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Somewhere in my parent’s house there’s a photo album. Most likely there are several. But this one in particular is one of those fancy padded types with a soft cloth cover; white with a floral pattern, pink frilly trim and one of those plastic windows in the front that seems to have lost its transparency over time. In that album there’s a photo printed from honest to goodness thirty-five millimeter Kodak film, and faded to a pre-Instagram, natural sepia. That photo is of a little boy. His lips are pursed in a tight begrudging smile signaling to all that he’d rather not have the camera pointed in his direction. He’s holding one sad red balloon by its string in the muggy warmth of a Washington summer.
While certainly no angel, that little boy in the hideous brown and yellow striped shirt represented a clean slate of human potential. The act of simply meandering through life had not yet tainted him. Thirty years later that boy was a pre-middle aged man, eight years into an entry level job in a California State IT shop, wondering how he was going to afford his looming and inevitable mid-life crisis. He thought he’d do some writing, maybe a short story or two, maybe a novel. A decade late to the blog party he started putting digital ink to virtual paper, which is where you’re likely reading this, if anyone out there in the ether actually reads this shit.
You could ask a hundred writers when they knew they wanted to write, and I’d guess that most of them would say that they loved reading and writing since they were wee little tykes learning their ABCs. Perhaps they’d tell you about a book they fell in love with in junior high, or high school, and they knew then. The only books I read during my teens were of the comic variety, in the 90’s, when every female character had perfectly drawn, and clearly fake tits. Oh, and they wore thongs into battle. Because what self-respecting female hero doesn’t wear a thong when fighting ninjas, ya know?
Around the same time I had my nose pressed into Jean Grey’s 2-D cleavage, I discovered anime and holy shit. Dragon Ball Z, Ninja Scroll, Akira, and tentacle porn; if you’re a guy who grew up in the 90’s there is a very good chance that you’ve seen all four of those, and you probably watched them while smoking shitty brown weed and drinking Mad Dog 20/20. And you probably did that while ignoring your sister’s complaints about the girl that you’re kinda seeing that you met at the Mr. Video. Or maybe that last part is just me. Oh, and Mario Kart. I’ll fuck you up at Mario Kart.
What does that have to do with writing? Not a damn thing. It barely has anything to do with reading but for the fact that I’m conveying this story with the alphabet. But that’s kinda the point.
The first time I had any idea that I might be decent at it was in May of 1998, about a month before graduation. My English teacher asked us to write some nonsense about what our time at school meant and yada yada. I was feeling sappy and nostalgic at the time so I apparently took it seriously.
I wrote about that little boy with the balloon changing schools after the third grade because his parents bought a house in a nicer neighborhood. I read to them in front of the class about how that same kid moved from Washington State to Arizona just a year later for the fifth grade, and spent the sixth grade at Pasadena Elementary in Sacramento. Sacagawea middle school in Spokane was fun for a year. The six foot snow drifts were pretty, but my shoes didn’t do a great job of keeping my feet dry. Eighth grade and part of my freshman year of high school we were back in Seattle, before coming back to Sacramento. I talked to them about the drives from one state to another where I’d sleep on the floor of the car, contorted over the hump behind the front seats so my sister could sleep on the back seat. I told them how my sister would make friends easily wherever we went, and how she would cry when we’d leave a year after that. I told them how I didn’t do those things, and how coming to know them slowly was something I appreciated. Everyone cried.
Fifteen years, five college enrollments, dropouts, and an inauspicious stint in our nation’s armed services later, and I started banging away at a keyboard and flinging my half-ass empurpled prose at a few writer-friends I met through a Seahawks fan site. Go ‘Hawks. I got some decent feedback and kept plugging away. Now I’m doing the thing.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no illusions about popping out one novel, becoming a best-selling author and living the rest of my life on easy street. Writing is hard work. It’s harder than working hard at a hard job. It’s thankless, merciless, and you have to be a little bit crazy to take a serious stab at it. Nobody likes rejection. Nobody is going to pay you if you suck. You have to take your lumps. And even if you don’t suck, well, not everybody gets to be an astronaut. That’s the harsh reality. But I’m doing the thing anyway. Because fuck it, why not? I’m at two rejections and counting. How about you? How and when did you decide you had to write?