My history with writing goes back a long way—all the way to the second grade. I loved to read as a young child. During those years, the Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine was largely popular with kids. My parents encouraged me to read, and between buying the books and letting me check them out at the library, it didn’t take me long to read every one published at the time. These books were produced and published fairly quickly, a handful released every year—but patience was never my strong suit.
Without a book to keep me entertained, I decided I would write my own Goosebumps story. Using a plain white piece of construction paper and a purple marker, I started writing—and I never stopped. Construction paper and markers turned into spiral-bound notebooks, pages upon pages written on an old typewriter, and finally, to thousands of words saved on files on our family computer. It was more than a hobby; it was an obsession. I did it every day for as long as I can remember, but I always did it for fun. I never dreamed of publishing a series of my own—until the summer of 2006, a year after I graduated high school.
Still an avid reader, my friend Adam recommended a book to me called Eragon, by Christopher Paolini. Working at the shaved ice shack my parents owned, I cracked it open in my downtime. Instantly captivated, when my shift was over, I went home and finished it that evening. I drove to Walmart afterwards, hoping and praying the sequel would be there. To my delight, I found a hardback copy of Eldest staring back at me from its place on the shelf. I took a little more time reading this one as it’s quite a bit longer. So impressed with writing style and story, I decided to look up the author.
When I found out Christopher Paolini was only five years older than me, and was my age at the time (nineteen) he published his first book, I thought to myself, “If he can do it, so can I.” He ended up being the second author who truly inspired me, setting me to a year-long task of building the world of Espiria. It all started with a map drawn on Microsoft Paint. Before I wrote a single word of narration or dialogue, I mapped out the names of the months, how many suns, how many moons, how many races, where they are located geographically on the map, the names of the kings and people who ruled there, and some history to give it the feeling of a real place.
So, with delusions of grandeur, a nineteen year-old naïve kid with a dream set to writing his first novel. Writing was never a difficult thing for me, and before long, I had a 350,000-word manuscript no publisher would look at, let alone touch. I split the original into two books, and focused on selling the first one. Learning the publishing game is akin to feeling around in the dark unless you have someone showing you what to do every step of the way—which I did not—and I settled for a vanity press that did not help me like I thought they would. Conspiracy didn’t sell very well, and looking back, it’s no surprise. But two things my father taught me: failure is never final, and you can’t lose if you don’t quit.
My adventures in writing had only just begun.
Eric, another friend of mine, bought a copy of The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson. I read the prologue three times because it was so captivating and well-written. I loved the feeling of being thrown face-first into a world I didn’t know or understand, and watching the plot unfold on the page before me through the eyes of characters rich with complexity. It was around this time I realized where I had gone wrong with Espiria. I had done so much ‘telling’ in the world-building, I neglected to ‘show’ my readers anything they hadn’t seen before. I promised myself then and there I would not make the same mistake with the second installment, and set out to write Crusade.
Partway through writing the first draft of a manuscript, Alex, a former co-worker, started pestering me to watch the HBO hit series, Game of Thrones. After weeks of telling him I would get around to it, he finally brought the first season DVDs to work, and told me to take them home and watch them. I watched the first episode, stopped, and drove to Target where I picked up my own copies of seasons 1 and 2, knowing this would be my next great obsession. I hosted a one-man marathon over the next two days, and then went to purchase the books. For those of you who have not read A Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy series by George R. R. Martin, let me tell you, the plot is larger and more complex than your average fantasy epic. Hundreds of characters, dozens of places, and an immersive world to fall into await the reader on every turn of the page.
I changed the approach, style, and format to Espiria, taking what I’d learned from Stein, Paolini, Sanderson, and Martin, and applying it to the manuscript. After I finished Crusade, I knew that I had something special. It dwarfed the previous novel so dramatically, I knew I had to re-write Conspiracy and release it as a second edition. This turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Taking the words that came from my original dream, and making them into the story they were always supposed to tell. I had grown up, and so had my work.
My inspiration story is like so many others. I stumbled upon the work of damn good writers who not only impressed me, but inspired me to do better. Without Stein, I would have never even tried my hand at writing. Without Paolini, I never would have believed I could write professionally. Without Sanderson, I never would have learned to live vicariously through my characters. And without Martin, I would never have dreamed Espiria could be so big a place. I owe a lot to these men, not just because they produced great work, but because all of them were part of the journey that led me where I am today. All of them continue to inspire me to keep going in spite of past failures.
So here’s to a New Year, a fresh start, and making my dreams come true. Here’s to remembering that failure is never final, and you can’t lose if you don’t quit.