One of my earliest surviving works of fiction is contained in a slim clothbound book titled The Lazy Scarecrow. I wrote it for a school assignment in 4th grade. Once a week a few of my schoolmates and I rode a bus to a place called the Learning Center, as part of the gifted student program. Each student in the program took three courses at the Learning Center during one semester of the school year, and one of the courses I chose was Creative Writing. The major project for the semester was to write your own story, which would be bound into a book.
I had been writing stories for as long as I knew how to write (since kindergarten), so this was a class and a project that I particularly enjoyed. We were given a list of basic story premises to choose from. The one I selected was a simple enough idea: Write a story about a lazy scarecrow.
Now, most students would probably have done the sensible thing and written a story about... well, a lazy scarecrow. You know, a scarecrow that some farmer puts in his field to scare the crows away, only the scarecrow is too darn lazy to do his job. And maybe how he learns not to be so lazy and how important his job is in protecting the farmer's valuable crops from those pesky crows. It seems unnecessary to explain it as I just did, but I do so to illustrate that this is not at all the story line I came up with. Not by a long shot.
One of my goals and constant challenges as a writer is to be half as creative and imaginative as I was as a child. What I did with this very simple story idea was to take it and transform it into some kind of apocalyptic science fiction epic. That was just how my mind worked, I guess. That kind of wild and unfettered imagination just came naturally to me as a child. It was certainly not the first time I had accomplished such a work of creative transformation of a simple and homey concept. A few years earlier, I would sometimes agree to play "house" with my kid sister, but I ended up turning the erstwhile domestic narrative (at least in my own mind) into... you guessed it... a science fiction epic. (In fact, that childhood fantasy later became the seed of one of my major fiction ideas in adulthood, for an as-yet-to-be-written novel.)
I began writing my lazy scarecrow story in the fall of 1980, and completed it at the end of the semester in January 1981. When the last day of class started, I had not yet completed the story, though I had written much of the draft. One of my classmates and/or the teacher (likely, both working together) had created the actual physical book, which basically consisted of two pieces of cardboard covered by cloth with an appropriately autumnal orange and brown pattern (see photo below). Inside were six sheets of light orange paper, on which I was to write and illustrate my opus.
The 12 pages consist of a title page (see photo at top), a "Prologue", five short stories (or chapters), and an "Epilogue". The stories were supposed to be loosely related, each story an episode in the same future history, stretching from "the year 2000 A.D." to (literally) the end of the world about a million years hence.
As I mentioned, when the last class started, I had not yet finished writing my great work. Actually, when the last class ended, I had still not finished it. When I left the classroom that day, I had committed the first two stories, or chapters, to the orange pages of the book. I had written quite a bit beyond that, though, on other sheets of paper. I believe I must have written the initial draft on those other sheets, then started transcribing my text into the book once it had been put together. However, I did not manage to transcribe the entire text before the last class was over.
While in the classroom, I used a variety of colored pencils to write the text of the book. I can tell exactly where I left off at the end of class that day because at the end of chapter two, the colored pencil stops, and the rest of the book (including the illustration at the bottom of that page) is in regular old gray pencil. (The title page and prologue are also in gray pencil.)
What happened was this: I left the text I had written on the loose sheets with the teacher, who used it to give me a grade for the course (if I remember correctly, I got an A). Then, riding the bus back to my elementary school, I took one of my regular pencils and continued adding words and pictures to the bound book, filling up the remaining pages with three additional chapters/stories, an epilogue, and accompanying illustrations. By the end of the day, I had filled up the book, and The Lazy Scarecrow was complete.
The curious thing is that the text I wrote after leaving class that day is, almost necessarily, not the same as the text I handed in to the teacher (except of course for the first two chapters). I only have a vague idea now as to what the remainder of the original story was like. I recall enough, however, to know that the text of the book, while it has some similarities to the original text, is quite different. Except for the first two chapters, the original text of The Lazy Scarecrow (which I believe was left incomplete) is among the many lost works of my childhood, which far outnumber the few that have survived.
In any case, the surviving work--which is of course the "official" text since it is what I committed to the pages of the book, even though the teacher never got to read the completed work--has remained a source of delight and inspiration to me well into adulthood. Just for example, in 2002 I recorded myself reading the story, set to a musical score that I performed on my synthesizer; in 2006, I named my first blog after the book (that blog no longer exists, though I saved a number of the best posts).
However, until now, I have never shared this childhood opus with anyone beyond a few friends and family members. And so here, now, I present the first publication of The Lazy Scarecrow, to be presented one chapter at a time (starting today with the prologue). This first edition will present only the text. I would like to scan the drawings for a subsequent online edition, but that will have to wait... for the future.
The Lazy Scarecrow
A very angry galactic empire, named Bill Vader, started sending meteors to Earth.
A farmer got so angry because of this. He told his son to grow enough corn to last a century.
But in 1998, bugs started to attack it. So the farmer told the empire to throw a large meteor on the field.
So the empire did it, and the farmer got real angry.
Next: The Lazy Scarecrow