Origins (Part 3): The Westinboro Chronicles

When I was in 6th grade, my mom borrowed from the library a worn VHS tape of the 1967 version of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton (among many others). I watched only about five minutes before I was a bit completely lost, but my mom helpfully explained the plot to me—the younger sister can’t get married until the older sister gets married first.

Sure, she left out several major plot points, namely that the older sister was the titular “shrew”, but that tiny description got my little writer-brain churning away on a story idea. Soon I’d asked my dad for some computer time (the only computer was in my dad’s home office), and he opened up a new text document in a program called WordStar (MS-DOS users, hollaback now).

Children these days couldn’t possibly comprehend the awesomeness of WordStar. To say it was a basic word processor would be an overstatement; WordStar was a black screen with gray text. To make something bold or italic, you had to use the program’s styling language—B^ for bold, Y^ for italics, etc. When you saved a file, the program automatically created a backup with a .BAK extension, and, if by some horrible misfortune, you accidentally opened up the .BAK file… well, you were out of luck, because the whole thing would lock up, and you’d have to press-and-hold the power button to restart when Dad wasn’t looking.

Wordstar was sheer awesomeness in the early 1990s

But I digress.

I made the jump from handwriting my stories to typing them into WordStar, and a whole new world of long-form writing opened up for me. At that time, my typing was of the hunt-and-peck variety, but that didn’t stop me from pounding away on the keyboard to get the story out. I quickly learned to type with the first two fingers on each hand, plus my right thumb for the space bar. (Eventually, I took a “Keyboarding” class at school in which I learned to type from Mavis Beacon like a good 90s student, but, for a very long time, I was a four-fingered typing machine.)

My story started out simply. Princess Candace, the younger of two sisters, was in love with a prince named Phillip of Thialonca; her sister Princess Colleete seemed to be a spinster… little did anyone know that she was secretly engaged to the stable boy, Reilly. #drama

Candace and Colleete live in a kingdom called Westinborro, which shares borders with Thialonca, Yanawey, and… some other places I can’t remember. I had hand-drawn maps and everything, but… WordStar and MS Paint aren’t compatible with my MacBook. Also, I don’t have a 3.5″ floppy drive to get the files off the disk anyway. (Sidebar: Hey, remember when it was a “disk” and not a “disc”?)

Back to the story.

Colleete and Reilly sneak away to get married. Candace and Phillip sneak off to get married. Lord Calvin, a dignitary from their own kingdom, shows up, wanting to marry Colleete. He’s a bit of a mouth-breather, but doesn’t seem too evil at first. When Colleete refuses to marry him, he is mortified at the rejection and kidnaps Princess Candace to get revenge. Phillip and Reilly ride off to save her. They do. The king and queen are so happy to have Candace back that they agree to let her marry Prince Phillip, and they knight Reilly. Colleete admits that she secretly married him, and Candace admits that she already married Phillip. Calvin gets banished.

Also, I think both princesses are pregnant at the end. I forget. Anyway, that one was about 20 pages long. I was so proud of myself for finishing the story, but, somehow, it didn’t feel finished.

So, I wrote a sequel about what Lord Calvin did next. Spoiler: he moved to Yanawey, married Princess Maure, imprisoned her, and (cue the dramatic music) took over the throne as King Calvin. He then proceeded to become a horrifying villain, complete with domestic violence, rape (evidenced by the resulting pregnancy), and murder. Seventh grade was a dark time for me, and the story reflected that (and then some).

And then I wrote another sequel about Colleete and Reilly’s children and their adventures… and a fourth sequel about Candace and Phillip’s children and their adventures.

I called the series The Westinborro Chronicles. There was a Part V that needed to be written, but, by the time I’d written the first four, I’d outgrown the story. I was in ninth grade, and had moved on to other, more contemporary topics. Also, Part IV had left all three kingdoms on the brink of what would have been their version of a world war, and I didn’t know how to write about battles. I also knew that one or two of the main characters were going to have to die, and I didn’t want that to happen.

So… I simply stopped writing it.

Altogether, the series was well over 100 pages, which, for a preteen was pretty crazy. It wasn’t a great story. It wasn’t well-written. I spent a lot of time describing their clothing (lots of gowns and tunics), and I distinctly remember a sword fight that had this line: “The swords clashed and clanged.” YIKES.

But, lest we judge little me too harshly, we should remember that there was no Google or Wikipedia for me back then to look up actual sword-fighting terminology. I think when I needed to write a sword fight, I probably just pictured the scene in The Princess Bride where the Man in Black and Inigo Montoya fight at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity and tried to describe what I could remember.

You seem a decent fello. I'd hate to die.
You seem a decent fellow. I’d hate to kill you.

Nonetheless, I learned A LOT about writing from working on The Westinborro Chronicles for those four years, and some of those lessons have stuck with me:

  • If you don’t keep going, you’ll never find out what happens next.
  • If you don’t finish, you’ll regret it.
  • I love writing.

I ended up attending a small liberal arts college and earned my bachelor of arts degree in writing and graphic design. I’ve been out of college for nearly twelve years, and I haven’t been much of a writer in that time. The stories haven’t stopped, of course. I’ve been starting and plotting out stories since I was a child. Just because I ended up using the graphic design side of my degree first didn’t stop my writing mind from crafting dozens—maybe hundreds—of stories in my head. Most never made it to a page, though a page or two or ten sometimes accumulated in a text document before the busyness of life took me away from it. I keep coming back to writing stories over and over.

What was it that Charlotte Brontë wrote in Jane Eyre when Jane, a strong and brilliant woman, had agreed to become a teacher at a lowly village school?

St John Rivers: What will you do with all your fine accomplishments?
Jane Eyre: I will save them until they’re wanted. They will keep.

I think all of this time, I have been saving the “writing me”, and I’m ready to find out if it has kept.

† Well, maybe there was Google and/or Wikipedia back then, but we only had dial-up access to the Internet, and that was only to download our email.