June 6, 2022

KEEP MOVING, DON’T STOP by David S. Pederson

KEEP MOVING, DON’T STOP by David S. Pederson

One question I’m often asked is how I got started writing and when. That’s a good question, but I think the better question may be, why didn’t I ever stop writing, after so many rejection letters over so many years.  Believe me I thought about it, and I did stop writing a few times.  But the words of a New York City Police Department officer that I met in the Port Authority bus terminal many years ago always came back to me, Keep moving, don’t stop, and that doesn’t just apply to my writing, it applies to my life.  I didn’t know it at the time, but those words came back to guide me on many occasions in my life. 

My early childhood was fairly normal, if there is such a thing as a normal childhood.  I played hide-and-seek, and Red Rover, I watched TV, and played with my stuffed animals, but I never, ever dreamed of being a writer. I used to want to be a flight attendant as a kid, because I’d get to travel and wear a uniform. I set up chairs on either side of an aisle and served coffee, tea, or milk to my stuffed animals. I also thought it would be fun to be a chef, and I envied my cousin Linda and her Easy Bake Oven.

And a few years later, when I discovered Elvis, well, I wanted to be an actor and a singer just like him. I even tried dying my blond hair black. It was not pretty against my pasty white complexion. 

So, as a child I wanted to be a flight attendant, a chef, and an actor, but despite our dreams and ambitions, life has a way of working out differently, doesn’t it?  I grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin with my Mom and Dad, two sisters and my brother, after moving there from Colorado, where I was born. When I was about ten, my family moved across town, and I had to start at a new school in fourth grade, where I knew absolutely no one.  I wore thick glasses, was very non-athletic, self-conscious, shy and overweight.

I was miserable to say the least, and I was bullied to the point I started skipping school. With few friends to play hide and seek and red rover with at that point, I turned to reading books, and that in turn led to writing.  I began composing short stories and poems about faraway places I’d only heard about or saw in the movies, funny situations that happened to me, and me as a thinner, more athletic, popular kid.  Then one day, I read one of my stories aloud in class for an English assignment.  It was about a bad day I had when I mistook my sister’s pimple cream for toothpaste, which to a ten or eleven-year-old is hilarious, and so I got laughs and some acceptance.  I thought, yes, this is my way in!

Shortly after that I discovered school plays, and I started acting in them, and I found acceptance there, too.  And so, I put my writing away and forgot about it. But then, the summer I turned 13, I went over the handlebars of my bike, and my head collided with a light pole.  I woke up in the hospital, the left side of my face and my eye bandaged and swollen. They thought at first, I would lose my eye.  And apparently the guys carrying my stretcher dropped me on my head, too.  My friends say that explains a lot about the way I am!  It was a long, slow recovery which left me with an awesome scar, and while I was laid up, with little else to do to pass the time (after all this was pre-internet) I started writing in my journal once more, and I started composing poetry and short stories again.  I kept moving this time and didn’t stop, not for long, anyway.

A couple years later I entered high school.  I grew a few inches, I lost weight, I got contact lenses and I came out - of my shell, that is.  I joined the school’s magazine staff and I got my writing published in it, and I found that people liked it!  I joined the high school theater troupe, and the choir, and I kept moving, and life was better.  And I found, though I sucked at math and algebra, I excelled at English. My high school English teacher had us read and act out parts of “To Kill a Mockingbird”, and I was hooked.  It was then that I decided to write my first novel, on our old family typewriter. Not surprisingly, my first attempt sucked. It was so bad I didn’t even try to submit it to a publisher, but I didn’t quit, either. I kept writing.  

And finally, at age 18, I also came out to my mom. It didn’t go very well at first, but she didn’t kick me out of the house, We just didn’t talk about it again. Being Gay was just something that wasn’t discussed back then. It wasn’t on TV, except for the television shows Soap and Dynasty - do you remember Billy Crystal on Soap, and the character of Steven Carrington on Dynasty? Ah, Steven Carrington, he was Gay, then he was bi, then he was straight, then he was Gay again, then his partner was murdered – I was confused, but I loved it!

Gays weren’t in the movies much back then either. Certainly not in a positive light, nor in books, but I knew it was a part of me, and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t fix me, because I eventually realized I wasn’t broken, just different. My Mom and my entire family finally realized that, too, and I think they’ve grown to love my husband Alan as much as they love me. Sometimes I think even more! They’ve come to accept us as a couple, two people who love each other that just happen to be of the same sex.

And as an adult, I’ve tried to write books that show some people who just happen to be Gay, not Gay people, if that makes sense, and hopefully if a young person reads them, my books will show that it’s okay to be who you are. That’s something I never had as a youth, and something there just can’t be too much of.

After school I moved to Door County, Wisconsin for a job with Amity Leather, and then I was transferred to upstate NY, to a tiny little town called Monticello, in the Catskills which was not a great place for a gay twenty-three-year-old single man! But seriously, I do have fond memories of my time there. 

So, life was good, but then, on a trip back from WI one night, my flight was late, and so I missed the last bus of the evening back to Monticello.  I was stuck until morning in the New York Port Authority bus terminal, which, back in the eighties, was not a good place to be.  I was a young, naive 24-year-old at that time, so I asked a police officer what I should do, and his reply was, of course, the now infamous line, keep moving, don’t stop.  He also mentioned staying off the top floor. I took all his advice and made it through that long night weary and exhausted, but alive and un-mugged, and very happy to board that morning bus to upstate New York!   I still wonder, though, what was on that top floor. I guess I’ll never know!

After I left New York, I landed in a little town called Worcester in Massachusetts for a couple of years, and then I finally moved back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to work at the Amity headquarters in West Bend.  And all that time I kept writing, and I kept getting rejected by publisher after publisher.

Back in Milwaukee I put down some roots, and I discovered gay country dancing where I met some great people. Finally, I had friends, people who shared my ideals, people who were gay, or not, but liked me, even though I sucked at country dancing!  And, after so many rejections, I gave up on my writing once and for all, or so I thought.

Besides, I had other interests now, like country dancing, and dating. After all, I was finally in the big city!  But then, one night, leaving the country bar, I was brutally assaulted by four men, and their attack on me put me in the hospital.  I was gay bashed. Because of that night and what they did to me, I have a plastic plate in my head, a lump on my skull, and a big horseshoe shaped scar. But worse than that, I was afraid, and I thought about not going back to that country dance bar, ever again.  And once more I had a very long, slow recovery ahead of me.

 So, while I convalesced, I took up my writing again, finished another novel which got rejected again. But those words of that police officer came back to me, keep moving, don’t stop.  And so I kept at it, kept submitting, and I also eventually faced my fears and I did go back to that country bar. And one night not long after that, a handsome chap asked me to waltz, and so I did. And though I know I stepped on his feet, he asked me again a few dances later.  Over twenty-seven years have now gone by and we’re still dancing, even if it’s just in our kitchen, and I no longer step on his feet, much.  

Along the way my job with Amity Leather ended when the company went bankrupt, and I took up Property Management. And then after that, I started a new career at a place called the Boston Store Furniture Gallery in Brookfield, Wisconsin.  I took a chance on 100% commission sales, because taking risks means we grow, and we gain confidence, something I’ve always lacked. And surprisingly, I was quite successful at it.

But then, life got even better. In 2015, my book, Death Comes Darkly, was finally published by Bold Strokes Books, and I was over the moon.  Because even though that first book I wrote so many years ago truly did suck, I kept moving and didn’t stop, I kept writing, and I was glad.  And then, a year later, my second book, “Death Goes Overboard”, was published, a dream come true! 

Ah, but then, in 2016, as I was preparing to marry that man whose feet I had stepped on all those years ago, I went in for a routine physical.  But it turns out it wasn’t routine. I was diagnosed with prostate cancer that had spread to the margins.  I had some quick and serious decisions to make, but I knew from day one that I must keep moving and not stop. So, two months after our wedding I underwent surgery to have my prostate removed and then endured 36 radiation treatments followed by two years of hormone therapy. As of this writing my cancer is in remission. Men, please get your prostates checked regularly, starting at least at age 45 if not sooner. I was only fifty-four when I was diagnosed.

And yes, through it all I found solace and comfort in writing, something I’ve always turned to when life hands me lemons, as they say.  And I plan to keep moving and not stop.  And so, I’m grateful for my life, the good and the bad, because all of it combined brought me where I am today.

So that’s a very long answer to how I got started writing and why I’ve never stopped, for long anyway, and hopefully never will.

 

My goal, always, is to entertain, to inspire, and to encourage. And so I say to you, keep moving, don’t stop, and thanks for reading.