How I Became A Writer
By Lamar Giles
I’m supposed to blog about my writing journey and I’ve been struggling with the best way to tackle the task. There are a lot of years between when I first put pen to paper and now, and there are ways to frame the interim events so that the story is epic, or action-packed (if by action you’re referring to my swift typing), or sad, maybe even tragic. Conversely, it could be pure comedy if I cherry-pick moments and set up the jokes properly. Decisions, decisions. Thus is the burden of writers. We control worlds.
Being the benevolent ruler that I am, I won’t wring tears from you today (go ahead, kiss the ring). Instead, I’ll give you a timeline of highlights and speed bumps along my path….
Age 4: I’m not fully grasping the English language yet, but have no problem interpreting Spider-Man punching Doc Ock in the face. More comic books please.
Age 6: Mom often says no when I ask for a new G.I. Joe or Transformer. She always says yes when I ask for books. There’s something important here. Must explore further.
Age 7: Reading is fun. I can’t believe people actually make up these stories. Hmmm, what if I tried making up some of my own?
Age 8: First place in my grade’s Young Author contest. I don’t know if I’ve ever won anything before. They must really like my story about a giant dinosaur emerging from a box of breakfast cereal. This is encouraging. Maybe I’ll keep going.
Age 11: I read It by Stephen King (not something I’d recommend if you’re 11 and care to sleep without concerns of demonic clowns floating over you in the dark, however…) and my life changes. I want to do what this guy does.
Age 14: I start my first novel (yeah, took me 3 years, sue me), but reading is less fun. I’m in high school, and most of the “important” books are by and about people who look nothing like me. How should I take that? Not well.
Age 17: I finish that first novel. It’s a monstrous 600 pages, and it’s terrible. I’m discouraged. Not because I wrote a bad first novel (all the research I’ve done on working writers suggests first novels are often bad), but because I’m still not able to find the kinds of books I like by or about people like me. There are no black or brown Stephen Kings that I’m aware of. I search harder, but I’m losing hope. Maybe I’m wasting my time.
Age 18: I’m in college, and the call to decide what I’m going to do with my life is louder than ever. At one time I would have shouted, “write books!” I have less conviction now. Less voice. I hear there are great careers in computer technology.
Age 19: I discover My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due. THIS BOOK. IS. AMAZING! It’s speculative fiction (or dark fantasy/horror, if you prefer…really the only label it needs is “excellent”), kind of like what Stephen King does, but a thing all its own. Ms. Due is black. Her characters are like me. Fully fleshed, not meant to give some other character comic relief, or wisdom, or time to escape while death looms. I read My Soul to Keep in one sitting. Then immediately track down her first book, The Between (much harder to do in the days before Amazon left things on your doorstep). There is hope.
Age 20: Blood Brothers by Steven Barnes. Another amazing book that hits all the marks for me. With an added bonus, Mr. Barnes is a dude (an awesome, sci-fi, martial arts dude). My hope from before amplifies into this badass Jedi-style new hope. I start semi-stalking researching him and discover (wait for it) HE’S MARRIED TO TANANARIVE DUE!!! Oh my God! I don’t know what to make of this new information (other than I’m easily excited). I feel the universe is telling me something, though. Like, keep going.
Age 21 – 30: Yep, nearly a decade. Each year could constitute its own post, but I’m not going to do it to you. Here’s what you need to know. I write a lot. Get rejected a lot. Start having small successes with short fiction, and I independently publish some longer work. I feel like quitting sometimes, but I never can let the words go. I still don’t see people like me represented in many books (or TV, or movies…that’s another conversation), but I hang on to a quote I discovered shortly after reading Ms. Due and Mr. Barnes. It’s from Toni Morrison, one of the important writers who does look like me. She says, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Well, okay then.
Age 31: A single editor takes a chance on Whispertown, my high school murder mystery about a black teen boy with a unique past and exciting—if not pleasant—future. It’s not exactly Stephen King. Or Due. Or Barnes. But there are monsters in it. The human kind. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants and the view is just fine.
Now: As I write this, a copy of my novel sits on my desk in all its pre-pub glory. Soon it will have to make its own way in the world. Regardless of what happens next, a lifelong dream is realized. My journey has led me here, to Fake ID (formerly Whispertown). It’s a book I want to read.
I hope you feel the same.
Lamar “L. R.” Giles writes stories for teens and adults. He’s never met a genre he didn’t like, having penned science fiction, fantasy, horror, and noir thrillers, among others. He is a Virginia native, a Hopewell High Blue Devil, and an Old Dominion University Monarch. He resides in Chesapeake, Virginia, with his wife.