Monday, February 04, 2013

Robert McCammon - The Write Read

When the publisher requested critical changes to the manuscript, he refused to make them.  He said he would have to break the contract before he would change his book.  He believed in it that strongly .  The rest, as they say, is history...

In the early nineties, a friend passed along some paperbacks she thought I would enjoy reading.  There might have been a half dozen of them.  But, only one I remember.  Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon. 

I read it, talked about it, then read it again.  I gave the book to my son to read.  Probably the first time I’d ever passed along one of my books to him.  He was around fourteen at the time.

Due to downsizing over the years, I’ve had to be very selective about which books I keep.  I never considered parting with Boy’s Life.  It’s a classic.  A few years ago, my son bought me a new copy to replace the one held together with an elastic band.

Robert McCammon has a staggering imagination.  No, not every writer does.  McCammon fearlessly combined mystery with fantasy with action with suspense and tied them all up in one incredible story.

This book has it all.  Is that what makes it unforgettable?  Not really.  There are many reasons.  For me, one stands out above the rest.

It goes back to my love of people.  I love meeting the characters in books.  You see, that is my weakness and my strength – protagonists and antagonists.  The more realistic the better.  Actually, the most unrealistic character that seems real is even better than that.

Boy’s Life has the most credible as well as the most extraordinarily unbelievable cast.

In my opinion, McCammon’s most admirable quality is his talent for getting inside his characters − becoming his characters.  Most writers do that, but wait, he has an even rarer talent. 

He draws the reader, not only into the story but also into these characters, until we become a part of them and experience everything as breathlessly as they do. 

This author gave me the opportunity to wander around the mind of an eleven-year-old boy.  Feel his fears.  See the world through his eyes.  I could have sworn an eleven-year-old boy wrote that book.  McCammon is that good. 

Having said that, you have to know that as soon as I finished Boy’s Life I searched out other books that he wrote.  I read all of them.  However, none came close to the magic of Boy’s Life. 
It is clear from McCammon’s interviews, that this novel holds a special place in his heart, too.  Of course, he couldn’t agree to the publisher’s suggested changes to his book.  For him, it was clear from the start that this was his book of books. 

Writers like Robert McCammon spark something in me.  It's like an invitation to walk through an open door and lose myself in the world of unfettered imagination.  It's freedom.   Reading Boy’s Life is an adrenalin rush.  The unbelievable becomes believable.

Robert McCammon is an inspiration to all writers, regardless of genre.  We have to be brave enough, strong enough, and honest enough to write from the heart.  Even then, there’s only one Robert McCammon.


  1. Beautifully said, Phyllis! Thanks for posting it.


  2. Writer Dave Here,
    Hi Phyllis,
    I was so intrigued by your Write Break post, Boy's Life by McCammon, that I bought the book!
    Can't wait to read it to see how it compares to me at eleven!
    Keep up the good work!

  3. Thanks Dave. I hope Boy's Life will become a favourite of yours, too!

  4. I'm a 40 year old man and have read Boy's Life several times in my life. I always tell people it's my favourite book and when they ask why, this is what I tell them: it's the only book I've ever read (and I read a lot) that captured the magic of being a boy. The details are obviously different, but essentially that was my childhood. I've since lost that magic but I always know I can return to that book to get just a little bit of it back. I don't think anyone can ask more of a book.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your feelings about Boy's Life. McCammon certainly captured the 'magic' of childhood. So nice to know that we can bring it back with the turn of a page.

  5. Dear Phyllis...

    I am a high school English teacher and teach Mr. McCammon's "Boy's Life" almost every year. Usually, my kids begin with groans (as reading is rapidly becoming, in the minds of many, a chore), but before we are very far in the novel, it's characters and plot have lured them in. I have been a teacher for enough years now (about 28) that I don't have to read many of the novels (again) that I assign as I have done so multiple times. With "Boy's Life," however, it is different; although I've read the book at least a dozen times now, I read it again every year, and not one goes by but that I don't find more in it to enjoy. As many have said, it helps me relive those "magical" times when the world was, in my childhood mind, filled with "good guys and bad guys," and they were easily recognized. I must admit, there is more than one portion of the book that, when I might read it aloud to my kids, I have a hard time keeping the tears at least mostly at bay. It is, indeed, a "magical" work.

    I am including a youtube address for a video of Robert McCammon speaking to a Florida school board which was debating the decision on whether or not to ban "Boy's Life" from its shelves. Mr. McCammon traveled from out of state to address this board, and I believe you'll find his presentation of significant quality both in its defense of his book and of the notion that there are still, in fact, good guys and bad.

    The youtube address:

    Best wishes.
    David Armstrong

    1. Mr. Armstrong, thank you so much for writing. I watched the youtube link you included. When Mr. McCammon finished speaking there was a lump in my throat and I felt like jumping to my feet and applauding.
      Your students are fortunate to have you for a teacher, Mr. Armstrong. I can feel your passion - pass it on!