“Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.”
– Ray Bradbury
How did I become a writer?
Ah, the age old question…
Storytelling technology has advanced at a staggering rate. In the course of a mere 4 generations, the entire world has shifted. At the start of the 20th century, children had nothing but books to tell them stories. The next generation had silent movies. The next generation gained radio. A generation after that was given television. The next generation culminated all of these technologies into the Internet.
Like most kids in the latter half of the 20th century, I grew up with storybooks and movies and television. Although I had an early love for Choose Your Own Adventure tales, my love for true literary books (i.e. ones without illustrations) didn’t begin until the 6th grade when our English teacher, Mrs. Moose, began reading stories in class. She would read us children’s literature books like The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Thanks to Mrs. Moose, I started reading other books on my own, like The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell and Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White and more Chronicles of Narnia. That was my first exposure to “real” books. Other than storybooks I read as a child, I had never read books for fun, and Mrs. Moose showed us just how spellbinding they could be. Her influence was where my voracity for reading originated.
During that same year, my obsession with reading faded and a new obsession began – playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Instead of reading stories, tabletop role-playing games led me to start inventing stories. Developing characters. Making up histories and plots and backgrounds. Slowly, I became interested in other tabletop role-playing games as well, such as Star Frontiers and Marvel Super Heroes. Role-playing games are unequivocally the greatest single resource for developing creativity. Gaming with these dice and rulebooks hones skills in writing, acting, mathematics, cartography, storytelling, illustration, diplomacy, critical thinking, and more. Depending upon the level of detail you incorporate, you can learn painting and architecture and engineering and costuming. The potential for education is staggering and the benefits for sharpening ones imagination are nearly boundless as no whetstone polishes a keener edge than tabletop role-playing games.
Around the same time, I started collecting comic books. I never became a big comic book collector. I doubt I ever owned more than about 50 of them. However, comics became yet another form of storytelling to explore and savor.
Those experiences – movies, novels, role-playing games, comic books – all informed my love of weaving tales, but the idea to actually become an author still hadn’t occurred to me. Not ever. Not once.
All that changed in the summer of 1984, at the age of 13, when I saw the movie The NeverEnding Story for the first time. That film became the turning point.
In that darkened movie theatre, in Parma, Ohio, when the Childlike Empress spoke of we others sharing in the adventures of Bastian, my heart sank. The lines between fiction and reality began to blur. Where did dreams and fantasies end and the real world begin? The Empress was clearly “real” in that moment. I saw her. I heard her. The story of which she spoke had truly unfolded before my eyes. I had shared in this experience. Everything she was saying was true. This wasn’t makebelieve at all.
How could that be? How was it possible that a makebelieve movie had actually become real?
For the first time in my life, the immeasurable potential of storytelling had become evident. All at once, I understood that the power of imagination had the ability to transform the real world around us and I was astonished by this realization. Everything shifted in that moment. This wasn’t merely the birth of a dream, the spawning of an aspiration. No. This manifested as an omnipotent enlightenment, germinating deep in the very core of my consciousness. This was not a mere call to spirit. It was a definition of being.
Reading the book proved to be even more wondrous than seeing the film.
The lightningstorm. Power going out. Forced to read by candlelight with a Gmork shadow in the corner.
Most of you don’t know what any of that means. If you’re over 18, you’ve probably forgotten. One or two of you are from my tribe though, and you know. You know the enchantment of which I speak.
That was when I knew, my task was to be a savior of Fantastica. As one who had grown up loving storytelling so much, and having been telling stories without even realizing it, all of those feelings decisively coalesced in my discovery of Fantasia. At last I “got it” and all the loose ends tied together perfectly.
This was the answer.
This is what I was supposed to be doing with my life.
As human beings, we are our stories. All we are as people, our values, our dreams, our most beloved memories, wishes, hopes, accomplishments – they all manifest as stories. Talk about your childhood. Talk about your career. Talk about your family. Talk about your lovers. They are all stories. We are nothing without our stories. This is why Alzheimer’s is so heartbreaking to families – because a loved one is becoming disconnected from the stories of who they are. Memories are stories. Storytelling is the essence of all humanity. In every culture. In every age. And thereby, storytellers are entrusted to a sublime quest and elevated to the most sacred custodians of the human soul. Thus I finally understood why, to follow this path is both burden and blessing; a loathsome curse and the greatest of honors.
But one of the most important elements of the experience, the deciding factor that tipped the scales for me, was the simple fact that no one else had any fucking clue what I was talking about. Anytime I attempted to articulate my epiphany, friends and family looked at me as though I were a 5 year old with a brain injury.
“Ohhh. Poor kid. Few screws loose, huh?”
All my life, if there’s one thing I’ve learned – the more people think I’m crazy for trying something, the more I’m treated with doubt and scorn, the more I know I’m on the right track.
During and after highschool, I tried to write a few novels off the cuff. They never seemed to work.
After years of soulsearching, in 1993, I conceded that perhaps I should attempt outlining a novel first.
Three years later, The Gothic Rainbow: Beginning Volume of the Vampire Noctuaries was complete.
At that point in my life, it was my single greatest achievement. My proudest moment. I had done it. I was no longer a wanna-be novelist. I was a legitimate novelist.
The pride and sense of accomplishment didn’t last for long. Slowly, I began to feel inadequate. I had achieved something, but hadn’t done enough. Only one novel? This was so minor, so small, compared to what I felt capable of achieving when I had looked into the eyes of the Golden-Eyed Commander of Wishes all those years ago. No. Not only small compared to what I felt capable of achieving, but compared to what I felt avowed to achieve. Was I letting the Empress down? Was I a second-rate hero?
The most important lesson I learned in completing The Gothic Rainbow is that writing a novel is meaningless. Anybody can do that. What a terrifying thought to realize. I had not become a young dreamer, nobly forging ahead to make his wishes come true. Instead, I had joined the ranks of the tenacious failures – the ones who give up the race after the first hurdle. How many fools out there create one movie and never set foot on a filmset again? Write one novel and quit when the sales are awful? Direct a single play? Choreograph one dance? The world is full of underachievers like me – only touching 80% of our potential, because we know it put us 120% ahead of everyone else. The boulevard of broken dreams is littered with the fortitude of quitters. Any hobbyist can construct a novel on a whim. Being a mere writer is pointless. Being a prolific writer – ah, now there is an aspiration. Not to create a singular effort, but to amass a body of work. Works of substance. Works with depth and weight and valuable meaning. A lone novel is simply a cornerstone. It’s nowhere near being the entire chapel and every god of light and darkness has decreed I have a monsoon of cathedrals to build.
All my life, I thought I wanted to write novels.
I was wrong.
Such is a child’s ambition; an infantile hope devoid of vision.
What I truly dreamed was legacy.
That is what I was meant to conjure. Not flashpaper illusions. Dragonflames. Blizzardborn alone to torchbare the gift of Prometheus.
Writing isn’t about a book. I know that now. Writing was never about a story. Writing is about a lifetime. Writing is about building something imbued with transcendence. This is bigger than any book. This needed to be something that could be looked back upon in history, with awe and reverence, as legendary. That is the mark, nay the scorch, one seeks to leave etched into the Earth.
In this task, I must not fail.
Authoring a novel is only a drop, in an ocean demanding to be filled with the sacrifice of your blood, sweat, and tears.
Writing a single novel is the most irrelevant of achievements. Merely the first step on the path.
Learning that was the most vital of lessons. The moment of realization that your greatest achievement is insignificant. And you have much, much more to do; and seas of ink to bleed.
That’s how I became a writer.
“Writing is the hardest work in the world. I have been a bricklayer and a truck driver, and I tell you – as if you haven’t been told a million times already – that writing is harder. Lonelier. And nobler and more enriching.”
– Harlan Ellison