This article originally appeared in Volume I, Issue II of StoryBoard Memphis Quarterly in March 2022.
I headed straight to the magazine rack adjacent to Novel’s check-out counter. Situated near the top of the rack was the new quarterly version of StoryBoard Memphis – was it the old StoryBoard Memphis, resurrected in a new form?
Like a proud parent with an iPhone full of baby photos, I grabbed several copies and presented them to a guy behind the counter. He examined the cover. “Oh, this is a new one.” I think he meant a new publication, not the latest edition. “I haven’t read it, yet,” he said.
“Yeah,” I replied as I thumbed through the glossy pages. “I have an article in here.”
The guy smiled. “Congratulations.”
A Writer’s Life—Interrupted
Writing has always been my passion, even when I wasn’t writing.
I’ve always envied people, who, at a young age, followed their passion, their dreams; particularly those artistic dreams. When I was in high school, I thought I’d be a journalist. I loved to write, and I loved to research issues or topics and write about them. I was editor-in-chief of my high school newspaper. After graduation, I attended the University of Florida, known for its excellent journalism school.
At Florida, I majored in broadcasting—well before that major was re-named telecommunications—and focused on television. Cable channels were the hot thing in the early 1980s. Our on-campus, PBS-affiliated television station was run, almost entirely, by undergrads and graduate students. I did a little bit of everything at the on-campus station: volunteer camera cable-puller for sporting events, studio camera operator, and on-air investigative reporter for the station’s evening newscast. During my senior year, I had an internship creating promotional spots for the local ABC network affiliate in Gainesville.
For one class assignment, I had to write a television screenplay. I was excited for the chance to express myself, for an opportunity to use my creativity. A complex thriller called Blood for the Beef, my screenplay was going to be a smash success. While I received high marks for the technical aspects of my script, I think I earned a C plus or B minus overall.
Hollywood was not in my immediate future.
Reality can be tough: graduation, job hunting, establishing your independence. The transition to adulthood doesn’t come easily. Broadcasting jobs were few and far between. My passion went on hold.
I took a risk and ended up more than a thousand miles from home. For me, everything changed. A new career path, new life-long friends, and a wonderful, beautiful partner to share life together.
Soon-to-be married, Vicki and I took a big risk for a job opportunity and moved from Dallas, Texas to Memphis, Tennessee. Little did we know back then, but what we thought would be a temporary move became permanent; and significantly altered our lives and our careers.
While my career was not what I originally set out to do, I nevertheless enjoyed the challenges and rewards of corporate human resources and, later on, elementary education. The written word remained an integral part of my work and allowed me, every so often, to satisfy a tiny piece of my creative passion.
From time-to-time, however, I wondered, “What if?” What if I’d stuck it out with television broadcasting? What if I’d headed to New York or Hollywood to try my hand at screenwriting? What if I’d rejected the business world and become a full-time writer?
Obviously, I’d never trade my life with Vicki and our kids for anything else in this world. We’ve been through so much together, with significant ups and major downs, some of these involving my career choices. Maybe those “What if?” moments were my way of coping when the work world became unbearable.
As I grew older, those “What if?” moments faded, much like the colors of an old Polaroid Instamatic photo. I once heard, “the journey you take is the journey you make.” Now, after all these years, I firmly believe that message.
Belief, or faith, or whatever you want to call it, is an important ingredient to being a success, whether you’re an artist, a teacher, or a business executive.
Back to the Future
In 2019, after kicking around with my own writing for years and years, I decided to give my passion another try. I signed up for an in-person writing workshop—Writing for Publication—facilitated by Mark Fleischer, the founder of StoryBoard. These small-group classes were held over several Saturdays during the summer of 2019.
With Mark’s coaching and the support of the workshop, I rediscovered my voice and my style as a storyteller. My passion was reignited and a path cleared for what may be my final career—published author.
As if I’ve gone back in time, I now have a chance to follow my dream.
What’s Old is New, Again
“Sooner or later, everything old is new, again.”
This quote, attributed to horror writer Stephen King, not only sums up my current writing career, but also the re-establishment—or what I earlier called resurrection—of StoryBoard Memphis in printed form.
In our online, digital world with so many channels of information, it’s refreshing to return to a hardcopy format that effectively ties in with the website’s online stories and media presentations. In many ways, StoryBoard Memphis may be a bridge between what’s old and what’s new. Online or in print, there are many stories to be told about the Bluff City.
I have many stories to tell, as well.
Like the tides in Destin, Florida, my writing output has ebbed and flowed. While I have several published short stories, including feature articles for StoryBoard, I’m still working on that elusive first novel. Now pushing 60—a horrendous thought—I’ve rediscovered that passion, that fire, that I had many, many years ago.
My dream of being a published author may still become a reality.
After paying for my copies of StoryBoard Memphis, I glanced around Novel. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and the bookstore was somewhat crowded, masked shoppers searching for early gifts before the Black Friday onslaught two days later.
I decided to wander around the store and, maybe, get some ideas for possible Christmas presents. Somewhere past the New Releases section, my excitement got the better of me. I stood off to one side and slid a StoryBoard Memphis from my bag. I found my article, complete with the pictures I took, and smiled; proud, much like a new parent.
Seeing your name in print is so satisfying. Especially for this old man, who finally gets to fulfill his passion.
What’s old is new, again.
Ken Billett has called Memphis home for more than thirty years. A freelance writer, fiction author, and nationally known advocate for skin cancer prevention and research, Ken volunteers his time at the Blues Hall of Fame on South Main in downtown Memphis. When not tending to his flowers, Ken and his wife Vicki travel extensively. StoryBoard Memphis is proud to present Ken’s columns Time Capsules and Get out of Town as ongoing features here on StoryBoard.