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September 15, 2010

Don Calame: What If I Couldn't Be a Writer?

Posted by jordana
Don Calame, author of SWIM THE FLY, tells what some of his fallback careers, say, "Superman". And "cowboy". Yesterday, BEAT THE BAND, the sequel to SWIM THE FLY was released, and if you read on you'll find some of Calame's inspiration for the new book. Hint: It may or may not (you'll see!) have stemmed from some of those original career choices, even if they didn't pan out as planned. 

Writing is my idea of a dream job and I feel incredibly lucky and blessed to be able to do it.

But what if I couldn’t be a writer?
I get asked this question every once in a while during school visits and each time I’ve given a different answer.
“I’d be a boxer,” I said to one group of students. Because when I was a kid I absolutely loved the movie Rocky (I’m incredibly suggestible that way, which makes me the ideal audience for product placement in films).
Of course, I weighed about nine pounds back then and no matter how hard I trained, how many stairs I climbed, or how many raw eggs I drank, I just couldn’t put on any weight (I wish I could say the same thing now).
I bought all sorts of boxing magazines, searching for what my weight class would be when I went in for my professional weigh-in. Sadly, I realized I couldn’t even qualify for Pinweight (which is, as it turned out, a female weight class anyway) and so, I had to give up the dream and try to pursue other things.
“I’d be a lawyer, like Atticus Finch,” I told another group of students, because that novel haunted me when I read it in school (and, as I said, I’m incredibly suggestible). I thought I’d be one of those upstanding lawyers who would fight for truth, justice, and the American way. (Okay, I admit it, I also wanted to be Superman but I never really considered that as a “real” job).
“A veterinarian, a hockey player, a cowboy, a dog trainer, a video game designer, a baker, a photographer.” All these possibilities have crossed my mind at one time or another.
And then, there was the one fantasy job that trumped them all:
Rock and roll star.
As long as I can remember I’ve always enjoyed listening and playing music.
Okay, that’s not completely true. I didn’t particularly care for playing the trombone in fourth grade (I can still remember the numbing buzz on my lips and the sweet fusty smell of that brass mouthpiece after the mandatory half-hour practice sessions).
And I never could master the necessary two-hands-doing-two-separate-things technique of the piano.
It wasn’t until I picked up the guitar at fifteen that I actually found an instrument I could—if not master—then at least play without causing my mother to bang on the ceiling with a broom stick.
And so, in high school, my friends and I formed a band called The Spiroketes. I believe the name was my idea and came from our Health textbook. In case you don’t know, spirochetes are the bacteria that cause syphilis. I figured if we swapped out the “ch” for a “k” it would look way cooler. Never mind what any of our potential “groupies” would think about what the name might imply. This was rock and roll.


Suffice it to say, the band never made it out of high school, though we did manage to pull off winning the school’s Battle of the Bands competition, but mostly because we brought in a couple of ringers who could actually play their instruments.
The nice thing is, when I was racking my brains to come up with a storyline for BEAT THEBAND (the companion novel/sequel to SWIM THE FLY) I remembered this band experience and how my friends and I had no clue what we were doing beyond wanting to be rock and roll stars. It proved to be fertile ground for some nice humiliating situations to place my characters in.
And so, as it turns out, no experience or shattered dream job is ever completely wasted. Because you can always turn it into your next novel.
--- Don Calame