I am a melting pile of wordy wobbly writer.
My story ends with naming your own price for 9 awesome fantasy titles at www.storybundle.com … but where does it start? More accurately, when? In the fall of 1987 I had my first experience with bullying. I had been in plenty of fights before I turned 10, but I always gave as good as I got. In 1987 that changed. New school, new state, and I was the youngest in my class, in the lowest grade in the school. I was also in both math and science 3 grades ahead of my class. I got thrashed my first day there.
But I didn’t go home. My mom was so excited about the new life we had, I didn’t want her to see me that day, so I went to the public library to clean up in the bathroom. Remember those places, where you went to look at real books and then borrow them? After I cleaned up a bit, I started walking in the science fiction and fantasy section. I’d had a deep love of Heinlein since age 6, when my grandfather got me reading science fiction. While wandering the library, waiting for my mom to not be home, my eye fell across something new. A book with a dragon on the cover. It was titled The Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I read the book before the library closed, and checked out the next two in the series. Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis changed my life. They gave me a refuge from the bullies, a new world I could visit. Unfortunately there were only 6 books, and by midwinter I had worn out all of the copies the library had. I moved on, reading Asimov, Tolkien, Herbert and the other masters. Years later I would find Anderson, Jordan, and Pratchett. But that first year, it was DragonLance, over and over.
One of the librarians had been watching me, and while she promised me she would get new copies of the DragonLance books, when I wore out the last one, she handed me a notepad and pencil, asking me if I had ever tried to write a story myself. I had. Over the 4 years since being 6, when I wrote my first story, I had occasionally tried my hand at the art. But that winter, the stories wouldn’t stop. I went through notebook after notebook, weaving my own worlds, telling my stories. I didn’t like them. They were poorly written, and I got in the habit of finishing a notebook and throwing it away, caring more for telling a better story next time than what I had already put down. Heinlein made me notice writing, Hickman and Weis lit a burning dragon fire inside me to one day be a writer.
And Neil Gaiman unwittingly extinguished it. Don’t boo. Though Neil doesn’t know me, he did me a huge favor. My first professional publication was at age 16. At 19 I started working on my first novel. I went to college for writing and editing. I spent 5 years researching and writing. I was finally ready to create something amazing. In late summer of 2001 I received a parcel from a friend in London who had helped me with some of the research. His letter simply stated that I needed to read the book enclosed. The book was American Gods, written by the man I knew as the creator of the Sandman comics, of which I owned each of the 75 issues. I eagerly dove into the book.
The next day I threw away the first printing of American Gods. It landed on top of my manuscript. How had someone written the exact same story that I was writing, told from a different perspective? I gave up a lifetime of work that day. I was done with writing, I wasn’t going to be a novelist. My great idea was already published by someone else, and frankly, it was a better version of the story than I was capable of writing at the time. I sold off my Sandman comics. I threw away everything I had written. I switched my goals and started working in game design and game storyline writing with Cyberpunk CCG. It was 5 years before I picked up the good old ‘Write a Novel’ pencil and notepad. Don’t get me wrong. Cyberpunk CCG had the biggest release we could track shy of Magic The Gathering, and I wrote over 30 professional pieces of storyline fiction for games during that time, but it just isn’t the same, you know? I edited fiction, I wrote nonfiction, I worked games… but never wrote my books.
It was just the break I needed.
The entire time, something new was percolating in my mind. How could I tell a story that could be read in any order? My mind spun through possibilities and what I originally designed as a true nonlinear storytelling methodology for gameplay became the plot structure of my first novel. But I was still bitter and wary of the publishing industry. I was still scared. I rejected the mainstream offer I got for the book, not liking the editorial note that I would have to change the plot structure, and chose the route of self publishing. At the time, that was considered a death sentence. But I didn’t care. I sold just over 4,000 print copies of my first title in the first year I had it out.
Then I met a hero of mine. Chris Moore. He gave me my second wind and took away my fears with a few simple words. “That’s a good number for a first novel, even in traditional publishing. Keep it up.” It rocked my world. I assumed that ‘real’ authors sold hundreds of thousands coming out of the gate, and that it only got better from there. I started digging into the industry with a vengeance. I discovered a fairly new blog by Kristine Kathryn Rusch called ‘An Overview of the Publishing Industry.’
I decided that it was time to present as though I was a big deal, not a struggling artist. Even though I was faking it, and knew in my heart that I would eventually have to give this all up for a ‘real’ job, it was that simple. I made a choice to act the role, do my best to help everyone around me, and I was noticed. Not just because I was an indie selling thousands of books, but because I was a fighter. Specifically, I was noticed by Kevin J. Anderson, who grabbed me at a local convention and dragged me across the street for a beer. I had a mentor. I had a master to teach me the pieces I was missing. I bust ass for him, and do my best to live up to the honor of that choice every day, because it changed my life. I had come full circle since reading American Gods, all because someone I admired chose to believe in me when I was only faking believing in myself.
Less than 6 months after beginning to learn from Kevin, I found myself sitting at dinner with Tracy Hickman. He even knew who I was from my days in the game industry, and called my design ‘elegant.’ I was 10 years old again. I didn’t just have a fire in me to do this, I had Dragon Fire in my soul again.
And the doors continued to open. I met Kris Rusch and Dean Smith, both every bit as phenomenal in person as they had been inspirational in their blogs. I got to meet new legends, like Dave Farland and James A. Owen, every bit as amazing as those I had grown up reading. And then Kevin changed the game again. I was working on an Epic fantasy novel with my own writing Padawn, Mark Ryan. Kevin decided to include it in the Truly Epic Fantasy bundle on www.storybundle.com … My book was going to be sold next to Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Brandon Sanderson, Dave Farland, Peter David, Kevin J. Anderson, James A. Owen, and, wait for it, Tracy Hickman. I was floored. Then came the bombshell.
Neil is in the story bundle too.
I am a melting pile of wordy wobbly writer.
My dreams have come full circle.
The chapter of my life that started with getting beaten up at age 10 has finally closed. Little did I know, it is just the beginning of the story. Find your dragon and never let go. But don’t forget to take a break once in a while and read a book.