By Nicole Hennessy
Tom Bell’s fantasy is to sit in a cave, thinking up entire books by candlelight. He’d type each page, completely up to his literary standards, and then hold out his hand, waiting for an editor on standby to finely tune and polish his work as he continued to produce piles of storylines eventually fit for the world to consume.
Drinking coffee in a corner of the Lakewood Public Library, near beverage-prohibiting signs, he imagines this. Of course, the cave would be a room in a house or public building and the candlelight, an overhead light softly humming with electricity. And though an editor is the only reality, likely he or she is not patiently waiting around to fine-tune his words, but starving to just skim everything slightly.
Bell knows this, and as a result, he’s read his first book, “My Dad Is a Freak,” so many times that the words don’t make sense and the anecdotes seem stale.
“Oh, no, this is good. Keep this,” friends would always tell him when he came to them with doubts.
So finally, when the imperfections seemed trivial enough, he readied his memoir for completion, wrapped in a glossy cover fit for bookstore shelves, and exhaled the next part: blogging, posting, book signings, promotions and media.
There are no caves available for writers. And if there are, they’re reserved for the Steven Kings of the world, the J.K. Rowlings.
However, having made wise investments in the Tremont area when the struggling neighbood had just begun to breathe a sigh of relief, Bell is now able to write full time.
Th other part of the struggle, said Bell, is knowing people are thinking, “How boring. No one wants to hear about my freakin’ kids” because he realizes “they have their own stories to tell.”
But this book is not the random ramblings of a suburban dad perceiving his mundane experiences as unique; it is a story of looking deep into something, down there where the circuits connect. It’s a newborn baby’s eyes leading all the way back to a few cells that started the whole human life wiggling around in the arms of an adult with his or her own stories. These are the things that fascinate Bell – to crack open someone’s skull and explore what we don’t even know we’re thinking during casual conversation. Fleeting thoughts, seemingly meaningless.
“If you follow those links down, you could write almost endlessly,” he says, “if you just go down the rabbit hole.”
With no formal training as a writer, Bell always did well in English classes, and could identify with his Florida Atlantic University math professor, who complained that using too much of the left side of her brain caused crippling migraines. She assumed it to be in direct conflict with the art and writing side – supposedly the right – and let him graduate, despite failing a crucial exam.
He laughs, “So I actually kind of illegally graduated from college.”
Wearing his early 50s well, Bell did not settle down until late in life. The couple now has three children, ages 2, 4 and 6.
Each morning Bell asks his 4-year-old daughter, “What did you dream about last night?” He wonders what her subconscious could possibly produce with such limited life experiences.
Usually she tells him of magical ducks and butterflies carrying her away.
These are the types of situations that fill his book.
While other memoirs might address usual day-to-day situations – exhaustion and school lunches; appointments and chores – Bell’s succeeds at surpassing the ordinary foundation it is built upon by succumbing to “the unfiltered joy” of having children, “the things parenting books don’t focus on.”
Still, “if it were possible to delete the useless parent junk that has accumulated in my head over the years, I would,” he wrote. “There were too many voices, too many wild ideas, too many agendas.”