How Tom Petty Helped Me Become an Author
I first started writing when I was a teen in the 80’s. I loved to read romances, so from the very start my stories were romantic tales that fell somewhere between romantic comedies and epic melodramas and daily serials.
These stories always starred myself and my friends as the heroines paired with whoever our celebrity crushes were at the time. This was pre-personal computers, pre-internet, so they were written longhand in notebooks. They were usually written with my friends, each of us taking turns writing different scenes or chapters. We were writing fanfiction, although we didn’t have that name for it then.
We spend hours and hours talking about what should happen next in these stories, long conversations on the phone, when we were still bound to a wall with a phone cord. We wrote them during sleepovers and in chemistry class and in study halls. (Is that even a term in schools these days?) And then we entertained, not just those of us who wrote the stories, but our other friends who couldn’t wait to see what was happening to their fictional selves.
One of my best friends, Julie Cohen, was my usual co-writer. We tended to have crushes on the same type of celebrities, primarily musicians. We wrote many things together, but the one story we loved the most was about The Beatles.
Even being 80’s kids, we were obsessed with them. She loved Paul. I loved George. We listened to their music constantly. We watched their movies over and over. And we created our own world where we met them and, of course, fell madly in love.
But as we wrote, we quickly learned that endless pages of being adored by our respective Beatles was, well–pretty boring. Something more needed to happen. We needed drama.
Enter Tom Petty.
In one particular part of the story, my beloved George reconnected with his ex, which of course left my character devastated. So while at a party at Bob Dylan’s house, my character met Tom. Hurt by George and charmed by Tom’s southern drawl, fictional Kathy left the party with Tom—and I’m sure you can imagine all the drama that ensued after that.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was learning how to write a novel.
With all those hours of talking about the story, I was learning to plot.
To keep my friends coming back to see what happened next, I was learning pacing.
When we realized the story was getting dull, I was learning that a story needed stuff to happen. It needed conflict. (i.e Tom Petty)
And I was learning that the story needed to come to that point where the reader thought all was lost, and there was no way for the hero (George) and the heroine (me) to ever fix things and come back together. I was learning how to create “the black moment.”
With my silly, little stories about rock stars, I was learning how to write a complete and satisfying story. And I can thank Tom Petty for playing a huge part in that. (Along with The Beatles too.)
But Tom Petty’s influence didn’t just stop there. He has kept me company as I wrote other stories, and eventually, the books that would get published. I make a soundtrack for each book I’m writing and I listen to them over and over as I work. Tom Petty’s music has been on a majority of those soundtracks, his lyrics inspiring me and helping me feel the emotions that I want to show in my characters.
So thank you, Mr. Petty (although after our time together at Bob’s party, I feel like I can call you Tom.) Thank you for adding plenty of drama and conflict to my early writing. Thank you for inspiring my creativity with your creativity. You’ve been the soundtrack to my life for almost as long as I can remember and you will be missed, but never forgotten.
***As a small aside, Julie and I wrote our “Beatles Book” around 1986-87. A year later in 1988, George Harrison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan came together with Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison to create The Traveling Wilburys. Who knows, maybe in some strange, creative cosmic way the energy of our story made its way to them across the universe. Not likely, of course, but still an interesting theory. And it makes for a good story, right?
RIP TOM PETTY and thank you so much.
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