A Writer’s Imagination is a Nurtured Gift

Jordan Dane

@JordanDane

One of our TKZ regulars reached out and sent me a photo of his Davy Crockett attire when he was a lad after he read my post – “Nostalgia time: What TV show from your childhood Influenced you?”Nice raccoon hat, Dave. Don’t shoot your eye out.

Remember when we were kids and a TV show could inspire adventure in your life where you imagined YOU were Davy Crockett. We didn’t need much to entertain ourselves. An empty cardboard box became a fortress or a robotic monster. Things that people discarded became whatever we imagined them to be. Entertainment was cheap.

Dave’s photo reminded me of all the things my family did as kids. I came from a big family of 5 siblings and 2 parents. We were all about the same age as kids, around a year or two apart, so we hung out together in “the hood.”

TKZs Dave Williams as Davy Crockett

Nice bike, Dave. You and I have clothes lines in common.

When I was Dave’s age in this photo, I loved my westerns and read every horse book I could find. As kids during our summers out of school, my sibs (2 brothers and 2 sisters) would leave our home after breakfast and we stayed out all day. We built forts from fallen tree limbs and old boards, searched for arrowheads, rescued wounded baby animals, or launched rotten fruit fights with our rivals. We lived in a rural setting outside San Antonio and didn’t have many neighbors, especially girls. We had to make due with boys as friends.

Photographer: Sarachit

When fireworks were in season, we changed our weapons of choice to include bottle rockets shot from empty Coke bottles and staged a major offensive with the neighbor kids. A turned over picnic table was our command bunker. My older brother (our General) thought he’d be invincible if he wore a heavily padded and hooded jacket so the bottle rockets would bounce off him. That worked…for awhile.

I stood at his side when he took aim at a neighbor boy standing in his yard two houses down. My big bro held his Coke bottle and I lit the fuse. When the rocket took off, it switched course and zeroed back on him – got caught in his hood – and his head turned into spiraling, scorching roman candle with the pungent stench of burning hair. Yes, he could’ve lost an eye, but a scorched head is funny to a kid and gave him bragging rights that he survived. My older brother later served a career in the US Air Force and even became a base commander. Needless to say, stories from our “hood,” stayed in the “hood.”

During long summers, we had time on our hands and plenty of imagination. Even then I had a passion for writing and I would write parody scripts based on some of our favorite TV shows, complete with mock commercials. The Tremenderosa was born, replete with sound effects and recorded on audio cassette. My siblings would act out the parts, we’d experiment with sound effects and had a blast making our own audio recorded productions. Later, when I had access to my high school video equipment, we would do class projects with better equipment and my sisters and I did our own production of JABBERWOCKY, a nonsensical poem of made up words by Lewis Carroll that inspired us. My sisters and I still know the words.

My dad wasn’t allowed to have pets as a kid. His mother didn’t approve, but he made up for what he didn’t have by seeing his kids had a menagerie of odd animals in our backyard. We charged admission to the kids in our neighborhood, just to see our ZOO. We nursed wild animals back to health for release into the wild and we raised goats, dogs, horses, fish, exotic birds (a Toucan and various parrots), an iguana and baby crocodile, rabbits, raccoons, lizards and snakes, and various breeds of exotic chickens and guinea fowl (nasty buggers).

Wikimedia Commons

We never wanted for anything. We didn’t have a lot of money, but my parents made sure we attended private Catholic schools, had food on the table and nice clothes. At Christmas, we had all the excesses – including a weird metal roller coaster set up in our front yard and a zip line from a tall tree that dropped us at the mailbox at the street. We had toys, but we still preferred roaming the acres around us with our neighborhood “gangs.”

When we got a Ouija Board, all of us got into it and conjured ghosts we thought would scare the others. Halloween was a great time to scare the neighbor kids and we set up our house with sounds and things that rustled through the brush as kids would make the long trek up our driveway for candy. They would rarely make it to the front door. My young bro would rig wires to make things move across the porch and zip out from nowhere to attack them by air. Once they started to run, the rest of us would chase them in the dark, screaming. We got to keep the candy they didn’t stick around for.

My dad fancied himself a gourmet cook, even though my mom always made better homemade food. But that meant dad was always trying new stuff, like pig roasting or goat over a fire pit. We were always trying weird foods. Again, it helped us become adventuresome and willing to try new things.

All of these memories inspired my imagination when I became a writer. I didn’t have to rely on scary movies to get the adrenaline pumping. I created my own horror show on the front lawn with neighbor kids as guinea pigs. We learned stealth and war time strategy from our firework assaults and as girls, my sisters and I learned about boys and how they thought and acted.

My childhood became a treasure trove of inspirations for me as a writer that I still draw upon. One of my greatest joys is to relive those years with my siblings since we are blessed to still have our parents with us. When we go on our annual family retreats, we still play jokes on each other and play games and tell stories around a campfire. I’ve been blessed with life experiences that fuel my passion to write. How about you?

For Discussion:

1.) Share some of the childhood stories that still inspire you as a writer.

2.) When you write a particularly scary or dramatic scene, what experiences do you draw from to make those scenes real?

 

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About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

16 thoughts on “A Writer’s Imagination is a Nurtured Gift

  1. Great post, Jordan! I’m humbled that you used my photos, but it sounds like you came from the same type of family I did. I was the oldest of five kids, with three brothers and one unfortunate sister. We made forts out of junk, too, but then we lucked out. Down the road from us, which was rural in its day, the city began clearing a large tract of land for homes and such. They piled up acres of cut logs and left them for a year. Wonderful stacks of logs, with tunnels, alleys, even canyons as far as the eye could see. I would be horrified now if my grand kids played around that stuff, but for us is was paradise. If we had gotten hurt in there, they’d have never found us.

    I, too spent eight years in the Air Force, but I didn’t get to be a commander. I was enlisted, spent a year in Korea, and came back to become a recruiter during the Vietnam war. Tough gig.

    Imagination was the key for us, too. We had no money for fancy toys – if there were any to be had. The rifle in my Davy Crockett photo was a cap gun I got one Christmas. Along with the coonskin cap. Wish I still had both of those. What I do have, however, is every camera I’ve ever owned since the Kodak Brownie Hawkeye I got for Christmas when I was twelve. They are sitting on shelves here in my office. I later became a photographer and can’t bear to part with any of them.

    Thanks again for my moment of fame.

    • We are kindred spirits, Dave. I can really relate to your childhood. (I often wondered how we survived.) Thanks for your permission to feature your,cool pics. That clothes line triggered memories. Priceless.

  2. Hi Jordan,
    I LOVE this post. Your childhood sounds idyllic.

    My own memories tend to run on the darker side and sharing them would not contribute to the joy of your post. But they provide writing fodder of another kind. The loneliness and isolation that came with being the kid down the block who looked at families like yours with envy, helps me write characters who for various reasons are on the outside looking in.

    Now, I’m blessed with a wonderful husband who has a HUGE family and two kids of my own, so I got my wish after all. I love hearing my husband’s stories. He grew up with five siblings and enjoyed a childhood filled with adventures like yours.

    Thanks for this!

    • We would’ve made you part of our “gang,” Sheri, if you wanted to be. We liked getting to know new kids.

      Back then, kids didn’t have anonymous social media to be cruel. If we had differences, it was confronted face to face & generally with cause. Since there were no clicks (just a mixed group of kids), we didn’t gang up on anyone unless it was to attack their forts for fun. It’s hard to explain why that would be fun, but it was.

      I’m sorry your childhood memories had a darker side but it sounds like you & your husband have created a wonderful childhood for your children. Kudos. It takes courage to recognize the potential pitfalls from our formative years & be willing to change our outlook in the way we choose to live & raise our families. Good for you & thanks for sharing.

  3. I knew fear. It developed in me big-time when a friend’s mother took us to see The Thing (From Another World) on his birthday. The original The Thing–there have been two remakes–really made us believe that there were beings out there who were coming down to (a) attack us, (b) eat us, and/or (c) were superior to us because they were soul-less, empty creatures who never experienced pain or handicap. (By the way, by comparison, I think the The Thing remakes are silly and . . . well, silly).

    After seeing the original The Thing, I was filled with an unexplainable fear. In those days, the word smiths had not yet taken over. In my childhood, we had flying saucers, space monsters, ray guns, the unexplainable horrors of cosmic rays, atomic bombs, mind-control, and so many other terrifying things. Then the word guys came along, and we suddenly had UFOs, extraterrestrial aliens, weapons of mass destruction, ESP, and all sorts of strange words that try to explain the wars with the outer space monsters.

    But I became afraid. At the time we saw that movie, we lived in the home economics teaching apartment of a high school. On-campus housing was short in the aftermath of the WWII veterans returning to their jobs, as the federal government was trying to absorb so many returning men and women. So in order for me to get to our living room, I had to run down a long, usually darkened hallway, climb up a flight of stairs, and run down another darkened hallway, to get to our front door. The possibility that my parents weren’t home was always a scary thought–then I’d be alone until they returned because I certainly didn’t want to reverse the process of going through darkened hallways simply to get outside where there were people. Earth people. Earthlings.

    That fear stayed with me for many years.

    Now, when I see The Thing (From Another World) on TV, the electronic music and the terror of seeing The Thing walking down the darkened hallway toward the gathered few defenders of earth, I still get chills and the occasional shiver.

    It is the same fear I try to instill in my series character as she, an all-American, petite redheaded woman, pursues the unexplained in her adventures. So far, I haven’t had her confront a space guy or space monster, yet. But those meetings are coming.

    And when they do, I will go to YouTube, find that electronic music, and then we will show the world that the space monsters and space guys can be beaten. But I’ll have the lights on when I write the scenes.

    • Omg, Jim. I sensed your childhood fear from your writing. *shiver* A kid’s mind is fertile ground for scary stuff. I remember that we thought my dad’s remote & dark shower was haunted. To this day, none of us like using it. GROWN ADULTS.

      Our main bathroom had a bricked-in/outdoor open-air shower that my architect dad designed in our house. It’s a cool concept until you apply a child’s imagination to it. We have tons of stories about that shower until dad finally enclosed the top.

      But your comment & childhood memories would be an amazing resource for scary suspense. Wow. Thanks for sharing.

      • I know what you mean about the shower. My in-laws had one in the basement that I hated to use. Growing up, however, we just had an outhouse until the fourth grade. Cold in winter, dark at night and full of spiders in the summer. Years later, as a pastor in a rural Missouri church, I visited a home that still used an outhouse, and it brought all those memories back. This one, though, was wall papered with calendars from the year I was born. That part was fun.

  4. Great post, Jordan. Funny how tiny, seemingly insignificant memories from childhood stay with us and come bubbling up decades later.

    As a little kid, I was blessed/cursed with a wild imagination and had a terrible fear of the dark and snakes. In fact, there were snakes under my bed every night just waiting to crawl up to get me. When I reached junior high age, I’d pretty much gotten over that.

    Then I saw a live performance by a young, up-and-coming comedian named Bill Cosby (before he was on I Spy) who talked about SNAKES! under HIS bed when he was a kid. He mentioned sticking one toe out from the covers, hoping the snake wouldn’t bite, maybe just give it a little snaky lick. His solution–spread jello on the floor so the snakes couldn’t get him. His folks must have been furious when they got home and went slipping and sliding in his bedroom.

    I absolutely loved how he used humor to combat childhood terror. I thought then what a great father he would have been for a fearful kid with a vivid imagination.

    Ah, well, sigh.

    • Then he grew up to be many women’s nightmare, worse than snakes. Scary.

      Thanks, Debbie. You are not alone on snakes. I’m glad they don’t have wings. *shivers*

  5. Sounds like you had a great childhood, Jordan. Though my family experiences are different, I come from a close-knit family, too. I recently lost my father, and I cherish those childhood memories more than ever. My father was like a big kid, and I can still remember him taking me sled riding down the big hill in front of our house when in was in grade school (in the days when there was no traffic whatsoever on our street). Then when we got too tired or too cold, we’d go inside where my mother would have hot cocoa and warm cookies waiting for us. In the summer time when we’d go to the beach, my father and I would swim way out into the ocean until my mother wouldn’t be able to see us and would get frantic. Oh, to be a kid again.

    In answer to your second question, I keep a journal of top ten lists. (I’ll give you three guesses to name the author who got me started doing this. Her initials are A.S.) Some of my lists have way more than ten items. However, I like to brainstorm things like the ten scariest experiences I’ve ever had. I also have lists for dozens of other topics (e.g. happiest experiences, saddest experiences, thrilling experiences, romantic experiences, erotic experiences, disappointing experiences, disturbing experiences, interesting travel experiences, interesting experiences at school, interesting experiences with coworkers, interesting babysitting experiences, interesting holiday experiences, favorite memories with best friends, and so on). I have some separate lists for childhood experiences and adult experiences. For me, lists are the wellspring of creativity. These lists are always handwritten. Some start out on cocktail napkins and later get transcribed to a journal.

    I enjoyed your post!

    • Thanks for sharing, Joanne, You reminded me of all the creative writing & projects we did as kids. I wish we had kept better care of them. Gold mines.

  6. You and I had similar childhoods, Jordan. Love that you shared your childhood experiences. My brother and I played kick the can with the neighborhood kids till the streetlights blazed on, and then we’d all scatter for home.

    The one thing I disliked was Barbie dolls. I’d strip them, cut their hair, tear off their legs, arms, and head, and bury them. If I didn’t turn out to be a crime writer, some might worry about that childhood memory. Hahahaha.

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