There are days when I wake up and I wonder exactly what is wrong with me and why I so passionately wanted to be a writer. I’m not saying that I regret it or that it’s not what I want to be doing, because the truth is that I don’t want to do anything else. It’s been this way since I was a kid (although, if I’m honest here, I did want to be a scientist when I was a kid and then I wanted to be a pro wrestler when I was a little older). Not many people grew up with something that they were good at, worked hard on and then decided to do for a living.
A lot of kids have these crazy, distant dreams that they are told that they can’t achieve and for me writing was that. Even if it isn’t something crazy like being a rock star or an astronaut it still felt like it was beyond a mere mortal’s grasp. That view only really intensified while I was in college where I was taught about literary canon and how the only acceptable form of fiction is literary fiction. Sure, not every teacher explicitly said that, but the implications were heavy and somehow I still wanted to chase after that.
So where the hell did this all start?
I learned how to read at a young age. I’m not exactly sure what age that was, but I tend to just tell people that I was three because three sounds impressive and is a nice, odd number. I was a smart kid, I’m not going to pretend that I wasn’t, but I was one of those kids that learned things very quickly and then zoned out when teachers were trying to get everyone else up to speed. This meant that I daydreamed a lot when I was a shy, little kid and when I got older and more confident I would never shut up and caused trouble instead.
I remember in first grade that we had two different “reading groups,” and while they wouldn’t admit it; one was the advanced group and one was the remedial group. Like I said, I was a kid and I zoned out a lot. I already knew how to read, so teaching me how to do something that I already knew how to do meant that I just wasn’t paying attention. My teacher confused that lack of interest with lack of understanding, but after a few tests I was quickly pushed into the more advanced group.
What’s funny is that it was a very, very long time ago now and I still remember being led to the big, wooden table with the little plastic chairs and the teacher sitting me down and telling the kids to show me what they were working on; S and H together make a shhhh noise. All of the kids shhh’d me and I felt like an idiot. So it goes, right?
I prided myself on the fact that in the second grade I was reading grown up books, which, I don’t know, it was mostly Stephen King and the newly-approved Star Wars expanded universe novels (this was 1992), so it wasn’t exactly the toughest stuff to ever be released, but Hardy Boys books were really boring to me so I needed more. I remember gathering up a group of my friends to write a story together, although I’m not sure that anything ever really happened with that, but it still felt important at the time.
The first time that I ever really received any praise for my writing was in the third grade where there was a school-wide writing contest where a story from each grade was selected and would be read in front of the entire school. My story was pretty dark for a third-grader, a story about myself and the pond down the street where I’m kidnapped by pirates and endear myself to these pirates to be able to plot my escape. Somehow my mother died in the process as well, like I said, this was some dark stuff for a kid.
No, I didn’t win the contest. That was kind of a kick in the ass, but being a writer is all about dealing with setbacks with stride. The praise that I received was different, to say the least. The sixth grade teacher saw my story and was blown away by it. She asked me if I’d read it to her class and she ended up using it to shame them that a third grader was able to write better than any of them. That was kind of not cool to shame other kids, but it’s praise and I was a kid, I’ll take what I can get, especially considering that I was a smart kid but was never acknowledged to be one of the kids in advanced learning programs or anything like that.
It didn’t make sense to me why I didn’t win the contest and I’ll admit, when the girl who won stood up there in front of the school reading her Little House on the Prairie ripoff while dressed in a dress and bonnet I was pretty upset, but it wouldn’t be the last time that I faced that kind of setback or the last time where I was told that I was good at what I did, but not what people were looking for. That happened again the next few years with a State-run sci-fi contest in fourth and fifth grade before I sort of just lost interest in writing and decided that I wanted to be a professional wrestler or an artist. A kid writing about soldiers hunting down the devil or the end of the world was probably a bit jarring, I guess.
This wasn’t the end of my journey by a longshot, but there were a lot of factors that made me just sort of give up on writing for a long time. Most of them have to do with being a kid and writing not really being that cool.
I’ll pick up next time with more about this, but until then, have you picked up your copy of Terminus Cycle yet? You really should. It’s available in both Kindle ebook and Paperback. I made sure that there isn’t copy protection on the Kindle version so if you have another eReader that can read Kindle files you should be okay.
For those who would rather test their luck I’m running a giveaway on GoodReads right now which is running until the end of the month.