O ne of the great perf I have as a writer is that I get to speak to students about my writing and my experience as a writer.
Considering how the suits in Austin have completely mucked up the teaching of real writing in public schools, it looks like a daunting job to de-mystify the whole process. Here is one of the most common questions I encounter—“Who were your inspirations to become a writer.”
That question is a respectable second, in fact, to “How do you come up with ideas about what to write?”
It’s an interesting question, really, because there is no single answer. Each time I begin to answer, I discover that the list is a bit longer than before. Some of the names that have popped up, in fact, surprise me. A few are quite obvious. Then, a couple surprised even me.
Some answers really go without much mention“—my parents, who always encouraged me to write and helped me believe that i could become a writer. There was my high school journalism teacher, Pat Meador, who taught me the tight, journalistic style that has served me well all these years. There were the editors that have given me the opportunity to be published, such as John Gregg, Jim Mathis (a Pulitzer Prize winner, no less), Bert Randolph Sugar, and, of course, Don Zaidle.
Those are the obvious names. Mixed-in with these mentors and teachers, however, are a few more esoteric names that often require some explanation. I always feel that these people not only deserve mention, but should be.
Ernest Hemingway: Beginning with The Old Man and the Sea and continuing through the Nick Adams short stories, Papa was the first writer to teach me that fishing wasn’t just a pastime with which I was totally obsessed. His writing, tapped into the tense anticipation of waiting for the bite. It piqued the anxious wonder at what is tugging at your bait below the surface. It evoked the spiritually restorative powers of standing in waist-deep water and waving a long stick. It reflected everything I felt as an angler and made me realize that, hey! others felt the same way. Even as a boy, I suddenly became aware of the vast fraternity of the angling community of which I was a member. He created the literary springboard that launched me into writing about fishing. Thanks, Papa!
Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston, Roland Martin: I have to include all three as one. I grew up watching their shows. Comedians might make jokes about fishing shows, but let’s face it: they’re fun, informative, and a better way to kill time than to watch reruns of “The Walking Dead.”
I loved watching the three shows for such different reasons, and each reason is also what led to a different facet of my writing. Roland Martin’s technical prowess and facility at using a novel technique for a variety of species taught me about always thinking outside the box while fishing. That skill has helped me discover and write about different techniques.
He could take a heady topic and make it clear and easy to understand, while not dumbing it down. You could tell he respected his audience, and always made sure not to insult them. His self-deprecation, which we all got to see in his blooper episodes, also taught me never, never to take myself too seriously. Some writers still do.
Jimmy Houston was just a blast to watch. His sheer, unmitigated joy in just fishing is infectious. He’d get a thrill out of a two-pound crappie as easily as he would out of a 10-pound bass. Even a buffalo fish or hardhead catfish was elevated to the level of something special when Jimmy hooked it.
He loves fishing, truly loves it. On days when I start thinking that the fishing is a grind and I’d rather be doing something else, I remember Jimmy. Then it becomes fun again.
Larry Dahlberg: I always loved Dahlberg’s show, The Hunt for Big Fish, first when it was a segment on ESPN, and later when it became a full-blown show.
As I got to know Larry over the years, he became an inspiration for me because of his bottomless inquisitiveness. Larry never lets a question rest. He’ll examine it, worry it, turn it over, and shape it until he develops an answer or solution.
It’s the very essence of outdoor writing to analyze and solve problems, because most of the techniques we use were originally solutions to a question or problem. It’s exciting and inspirational to see as well-traveled a fisherman as Dahlberg still seek out questions to answer.
Stan Hansen: I’ve never had the privilege of meeting Hansen. I don’t even know if he fishes, but he’s one of my inspirations, all the same. “The Bad Man from Borger” is a professional wrestler, or rather a retired pro wrestler.
When I was a boy, I wanted to be like Hansen. I was sickly until my high school years. He was this six-foot-three, 290-pound force of nature who would barrel into the arena at 100 miles an hour and wreak havoc. He never slowed down.
It never mattered to me that pro wrestling is a pre-determined event—so are my favorite westerns—because it was what Hansen represented to me. He never took a step back or slowed down. He put his head down and stormed forward, regardless of pain or exhaustion. When I feel tired, or rotten, or I just don’t want to work, I remember the example he set for me when I was a boy.
I remember the examples they all set for me.
Email Cal Gonzales at [email protected]