Twenty Years

I’m writing from the Maui airport, getting ready to board the big silver tube that shoots me across the Pacific and back to the land of wearing full-length pants and bitching about smog and seasonal depression. (And excuse the typos and formatting fuckups here – I’m typing on the extremely buggy WordPress for iOS program, and actually writing this on an iPhone with an external keyboard, while old people in aloha shirts scream at flight attendants about not being able to bring 17 bags as their carry-on luggage.) It’s been a good vacation, albeit with little writing, and I missed a very big anniversary while I was gone.

I consider October 30, 1993 as the day I became a writer. I mean, I learned to put together words into sentences and paragraphs decades earlier, and I wrote short stories and term papers for classes before that, plus I did five issues of a zine of heavy metal record reviews. But that’s the day my life took a major turn and I decided to put pen to paper and start the long crawl of learning the craft and piecing together my first book.

The story is stupid, and I’ve told it before. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy falls into an endless depression about said girl. But after a long run of failed relationships, I turned to brain-dumping my thoughts into spiral notebooks. I lived a few miles from campus and did not have a car, so I’d walk to work, walk to class, and had this patchwork schedule that involved enough time stuck on campus with nothing to do to go completely mad with boredom, but not enough time to hike home and then back. I guess I spent a lot of that time logged into VAXes in the public computer labs, but I found it cathartic to find a remote corner of the student union, sit down with my little notebook, and pour out words. I did not even know what I was writing about, I just felt a compulsion to write.

I started reading then, too. Vonnegut, Orwell, then I fell into a Henry Miller obsession, which led to Bukowski. I didn’t have tons of money, but I always found myself at the used book stores, digging around for paperbacks. I didn’t even have a real book collection at that time – maybe a single three-shelf bookcase with mostly computer books. But I started hoarding novels, and getting lost in the pages late at night, wondering how I’d pull together a novel like Kerouac, if I needed to split from Indiana and hit The Road.

My career in computer science fell apart around the same time. I was a horrible student, and could not deal with the math. A semester later, I dropped out of the program, and went over to general studies, so I could finish my degree by taking as many English classes as I could get into in my last year. I still worked with computers, helping people print their papers or whatever, but it was just a paycheck, another way to pay my rent and blow the rest on books.

It took me a couple of years to really get into the swing of things and apply myself, start my first book, and apply myself to write for hours a day. It didn’t start to fully click until I got to Seattle in 95 and had nothing to do every night except sit at the computer and type. And I guess the first book didn’t cross the transom until 2000. But I still consider 1993 as my start point, when I decided to do this.

I look back and it’s hard to imagine a time when I wasn’t a writer. In the worst of my writer’s block, when the frustration is so high that I seriously contemplate quitting all of this, I try to think back to what I did with my time before I was a writer, and I can’t even remember. I burned a lot of cycles with depression and relationships, and I guess I obsessed over music and computer programming, but there wasn’t any defining force like writing in my life.

I’ve now self-published nine books, and published a bunch of stories, some in anthologies or published elsewhere. I’ve met some great writers, and in the course of doing this, ended up reading hundreds of books, many of which have changed my life. I always feel a certain disappointment in my writing, that the last book wasn’t good enough, that I’m not progressing as fast as my other peers, and that sales are bleak. None of this thought is good, and I wish I could just stop it, but I can’t. I think a certain amount of it is helpful, in that it motivates me to keep writing. Regardless, I think I have found my momentum in the last few years, and I’ve been pretty productive and able to put out a lot of books. They don’t sell, and even worse, everyone assumes I’m making bank because some other guy with an almost exact same name as me is making millions writing detective stories, but that’s something I’m learning to ignore.

I’ve got a book almost done, and I’m just about done outlining the next big thing, which I am hoping I won’t self-publish myself, but will get someone else to do. I have a lot going on, and I’m always tired of looking back and falling into a huge nostalgia trap. But nice even numbers make you stop and think, and so I am.

Almost ready to get on the plane and lock into five hours of internet-free writing. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing. Thanks to everyone who has supported my work so far, and I hope to be doing this until the next big even number and beyond. Mahalo!

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