When I was a kid, I read a lot.
I remember finishing all the books I’d brought with me on a road trip to Grandma’s house, and having a sort of existential crisis in the bathroom when I realized I had nothing to read (I also took a long time in the bathroom).
I ended up reading the manual for the hairdryer I found under the sink.
My parents like to tell the story of when they used to read to me at night when I was two or three; it was a Sesame Street book that I’d memorized (I guess we only had one book when I was a kid). They thought I’d taught myself to read when in fact it was the sort of book you can’t
During my school-age
I stopped reading for a bit in high school because I was in the “advanced” classes (quotation marks necessary) and we were forced (tortured, coerced, bribed) to read literature (pronounced “lit-TUR-uh-TOUR”). Heart of Darkness, Grapes of Wrath, Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, Great Expectations.
I hated them all. I thought that if this was what “real” books were supposed to be I wanted to have a word with the Real Books Association of Making Books (doesn’t exist; I looked it up in high school). I was bored. I’d read chapter after chapter of details that didn’t lead to any sweet gun battles or shootouts or
Then I grabbed another of my dad’s books – The Da Vinci Code. I was taking a test and — I’m assuming because I was so advanced — I would finish early and have some downtime (I did finish early but I believe I failed the test; apparently there were no bonus points for speed). When I cracked the book open, I couldn’t stop reading.
It was the perfect mix of intellectually stimulating history, science, and religion, with a healthy dose of action and intrigue. I had discovered reading again!
Turns out my boy Dan wrote a bunch of other books, which I plowed through that summer. A quick Google search led me to Clive Cussler and James Rollins; the latter became my all-time favorite thriller author. I found Andy McDermott and Michael Crichton, Jeremy Robinson and Matthew Reilly.
In 2011, my granddad passed away. He used to trade thrillers with my dad, and I still have a box of them in my basement that he’d gone through. I knew they both loved that genre, so I thought it might be fun to write one myself. I would give it to my dad for Christmas.
When I decided it was time to pen a masterpiece of my own, I knew it was going to be easy. How could it not be? I was a master of reading them, certainly writing was only a few gradations more difficult.
Yeah, I was wrong. The Golden Crystal (now republished, and, thankfully, completely rewritten as The Atlantis Stone) was my first-ever writing project of any length. It was a slog. I got stuck in the “muddy middle,” that woefully slow dip in the center of books where the author clearly has no idea where to go.
I took a break. Probably no fewer than three months, possibly as long as six. I don’t remember. I stopped writing
Then I started again, throwing all my newfound brilliance of structure, plotting, character development, and general
Inevitably, not all of those ideas fit. They got relegated to a folder in Evernote, then some of them became the second book (The Depths) and the third (The Enigma Strain). None were related to any other, as I’d heard once that you weren’t supposed to start a series when you wrote your first book. I was a good little writer boy and liked to follow these rules. These rules were my crutch.
Each of those first three books was an experiment of sorts. I wanted them to challenge me in some way. The goal with The Golden Crystal was: can I write a book?
I’m not here to say that any of those things actually worked, and I’m inclined to believe that my goals were utter failures (looking at you, The Depths, when I got tired of trying to write a female’s POV and just magically made the ex-husband pushover a shiny, muscly hero badass who was “undercover” the first half of the book. Sorry. Spoiler alert). And I don’t think anyone’s fooled by Julie’s appearance in The Enigma Strain. It’s a Harvey Bennett Thriller, for crying out loud. Guess who the
Anyway, I did all of these things because I thought, each time, that I only had one problem to solve. I thought that if I did this one thing, the book would “work” and it wouldn’t suck. Shrug. I was naive. Shrug.
Here’s the thing: I’m so glad I was naive. Knowing what I know now about how damned difficult this writing thing is (at least doing it well, which is a function of “time spent head down banging on keyboard” and “trying to corral all new knowledge about making everything better all at once”), I never would’ve done it. Ever.
If I’d have known that I wasn’t supposed to start with a prologue or show, don’t tell, or that I wasn’t supposed to write cardboard characters or that seeing things in movies that are utterly unbelievable is still cool because CGI but doing those same things in a book gets you raked over the coals, or that guns are a really big deal to people who know guns and if you screw up a gun and put a safety on it (or just call it a gun when it’s really a pistol) they will scream bloody murder…
If I’d have known any of that, I wouldn’t have done it. I never should have been a writer, remember? I didn’t go to school for it — no English degree, no journalism experience, no good grades in British Lit (I actually only remember one thing: Frankenstein is an example of a “picture within a picture”-type story. Hmm. Cool. I thought it was about a monster).
I was never supposed to write.
I was supposed to read and have fun doing it and then go play my trombone or something (oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that I do have a degree in trombone).
But now I’m a writer. Am I sorry? No, not really. It actually pays well enough and it’s certainly fun and I get to see my kids every day, and…
Wait, I’m not sorry about any of that. I love this stuff. I’d probably still write if it wasn’t my job, but I wouldn’t write as fast. Maybe a book every few years. It’s fun to create worlds, to develop characters and see what they do and what stupid mistakes they make. It’s fun to meet other weirdos like me who get it, who have the same challenges I do and can help me out. It’s fun to think about the future.
So I’m glad I was naive. If I’d have done my research and homework beforehand, I probably never would have started. If a real writer told me half the crap they were dealing with, I never would have taken that leap.
I was never supposed to write, but now I do. Shrug.
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