I have been in love with story since before I even knew what it was, before I could separate fiction from reality (jury’s still out on how well I can do that).
My parents and grandparents read to me from the time I was an infant. My grandmother disliked the nastier details involved in some fairy tales, so instead she read me A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories, so these are the first stories I remember latching on to.
Probably because of this early start, I was reading by myself before I went to kindergarten. In my home, the shelves were full of picture books, and later, chapter books by authors such as Beverly Cleary and Judy Blume. As I got older, I found Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, which introduced me to fantasy. Of this genre, I couldn’t get enough, quickly burning through the meager collection in my school library.
I remained addicted to story throughout my childhood, and into my teen years. I was an only child, and spent many lonely hours with no one but my books. I didn’t have many friends to start with because I was shy, and I committed the unforgivable crime of being a short boy, for which I was subjected to endless bullying. As many kinds do in this situation, I escaped into stories.
I was, I think, 8 years old when I decided I wanted to write a story of my own. I came up with a five page story about Indiana Jones fighting a mummy in the middle of a tornado. This has, fortunately, been lost to history. I know now that I was doing what a lot of writers do, and starting out with fanfic. This was the 80’s, however, and no one had yet heard of AO3. These days I also know more about the weather patterns in Egypt, but I was growing up in Indiana where tornados were a common occurrence, and loomed large in my imagination.
I don’t remember if I ever finished that story, or even if I ever showed it to anyone. But I continued writing, most of the time about characters who already existed. I didn’t know if I was any good, and I didn’t really care. But I read a lot and absorbed a great deal from what I read.
The first time I realized that I might actually be getting good at writing was in sixth grade, when I turned in a report on Pearl Harbor, and my teacher accused me of plagiarism. He couldn’t find any places where I’d copied anyone, but apparently my writing didn’t sound like a typical sixth-grader, it sounded professional. He couldn’t prove I’d plagiarized, and went ahead and begrudgingly gave me an A (he never apologized, either). I would continue to receive A’s on all of my writing assignments through middle and high school.
I moved from books into comics, and became obsessed with Chris Claremont’s run on X-men, writing notebooks full of stories about my own versions of the characters (AU, anyone?). This was my one bright spot in my life at the time. It was probably from Claremont that I got my obsession with focusing on the relationships between characters.
In high school, the bullying escalated for a variety of reasons (I still hadn’t gotten much taller, I was allergic to any type of athletic pursuit, and my neurodivergence made it hard to interact with my peers in non-awkward ways, not to mention the fact that I was secretly gay, which was something it would take me decades to process). But I had my books and my comics to retreat into when things got really bad.
When I was a senior in high school, 2 teachers had noticed my talent with words, and one of them encouraged me to enter a novel-writing contest for young writers. So, I wrote my first novel. It was a terrible pseudo-religious fantasy pastiche. It didn’t win the contest, but I’d written an actual book! And I had ideas for more! It would take me a long time to finish another, thanks to life stress and my adhd, and even longer to write something good enough to publish, but I persisted.
In a very real way, stories saved me from despair. They gave me an escape from the torment I was enduring in my daily life. I had some dark thoughts during those times, but I needed to stick around to see what was going to happen next to the X-men. I know that sounds silly, but it was absolutely true.
So, stories saved me. They taught me how to live in a world that seemed, at best, uncaring about my existence, at worst, actively hostile to it. They gave me hope that things could be better. So, that’s why I write. If a story of mine could make things better for someone in a tough situation, maybe that would justify everything I went through, all of the oxygen I have consumed while living on this planet. My stories are about hope and connection, about relatable characters having incredible adventures. I hope they can be there for others, the way stories have always been there for me.
So, that’s my secret origin.