Some authors are born to write. From an early age they’re jotting down stories and constantly generating ideas that may or may not end up turning into full blown novels. That’s not me. I wasn’t one of the prodigies that people would fawn over, saying how I was going to be a great writer someday. I was just an average kid with no special talents to speak of.
Early on in high school I had started doodling various cartoons, but always lamented the fact that I didn’t have any real artistic talent to speak of outside of that. I had been raised listening to country music, but when I was seventeen I started really delving into the world of rock, which later inspired me to buy a bass guitar and an amp. I wanted to get the full experience of the music and that was a way for me to do it. Again, I had tried to play guitar in the past, but I struggled with it constantly and had very little aptitude for it. With bass I had finally found my instrument, and I took lessons for a year before I went out on my own. Unfortunately nothing ever came of it. I still play for my own pleasure and I have numerous guitars and basses as well as a multitude of other music gear, but my dream of becoming an actual player in a band never came to fruition.
In school I was never very good at English. I was all right, but I never got more than average grades at best. The fact was that I had very little interest in school, and the teachers, barring a few of the better ones, had very little interest in me. It was a long, painful struggle to get through it, but in the end I somehow barely managed to squeak it out with two and a half credits over the minimum I needed to graduate thanks to spending three summers in summer school.
The one thing I always had going for me was that I was an avid reader. I discovered the Hardy Boys novels when I was in the second grade and I credit them with my lifelong love of reading. They were what really got me hooked, and when I was tested in the second grade, my reading and comprehension were at high school level.
Later on I became enamored with Dungeons & Dragons. I didn’t have any friends who played really, but I loved reading all the reference books, and then when the Forgotten Realms aspect of the game eventually emerged, a variety of novels based in The Forgotten Realms followed. Though I had read many sci-fi and fantasy books in the past, these are the books that really got me hooked on fantasy as a genre. Another fantasy series I fell in love with was the Myth Series by Robert Asprin. He had a way of coming up with elaborate schemes for his characters that were not only entertaining, but they also made you think. His combination of humor, fantasy, science fiction and dimension travel was probably the greatest inspiration for me in my own writing.
My first attempt at writing a full blown novel was when I tried to write a story based in the Forgotten Realms when I was somewhere around fifteen years old. It was about a boy who could communicate with worms and even control them, and it was going to lead to him being able to control the giant, fantasy kinds of worms that existed in the Forgotten Realms. I was writing the story on my Apple IIc computer with a spiffy 128k of ram and a 5.25″ floppy drive built in. I even had an amber monitor instead of a color one, just to complete the awesomeness. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) I made it a little way into the story, and then I got hit with the dreaded writer’s block. Unfortunately, I never went back to it once I hit that brick wall, and never really attempted anything else after that until years later when I tried my hand at writing a few short stories and even some comedy scripts.
For a while it seemed as though short stories were the only thing I could get through without getting a bad case of writer’s block, and even then it was dicey. It seemed as though writer’s block was destined to plague me regardless of what I tried to write, be it a short story, a script or a full blown novel. The more it happened, the more frustrated I became until at last I finally just gave up. That’s when I discovered movie reviewing.
Back in May of 2002, I started a website called B-Movie Central, where I did humorous reviews of classic b-movies. As the site and my list of reviews grew, I started finding my love of writing again. I even joined a reviewers group called The Rogue Reviewers, and from that created an online film magazine which I still run to this day called Rogue Cinema. B-Movie Central still exists as well, but I’ve retired from reviewing there simply because those reviews are really involved to put together and can take the better part of a day each, which I simply don’t have time for anymore. Anyway, the point of all this is that I still had a desire to write, but I wasn’t really sure what to do with it outside of what I was doing with the websites. My dream had been to actually write a full length novel so I could get it out there and leave something behind that I could be remembered for after I was gone someday, but the more I wrote for the magazine, the more burned out I started getting on writing. It all started feeling like work, and the more it felt that way the less I wanted to do it.
Jump ahead now to October of 2013. I’d been reading a lot of young adult novels by female authors that tended to involve paranormal elements, fantasy, romance and all the other stuff that’s been so popular in the young adult market of late. I started delving into this area by reading authors like Amanda Hocking, and then moved on to Jennifer L. Armentrout and H.P. Mallory. They inspired me to give it another go, but I had three problems.
1. Like Jake from State Farm, I’m a guy, so… Yeah, I’m a guy, so I really didn’t have the flare for romance that these ladies I’d been reading had. At least I didn’t think I did, but more about that later.
2. I didn’t have an idea for a story.
3. I didn’t want to write young adult. Much like my aversion to PG-13 movies, I would find writing in the young adult category far too limiting. So where did that leave me? I came to find out that it left me in a different category that was more for 18+ folks called new adult.
Ok, so I had an age range I wanted to write for and one that I knew would allow me to make my characters and their interactions as realistic as possible without having to mute their actions or their personalities for the sake of a younger audience. That left me with problems one and two to contend with. I also wanted to include some fun, over the top violence and gore for the guys, as well as other aspects of the lives of the characters that would appeal to a female audience.
Problem one was a tough one, because I wanted my books to have an appeal for as wide of an audience as possible. That meant including an element of romance, and also non-explicit sex since I didn’t want the stories to end up being considered erotica. To that end, I made a conscious decision to keep the romance aspects more serious, but to keep the sex parts non-explicit and fun. There are a lot of relationships in my novels between the different characters, but more than anything there’s an overarching sense of family among them that I hope people will find every bit as appealing.
As for problem two, that was even more difficult to overcome simply because I had to deal with that before I dealt with anything else. The solution came when I came up with an idea for a teenager whose family was abducted by a creature that had entered into his bedroom through a portal. The ideas that started stemming from that were dropped for the most part because, if I’m being honest, they were rather lame. However, those poor, discarded ideas about how that basic plot would play out led me to far better and more involved ideas, and that’s how the Unseen Things series began. I published the first book, Origins in November of 2013. As of this writing it’s September 2014, and I’m working on the thirteenth book in the series, Companions.
So how did I reach a point in my life where I was able to pump out thirteen full length novels in less than a year? Well, there’s two answers to that really, and both of them are involved in the answer to the question I asked in the title of this piece.
First, I’d finally reached a point in my life where I was ready to write novels. You never realize it at the time because of your frustrations over writer’s block and everything else, but if the writing isn’t flowing out of you easily then perhaps you just haven’t reached that point in your life yet. I realize now that I wasn’t really ready for it…until I actually was.
Second, in order to really break through and make it happen, you need an idea for a story. I’m not talking about some random idea either. I’m talking about one that flows out of you like a river. One that leads you to create characters that feel like real people, and who you eventually come to know far more intimately than even your own family. So much so that you feel compelled to write them simply so they can exist. Then one day, thirteen books later, you realize that you’ve created something that’s really quite special. That’s how it was for me. One day I realized that like Star Trek, I had created something massive. Something that had its own canon, history and other details that had become far more than I ever could have dreamed of when I started working on the first book.
For me it was initially about making some money, since writing is my only source of income, meager as it is. Now it’s about far more than that. It’s about the personal satisfaction of knowing that there are people out there reading my work and becoming a part of the world that I created for them. It’s about, as I said above, writing my characters simply so they can continue to exist. They’re my friends…my family. I know each of them intimately and they each have their own individual personalities and histories that shaped them into who they are. I created that, and for me that’s really the answer to the question right there. I’ve created probably somewhere close to sixty characters throughout the course of the series, and each one of them is as individual as anyone you’d meet in your day to day life. How can you put into words just how special of an experience it is to create something like that? That’s not even mentioning all the different dimensions and their inhabitants, including the histories and conflicts that have created the rich tapestry that is the Unseen Things universe.
I’ve heard some writers say that they write because they can’t not write. In my case, I write because it’s who I am now. After a lifetime of searching, I’ve finally found myself and my purpose. I’m an author. It’s what I am and what I do, and I’ll continue doing it for as long as I can, because without purpose, life is meaningless.