In 1986, my parents decided to move from Riverside, CA (an hour east of Los Angeles) to Hesperia, CA (a desert town an hour and a half northeast of Los Angeles). Technically, we were moving from a bigger city to a smaller city, but in terms of my schooling it was quite the opposite. In Riverside I went to a small, private school (a religious school, at that – go figure). Then we moved to the small desert town of Hesperia; but I joined the big, scary world of public school. I was in seventh grade.
So : I was the new kid in a small-town junior high, I was chubby, and I wore thick glasses that were too big for my face. Oh, and my school had no lockers to spare, so I had to carry all seven periods’ worth of books around in a backpack all day. To say I was not popular was an understatement (the way I was teased in junior high is its own blog post, I assure you).
By eighth grade I managed to make a couple of friends, one of whom I’m happy to say I’m still friends with to this day.
Eighth grade was also the year I had Advanced English with Mr. Quarles. I’ve mentioned before how I started reading Stephen King in the fifth grade, and by eighth grade I was devouring books left and right. I had never really thought about writing my own stories until Mr. Quarles started a unit on creative writing. He, like me, consumed books like a bottomless pit. I remember he liked all sorts of books, but his real love was Louis L’amour. He had a love affair with the old west.
Anyway, he encouraged us to write anything we could possibly dream up. There is no right and wrong when it comes to creative writing and your own ideas, he said. So I wrote a short story that was just a couple of pages long. It was a Halloween-themed story, about a maniacal killer who used a chainsaw on his victims and wrote messages to the police on the wall in his victims’ blood.
A 13 year-old writing some of the most gruesome things imaginable. His feedback? Awesome! Glad the killer got away, free to kill some more! A+!
I stared at the paper, dumbfounded. I didn’t think the subject matter was going to get me a bad grade, but I wasn’t expecting the amount of positive feedback he gave me, either. After being picked on and harassed for a solid year, it felt good to get some support. After the creative writing unit was over, he allowed me to keep writing stories for extra credit. I didn’t need the exra credit, but I cranked the stories out like clockwork. Every week, a new story. I wrote about killer cops, time travel, bullies getting their comeuppance, you name it. He would fix my grammar mistakes and make suggestions about problems with plot, but the way he built my confidence was remarkable. I still look back in awe at how much he helped me that year. He was by far the best teacher I ever had.
Incredibly, even with the advent of social media I have not been able to locate Mr. Quarles. I managed to find out that after I moved on to high school he moved from my junior high to another school in a neighboring town, but that’s it. Considering it was over 25 years ago, there’s no guarantee he’s even still alive. But I will always remember him. And with every piece of writing I finish, I will forever be endebted to him.
EDIT – Since I wrote this post (in advance) a couple of days ago, it began to bother me that I couldn’t find him online. Seriously, you can find anything online. Lo and behold, I think I may have found him. I have this weird fear of reaching out to him; I’m afraid I might disappoint him. I’ll hopefully make contact anyway, but for the moment I’m hesitant. I’ll keep you posted.