So owing to my failure to pass sophomore English, and my foolish decision to not immediately repeat the course in summer school, I was required to take Junior English in the summer session between my junior and senior years at East High. What I hadn’t anticipated when I made the choice was my discovery of reading for pleasure. As it turned out, Junior English was devoted entirely to creative writing, and since my “awakening” I’ve always regretted not taking this course for an entire school year.
The primary instructor of Junior English was my homeroom teacher, now Mrs. Hess, so I felt a bit of a rapport, having been in her homeroom for every school day for three years. It turned out that I enjoyed the class very much, and having Mrs. Hess as the teacher helped greatly to make that so.
Having finally gotten started, I was reading a number of authors in those days; some good, some, in retrospect, not so much. I attempted War and Peace, and Wuthering Heights, but decided to put them aside for later. I read all of the James Bond novels, by Ian Fleming, and the violence-filled mysteries of Mickey Spillane, and a number of mysteries by an author named Carter Brown. These last were, I confess, initially chosen for the sexy cover pictures on the paperbacks, but surprisingly turned out to be quite appropriate for a 16-year-old; not in content, so much, but in reading level.
So I was somewhat familiar with the mystery novel, and when the assignment was given to “write a short story”, this was the genre I selected. I don’t recall the title, and I didn’t keep a copy, but the story itself was an old saw — a murder in an English manor house (Cretin Manor), with a number of suspects.
What I do recall was that in all likelihood it was absolutely dreadful. I also recall the effort I put into it. Realizing that I was required to lead the reader to the solution, rather than just announcing it on the final page, I spent a great deal of time attempting to insert various clues into the narrative. The exercise certainly gave me an appreciation for the effort and skill required to do what I had failed to do, to produce a good story.