I took a couple of English composition courses while still in the Air Force at a community college somewhere in Florida. I don’t even remember the name of it. In these courses I wrote a couple of essays, mostly about how overblown the satanic scare of Dungeons & Dragons was . I lambasted the organization called Bothered About Dungeons & Dragons (BADD). I thought it was a mockery of MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and I wrote an impassioned defense of my favorite hobby. It got a ‘B’. I was pleased with that since, as stated in an earlier column, English wasn’t my best subject. Something bugged me about it though. It stayed with me even after discharge. I was too young in mind to really put my finger on it, but looking back, I realize I was disappointed in such a mediocre effort.
I experimented with writing on my own. I mimicked what I was reading. I wrote short stories in the D&D settings I was gaming in. They were juvenile, mocking, and generally unreadable. But, at the time, I thought I was going to be the next R.A. Salvatore. I looked into submitting articles to Dragon Magazine and other periodicals. I was quickly discouraged by the lack of response.
The idea of writing never left me though, and six years later I enrolled in a continuing education program (that is; night school) at UMASS/Lowell to receive a Liberal Arts degree with a dual concentration in English and History. The first course I took was Intro to Philosophy. I read a lot about religions and different view points on a bunch of different topics. The professor was a real easy going guy who liked to hold classes on the grass outside in the shade of a tree. He gave out ‘A’s’ like candy.
Next, I took a class called, The Short Story. My life changed. I turned in my first paper to Professor Coughlin. It was a critical analysis piece. I got a ‘B’, not because of my poor analysis, but because of my writing. Poor sentence structure, punctuation, verb usage, topic choice and other mistakes were my downfall. I was instructed to stay after class with about 5 other folks. Professor Coughlin asked all of us, “did you learn nothing in high school?” The answer was yes. We learned nothing. He then proceeded to teach us all how to write. It took 45 minutes. This wonderful professor taught me more about writing in 45 minutes than I learned in 25 years. He also taught me how to use critical analysis to not only analyze writing, but actually enjoy what I’m reading even more. I ended up with a ‘B’ in his class, but from then on it was all straight ‘A’s’ and induction into the National Honor Society of Continuing Education Students. I never saw Professor Coughlin again, but I will always be grateful.