Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Muse Chose Me, By Process of Elimination

*sits peacefully munching on holiday candy*

One topic I haven't written about on this blog (that I can remember) is why I decided to become a writer (or, at the least, pursue it with the end goal of making it a career option). 

This story begins in olden times, and it's very VERY long-winded. So, set the sails.

This story begins in olden times, the 1990s to be exact. I was a young boy who enjoyed stories, whether it be my father's bedtime tales or movies like Star Wars. Since we didn't have cable television, I wasn't fully aware of what other media had to offer. 

I was in elementary school in 1997. One day, after watching an episode of Arthur, I asked Mom for a few extra minutes before leaving, just so I could see what came on next. 

This is what I saw.

I shrugged and went about my day.

A few months later I was at my grandmother's house (my only chance to watch cable) and stumbled upon this.

I don't remember much. Sailor Moon was the first anime series of which I saw a complete episode. I sat there scratching my head thinking, "Hmm. This sure is different than Loony Toons."

I decided to check out Cartoon Network a lot that summer. Toonami, The Midnight Run, and Adult Swim were at the height of their popularity. Pretty soon I was neck-deep in it.


And even this.

My reaction?


Look at the animation! The music! The special effects! It's not just a half hour of gags and laughs, there's an actual story to this! It feels so good. The art! The fight scenes! And, English names. Yeah.

Don't get me wrong. The American stuff was good too. I loved a lot of 90s shows: X-Men, Spiderman, Batman. It's not that they were bad shows. In fact, I think many of them had superior writing, plot elements, and character development than most animes (I'm looking at you, Dragon Ball Z, but that's another post of its own).

When you're only eight years old and probably won't be around to see the next episode, getting some flashy battle sequences is a major plus. (Incidentally, I find myself watching more of the old American cartoons now that I've grown up). 

There are other reasons why I watched a lot of anime back then. The Marvel and DC shows came on early in the morning. Anime was an afternoon/late night affair. 

Ok, maybe that was the only reason.

Point is, I was instantly a guy driven by visual pizzaz. I decided that I wanted to become a cartoonist. I knew next to nothing about how to draw, let alone animate. Back in those days, there weren't any instruction books on how to produce your own manga, or any sources about how to get into the business. America was caught up in the craze, but all we could do is consume. Those with the time, money, and talent emulated to the best of their ability.

I remember sitting in a class on day drawing a blonde-haired male character in Sayin body armor. There was no plot. No objective. No rhyme or reason. Just a bunch of dudes (and later dudettes) beating the crap out of each other, because hey, that's what DBZ was all about and it was AWESOME. 

Eventually, instruction books were published. I bought several. Lots of money was spent on books, paper, pens, and even a big art desk that I have to this day. Books are good for understanding basic concepts. But when you plan to make something your life's work, as I thought I had, you need a mentor. 

Instruction from someone who's been around the block is the single most valuable use of time you can apply towards any career. Cops have Training Officers. Soldiers have Drill Sergeants. I didn't have anybody. The only person in my family with artistic experience was my other grandmother, and she didn't have any idea what this Japanese stuff was (though I took her to see Mewtwo Strikes Back).

Despite the lack of supervision, I pressed on.

But, in the words of Don McClean, February 2000 made me shiver.

I was eleven, and diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. The pain was excruciating. Holding a pencil or pen for a prolonged period to get the lines of someone's face just right had been a minor annoyance. Now it was downright torturous. It's difficult to explain how a disease can make every movement and range of motion a dreadful event. 

Over the course of the next several years, I went from one hospital to the next. Art was something I didn't enjoy anymore. It was too painful. Physically, yes, but emotionally as well. I couldn't get what I had in my mind onto the page. It was lost in translation. The eyes weren't right. The hair was too short. It didn't look natural. 

It was all wrong. A cycle of diminishing returns.

I was now fifteen and in a dire predicament. I had thought of so many stories, but without a medium through which to tell them, what was I going to do? At a summer camp I sat in on a card game (one of those ridiculous inventions people make so they don't feel guilty for playing anything that resembles poker). 

A girl had a copy of The Last Mermaid. She told me it was a love story set against the Peloponnesian Wars. We said nothing else. I walked out of that room after a few minutes. It was sunny. I stopped, looked up, shrugged, and said "I'm going to write a book."

If anyone tells you that they were inspired by a bolt of lightning, a voice from the heavens, or any other contrived mumbo-jumbo, here's what you do.

1. Slap them in the face.

2. Apologize. 

3. Slap them again.

4. Retract apology.

5. Ask them how it really happened.

Many famous authors had no lofty ambitions about a "dream career." Frederick Forsyth was broke and needed a job. Stephen King was also broke and needed a job. J.K. Rowling was really broke and needed a job (all right, fine; maybe she got inspired by a vision). 

So, in short, my decision was like asking a wallflower to dance after my date stood me up.

I started the first draft of The Eclipse Chronicles on an old Windows computer my parents kept for us kids to play games. I wasn't much of a reader as a child. I knew even less about writing.

My thoughts during the first draft?


I got a mentor in the form of an older woman at church who agreed to coach me on the basics. Week after week, I printed off a chapter, brought it to her, and received it about a week later all marked up. 

And then Paolini. 

Paolini's Inheritance Cycle (originally a trilogy) fueled a nation-wide craze for young writing geniuses. Once again, I got caught up in the hype. I'd simply write a book, self-publish, then wait before inevitably being picked up my a major house.

That's when the hard learning began.

I've covered what happened next in my recent posts, so I hope you enjoyed this little origin story. 

To cap off, I thought I'd list the books I've read this year. 

- Of Mice and Men
- Battlecry of Freedom
- Band of Brothers
- Salem's Lot
- Twilight for the Gods
- Jaws
- The Dogs of War
- IT
- Frankenstein
- We Were Soldiers Once, and Young
- Cordell Hull's Memoirs, Volume One

My resolution? Read more!

...and write more.

Power to the pen!

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