a decade, penned "Escape from the Plastic Prison."
I am proud to say my first literary effort garnered me First Place Honors at the 2011 San Francisco Book Festival in the How-To category. That's the first book I'll tell you about below, and it will be followed by my other books in the order in which they were written; as well as info about a few screenplays and various other written treatments.
And, as the late great Paul Harvey would say at the end of every one of his radio bits "And now you know...the REST of the story!"
Curiosity getting the best of me, I decided to see if I could track down Mr. Sala, so that I might honor him for ultimately being the influence that made me think about actually becoming an author so many years later. As luck would have it I did find him (I won't say how or where) and have subsequently pointed him toward this web page. Small world, "literarily" speaking, isn't it?