Origin Story: How I Became a Novelist (PART 1 of 2)


How in the world did I ever become a writer?  It wasn't exactly a straight line, I can tell you that. When I was a kid, all I cared about was drawing. That’s all I did. A blank piece of paper to me was an invitation. I can remember countless experiences of eating out at restaurants and asking my mom or my grandmother or any other nearby adult for a pen or a pencil, then I’d then turn over the paper mat that was usually set on the table and I’d start drawing. What did I draw, you might be wondering?

Superheroes mostly. I was obsessed with superheroes. Superman started out as my favorite, mostly because he could fly. I also loved that he had super strength and he wore a cape. A superhero without a cape always seemed like a lost opportunity to me. I don’t remember when I first discovered Superman. Much like Jesus or McDonald’s, he always seemed to be around, just an ubiquitous presence for as long as I can remember. I know for certain I watched him on television in Adventures of Superman, the 1952 TV series starring George Reeves (in syndication, of course, as I was born in 1977). While I loved the TV show—despite my inability to remember a single episode, only snippets of Superman jumping out of windows—I adored the original 1978 Superman movie starring Christopher Reeve and directed by Richard Donner.

My brother, Greg, had a large comic book collection when I was growing up.  I remember them on top of a shelf so high it nearly touched the ceiling. You couldn’t get them without climbing on some furniture.  The fact that they were so hard to get made them all the more tantalizing. I used to read the comics from his collection all the time and Superman was always my first choice, though he had a wide variety of heroes from both the DC Universe and the Marvel Universe. When I was about nine or ten and my taste in superheroes became more sophisticated, I decided that I just couldn’t buy into Superman anymore.

I mean—so what?—he could fly and he was super strong. In my mind, anybody could make up a superhero with those powers. It was so simple. In need of a more complex hero, I turned to Batman. Batman was great, because he had a cape and he didn’t need superpowers. He was just a dude who was really smart and worked really hard—and, of course, he had millions of dollars, but that part never captured my imagination as a kid.  He also had a TV show starring Adam West and, like most kids, I had no idea it wasn’t a drama. Much like Adventures of Superman, I can’t really remember any specific episode of Batman, but I do know that I loved it and I watched it every time I saw it on TV.

So, anyway, I loved drawing as a kid and, in particular, I loved drawing superheroes. I spent countless hours trying to mimic my favorite covers, usually of Batman.  For years and years, Batman became my subject of choice. In fact, if you can find anybody who knew me from around fourth or fifth grade through high school, they’ll likely remember me as the kid who drew Batman all the time. My dream was to be a comic artist. I couldn’t think of anything better than drawing superheroes for a living. I practiced and practiced and I drew and drew and while I got better over time, I was never good enough to satisfy my own barometer of excellence.

Other people thought I was very good (some might even say I was terrific, but I suppose you'll have to ask them yourself) but I always knew that I'd plateaued at a very young age. I understood that I was never going to get much better than I was and, if I had any real chance of drawing comics, I’d have to be better. The problem was no matter how good my drawings were, they never looked like the pictures in my head, which was horribly frustrating. I kept drawing anyway and I took a bunch of art classes in high school and by the time I graduated I was burnt out on the whole thing.

I just didn’t love it anymore, which was a weird feeling, because, for the whole of my life up to that point, being an artist was central to who I was. I had no idea what I was supposed to do with my life anymore. In the mean time, while I floundered in the purgatory of broken dreams, I enrolled in Chaffey College, which is the local community college where I grew up in Rancho Cucamonga.  My first year there, I took two classes which changed my life forever.