Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sometimes You Get To Feel Optimistic About The Future

John Ramsey Miller

A friend of mine called me last week and said an old friend of his gave him a short story written by this friend’s 14-year-old son. He thought it was very good, and asked if I would read it and see if I agreed. Kids need encouragement, and I always try to offer an eye and encouragement if I can. We’ve all read drek by the bucket load, and since I have free time here and there, I said sure. We’ve all seen these stories written by young people, and mostly they don’t amount to much. I mean they show some glimmer of promise or they don’t, but judging the potential of a young person by a few pages doesn’t mean much. The 7 pages were single-spaced, and printed on both sides of the pages, and in blue ink. When I got them, I was working on building a structure on the place, so I folded the envelope and stuck in into my back pocket. I forgot about the pages, it was hot, I sweated, and the ink ran some.

Two days later, I finally unfolded the pages and read them, and they were excellent. This kid needs to mature, but I believe he has what it takes. Opens on a rainy night in an alley––a man with a freshly killed (huge) corpse lying on asphalt. Here’s an exert:

“He was here. It was done. Nothing left to do except run. He fumbled with the gun for a moment, wondering whether to dispose of it, or carry it with him. He shoved down in the pocket of his gray trench coat. As he pivoted away from the body and turned onto the sidewalk, he reached into his left coat pocket for his cigarettes. The pack was drenched, but inside there were dry ones left. He stepped underneath the awning in front of a closed-down pawnshop and fished his lighter out of his pants pocket, with some difficulty in maneuvering around his trench coat. He attempted to light the cigarette, but failed. He was out of lighter fluid. He reached into his other pockets looking for matches, but could find none. It was all right, because he was trying to cut back.”

I forget when I was reading that a fourteen-year old wrote it. The short story is well done and entertaining, but mostly it’s exciting to find a young person who thinks about something other than video games and who seems to have been called to tell stories. The kid is thoughtful and already understands character, economy of words, how to set a mood, and he plays his story play out like fishing line …with a nice sharp hook at the end. Yes, it is amateurish in many respects, but there’s a lot of talent there and I am sure this young man will evolve and mature and add something to the world that is hungry for new voices and stories.

How many of us have discovered a young voice and offered encouragement? And how many of these offerings have we had to trudge through to find one that makes it all worthwhile.


  1. This young author has a distinct voice and a crispness in his choice of words well beyond his years. It wouldn't take much editing and clean-up to make this pop. I know a few professional writers who could learn from his example. He's obviously a natural talent. It's no different than watching a young kid walk onto the athletic field and swing a bat or throw a ball--it only takes a few seconds to know he's a natural.

    Thanks for sharing, John.

  2. I love stuff like that. As a church youth & children's worker for over 20 years I have spent most of my energy trying motivate kids to greatness. For most part, the hundreds of faces pass in and out of my life without leaving a life changing impact on me. Out the pack of hundreds over the years certain individuals emerge that make it all worth while.

    One such individual recently took up a challenge to create a graphic novel from one of my stories. I've seen some of her work and all I can say is, wow. In a few years you folks may see some amazing work coming out of Alaska in that genre.

    The next generation of great artists is sitting in school right now waiting to discover and be discovered.

  3. Wonderful story, John! Last year I had a rewarding experience doing a critique for a high school student who was writing a short story as part of his senior project. He also showed talent, and put a tremendous amount of work into the project. I expect to see his name on the bookshelvelves (or movie screens) within a few years!