Tuesday, September 08, 2020

I didn't want to be a novelist!

by Rick Blechta

I hope everyone has read the excellent posts by Donis and Tom about being a writer. My story is somewhat different.

Unlike probably everyone else who’s ever contributed to Type M, I never harboured a burning yen to be a writer. To be honest, I fell into it by accident. Allow me to explain.

Since November 11, 1958 I’d known I was destined to be a musician. The reason I can nail it down that precisely is it’s the date of my first piano lesson — and also the date I discovered I hated practising scales. (Also, November 11th is my sister's birthday, so that also helps me remember.)

I was a modest student at first, not really willingly practising every day the way I knew I should, but still really interested in music. Then I discovered Rock & Roll, and boy, was I off to the races! I just flat out connected with that music and found I could play it really well. I kept up with my piano lessons until right before my 13th birthday.

By the time I was 14, I had a band that eventually grew to 11 members including two horn players and five (count ’em, FIVE) singers. We were what's known as a show band and we really did put on a good show. Of course with that number of players, we were destined to not make much money, and the band imploded. My next band, which included several of the players from Band #1, was more modest. I did all the arranging and discovered I was also very good at that.

When it came time for university, I figured the best place to learn more about music in general, but also about arranging would be to go to a music school. I eventually graduated from McGill University in Montreal — long story how I wound up there, but suffice it to say there was a pretty redhead involved in that decision — with a Bachelor of Music in Education (always hedge one’s bets) and started another band with an eye to securing a record deal. This band eventually relocated to Toronto.

Sadly, we just missed on that goal even though the band was extraordinary. I tried once more with another group of musicians, and that also ultimately failed. 

Both attempts left me with some pretty substantial debts (and a lot of regrets), so I dusted off the old teaching degree and began to work in schools teaching bands. It was supposed to be for a year or two, so I could get my finances in order, but then, well, a family came along and it was 24 years before I managed to extricate myself from teaching.

However about seven years before that, I burned out as far as music went. I was teaching a full load five days a week, teaching privately and conducting Saturdays at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, and I just maxed out on music. 

This made me very unhappy and depressed. My wife told me I should find something else to occupy the creative part of my brain. “Maybe you should write something. You’ve always been good at that.”

I resisted at first, but one day, I sat down and began drafting a novel about a minor league baseball team. (I love baseball.) It didn’t go very far because I had no idea how to structure long-form fiction.

At that time, for recreation, I was tearing through the Dick Francis oeuvre and thought, Hey! I could do a similar thing, but use music instead of horse racing. 

I set out to write a short story. Seven months later I finished and realized that maybe I wasn’t suited to writing short stories because what I’d written was definitely not short.

The rest is a matter of record. I discovered I really enjoyed “messing around with words.” My creative side was satisfied and I could hold the fruits of my labour in my hands.

But it was all a happy accident. I’m still a musician, of course — and still hate practising scales —but I found another way to express myself and spend many happy hours messing around with words.

No comments: