It was literally a bright sunny morning on July 15th, 2009, when my career in Information Technology came to an end. It was accompanied by the requisite screeching tires, crushing metal, and burning fuel. Picture a ’75 Lincoln full of gasoline cans driving full-tilt-boogie straight into a concrete overpass support, and you’ll get the idea.
I got laid off from a QA Manager position of five years—a position that had paid pretty well, I don’t mind saying. I’d even known it was coming months ahead of time—my boss and I had that kind of relationship—but even as they slid a severance check and a piece of paper listing stock options and a mountain of unused vacation time across the table, I didn’t have the slightest idea what I was going to do next.
Seventeen years in IT had chewed me up and spat me out.
So, paper in hand, I went home to an empty house where months before events had conspired to make me a “separated” person rather than a married one. Okay, it wasn’t events, it was me and the ex (who is still a very good friend of mine) conspiring to grow up and discovering we made better friends than spouses.
You know that cliché about sitting in an empty house listening to a clock tick?
It’s not a cliché.
I actually did that.
I believe it’s the ticking that helps one think. There’s something about being perfectly conscious of time passing that grants better clarity when looking inward. It’s like a spotlight… or a magnifying glass… or even a laser cutting through all the bullshit straight to your soul. Yeah, that’s the one… a laser burning everything away until you’re left with a naked self, a pale child screaming in the darkness, curled up into a ball on a cold floor.
Did I mention why I got into IT? I didn’t want to be a starving artist for the rest of my life. Well, someone else didn’t want me to be a starving for artist the rest of my life, and no, it wasn’t my ex. This goes way back.
So, there I sat, the clock ticking, a screaming child surrounded by darkness fixed solely in the center of my mind’s eye, and then something happened that I didn’t expect. The child went silent. It slowly rose from the ground and looked straight back at me. It gave me one resolute nod, turned, and walked into the darkness of uncertainty.
You see, I’d been miserable for seventeen years, day in and day out—grinding someone else’s wheat as I like to say—and in the time it takes for a piece of paper to slide across a table, it all changed. I understand now that it was catharsis… it was freedom… it was self-discovery and so much more.
Five days later, I started writing Chemical Burn, a light sci-fi detective noir where an alien ex-government assassin turns private detective in L.A.
I had six months of life left in the severance, stock options, and back vacation time. After that, I’d be broke, bankrupt, and—at the very best—scraping by. What I realized as that child disappeared into the shadows was that I’m a writer. I’ve always been a writer. I will die a writer, and if I die starving, I’ll at least die happy. Two months and 144,000 words after that, I had my first novel. That novel placed in the Colorado Gold Fiction contest the following year.
Who I had been and who I was becoming were two entirely different people. One could argue that my career had contributed to my divorce, but I realize now that it was always me… pretending to be someone I’m not. The dissolution of that marriage was merely a manifestation of the dissolution of a mask I’d worn for far too long. I can also say that I was fortunate to have been involved with a partner who understood, and forgave, and who to this day still has my back… and vice versa.
That was five years ago.
I can’t say it’s been easy. I’ve been paycheck to paycheck working a part-time job whilst producing anthologies and cranking out short stories and wrapping up a handful of novels. I got to cons. I work my ass off every day, sometimes twelve and fourteen hours in front of the computer doing “the next project.” I still don’t have health insurance, and the notion of savings is a goal, not a reality. But I can honestly say that every second, from that sunny July morning to now, has been fulfilling.
I’ve been happy… truly, deeply, fundamentally… perhaps for the first time since I was a child.
I even have a tribe now, a group of writers who look at the world with eyes similar to my own. I express my creativity on a daily basis. I make things—stories and places and people—and I put them out there in hopes that at least some small part of the world might enjoy them… might derive at least a few moments of escape from grinding someone else’s wheat.
And after five years, I have a fair amount to show for my labors.
On the 11th of June… today, in fact… I’m officially releasing Penny Dread Tales IV, the fourth annual installment of steampunk short stories from all over the world. Those four volumes were good enough to get a publisher interested in producing a “Best of Penny Dread.” That’s a big deal.
Additionally (and also today) 7DS Books is releasing a collection of my own short stories in a volume entitled Out Through the Attic. I bill myself as a cross-genre author, and this collection is a reflection of that. It’s got short stories from a number of different publications as well as a few previously unpublished ones, and it includes sci-fi, steampunk, fantasy, horror, and paranormal.
Twisted Core Press asked me to write them a novel, so I’m working on a military sci-fi story full of powered armor and mental abilities that should be out by late summer or early fall.
Chemical Burn—that first novel I mentioned—has been picked up by WordFire Press, and they’re interested in my steampunk novel Jake Lasater: Blood Curse.
All the hard work… all the uncertainty… every moment wondering if I’d simply lost my mind five years ago… it’s starting to bear fruit. I can only hope that the next five years are as fulfilling as the past five have been, and that along the way I can entertain more and more people with this wild compulsion to put words on a page.
I hope to see you soon, and here’s to the future: chasing dreams and dying happy.