Q&A: Authorship [Personal History]
Many people who end up wanting to be writers, or specifically authors, don’t start out that way. Life leads them down wandering paths, and along the journey to building a life is when such things begin to ferment. It could (and should) be said that story-making and story-telling are two different things. For an anyone working in any medium of expression, prose or otherwise, these are two different talents. When they are refined into skill sets, they must be integrated at the most intimate as well as pragmatic levels. That’s quite a feat, and some who don’t end up as “story-tellers” nonetheless begin early in life as “story-makers”… and they may not even know it…
- Did you want to be writers when you were kids? *
Not really for either of us, but something was there from the start. We were both avid readers; we both liked to escape into books of different kinds. Yes, there was fantasy and SF in there, but other things as well — very different things between the two of us. And we came from rather different backgrounds.
Barb grew up on a semi-rural farm some twenty miles from nearby Snohomish, Washington. The property was her father’s passion aside from his work as a professional electrician in a paper plant. She spent as much time outside as possible with a horse named Kayla and a dog named Brady, both of whom were her close companions. She also has a brother, Al, and a sister, Elaine, who were her primary “friends” in those youngest days. She was surrounded by the aspects of rural life, including the religion and social outlook of a people deeply rooted and attached to the land in a cultivated way of life.J.C. moved around quite a bit, as his father was a forester and later a social scientist and wilderness resource expert, hence working for the Forest Service and the federal government. He, too, ended up in the northwest, eventually in Seattle, Washington. He grew up fighting for a place to sleep in a single bed with two 90lb Labrador retrievers and his own dog. Scampy was a mutt with Labrador in her and enough nastiness to put the other dogs in their place… so a young J.C. could get some of the covers. He had a younger brother and two much younger adopted sisters. On one contradiction, he later develop a distaste for horses as a species, though there were two such individuals during his life he came to respect and perhaps adore. Just two — the rest he growled and cursed at.
In our earliest teen years, neither of us were very social, though possibly J.C. more than Barb in the high school years. J.C. always felt pretty much out of place except in the high school theater department, or dabbling in poetry and art as a somewhat civilized animal on two legs. Meanwhile Barb hung out with her sister as her closest female companion but spent a lot of her free time at school hiding out and reading in the library.
So Barb was somewhat of a hidden budding scholar, developing interests in history and always deeply into literature, popular or otherwise. There were many influences around her linked to traditional social and ideological sides of life, but none of which she felt completely at home in.
Meanwhile, J.C. just barely graduated high school, on the US east coast then, and left home immediately at 17 to head back to the northwest and Pacific coast. He wandered, a sometime graphics artist for local Seattle bands during the budding “grunge” era, and even once as grunt labor for a wildlife relocation team in the wilderness parks area of the Cascades. He was also in and out of colleges on varied degree programs that led nowhere and even ended up on the streets for a while. On the side, his ideological and spiritual perspectives became shaped by influences well outside the mainstream.
Somehow, we both ended up working in the same mall; she in a jewelry store and he in a tobacco and collectibles shop. We met through her sister who along with her boyfriend at the time tricked both of us into sharing a car ride home, as we all worked on the mall. It was an uncomfortable, quiet ride in the back seat with a stranger, considering we were both utterly sick of dating anyone at the time. It was one of those rides where either party was waiting to see who would turn into the monster first.
It wasn’t until we married that either of us thought of college and university in any serious way. But it should be obvious by now that story-making was in the works. We actually took a try at our very first short story together, and within a year we ended up at the University of Idaho, together. J.C. started in the college of Architecture there after finishing (finally) an associate’s degree in drafting and assembly illustration. The wild idea was he could finally get a real job, and we could get some writing done on the side.
One semester later, Barb matriculated, and we both moved over to English majors; so much for the real job. Barb eventually turned her master’s degree into a career; while J.C.’s degree went mostly unused (professionally), as he later worked in the IT industry with a longtime chum of theirs. At university, Barb was finally able to study history and literature in more depth, and J.C. buried himself in the creative writing side, leaning into small press editing and publishing as well. Of course it was Barb who actually got published first… and second. Meanwhile, animals were still coming and going.
J.C. had always been around such, from your basic dogs and cats, sometimes a bit wild, to raccoons and ferrets and skunks, fish and lizards and snakes, and even a bird or two. Barb lived on a farm, so likewise on the more domesticated side, and always a horse of some kind to ride and hang out with. And after going off to university, those other companions on two or four legs followed and started coming through the doors on their own. Seriously, we had a long string of strays, including one panicked and lost chocolate Labrador that tore at our front door until we opened it. And a Persian cat who had gone feral but still came to the open back door wanting something to eat. One after another for over a decade, wherever we lived, they came looking for us… for a meal, protection, or help in finding a home. And more stories began forming before we were fully aware of it. Some good, some not.
Needless to say, if you combine a personal world entrenched in the civilized and educated but constantly invaded by the wild and otherworldly, it leads to a very different way of looking at life and existence. On top of it all, Barb had developed an interest in myth and folklore from the historical and cultural side while J.C. had a lifetime interest in the arcane, unto itself or linked to art and ideology. More story-making was in the works… this time with some budding awareness of it and some actual skills to put it to use.
It was a long winding way, with many sudden turns and loops, just like the answer to this question. And it was necessary. If it hadn’t happened that way, and with lots (and lots) of other stuff left unmentioned, we would be in some other life. We would have never awakened, recognized, and come to terms with the story-makers within us in order to become story-tellers.
So no, we didn’t want to be writers when we were kids. We couldn’t have for real, as we were too young. Although perhaps we each may have wishfully dreamed of being “animal doctors” at one time or another.
In closing, if you want to be a writer, or more specifically an author, then get a life. We mean that seriously, not dismissively or derisively. If you haven’t lived, then you’ve got nothing that makes your stories come alive when you tell them. But don’t think you have to go down some hard road. Don’t get caught up in that suffering artist stereotype. It’s really about finding the life you need more than the one you think you want.
You certainly don’t know what that is when you’re a kid. Of course you won’t get kids to listen if you tell them that, so don’t try. Let them dream, as that unto itself is also story-making; and you don’t have to become a story-teller to benefit from that.
- * Based on material from an interview in Fantastique, Czech SF&F Magazine, 2003(?)