I recently found a copy of (what I think was) the very first book I ever wrote. It is called “Hobo” and is a series of — well, two and half — short stories about a man named Hobo. He apparently had a home, because when he bought a dog it clearly states he went back to his house, so I guess he wasn’t really homeless. Still, he sure looked like a homeless person, because my younger self had drawn a title page (as well as accompanying pictures within), and we can plainly see that Hobo has ragged clothing, an unshaven face, and very messy hair. He even wore a rope belt too, a sure sign of true hobo-ness. I suppose he must have had some finances too, because he did buy that dog from the pet store (after he bought a mouse, which was after he’d been to the ear doctor and the butcher’s).
What is most unfortunate, is Hobo’s vacuous depth of character, and there really isn’t anything remotely close to a story arc presented in this volume. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but it appears as though I was making the thing up as I went, and then it ends abruptly in the middle of the third story (entitled “Tumblefoot Tobby,” which is the name he gives his clumsy dog).
I’m not certain why my younger self was so fascinated by the idea of a book about a Hobo, but I guess we all have to start somewhere.
It’s funny how I’ve only recently come to the conclusion that I am a writer. Because when I think about it now, I’ve been writing my whole life.
After the single volume of Hobo, I can recall attempting to make my own comic books, a hobby I’d always been interested in as a kid. There was the “Beaker & Nosey” period, a series about a purple cat with a bird beak for a head (this was Beaker, if you couldn’t guess) and his goofy best bud who had a bird body with an elephant trunk for a head (Nosey, if you’re having trouble keeping track here). After this, we had the “Bean Tales” period, which was basically a blatant rip-off of the Smurfs, but with a village full of tiny, bouncing, brown kidney beans instead. The Beans probably went on far longer than they should have — I even drew them on my wall and designed my own Bean World RPG system. Upon exhausting the limits of bean-related jokey characters (I’m looking at you, Bumblebean), I did my own comical superhero series called “Mutant Force”. If it’s not apparent by now, I did not have much luck with the girls through high school.
As ridiculous and childish as these ideas all sound, there was a definite progression in my storytelling; not apparent to me at the time, but obvious now in retrospect. I was becoming far more serious about world-creating, and how I would tell my stories. Character development — though still a foreign concept in my mind — was slowly happening.
A few years later, I was juggling the creation of two different comic book series: “Captain Parka” and “The Breakfast Special Comes With Toast”. Very much inspired by Ben Edlund’s “The Tick,” Captain Parka was a goofy superhero adventure starring mild-mannered hot dog vendor Ernie Milkdud, who had been traded a magical parka by some Eskimos in exchange for a few smokies. Much darker in tone, Breakfast Special had cartoony characters and a catchy title, but was really masking a tale about a lonely guy trying to be not so lonely.
Still, I was discovering that drawing — which, at the time, was the one thing I thought I could do — was not enough to say what I wanted to say. I decided I wanted to write, but presumed one could not just sit down and write. Especially if one had no previous interest in writing. I was an artist, right? Not a writer. I would have to delve into something I was familiar with, wouldn’t I?
Because I was now working in the film industry, I decided to try my hand at screenwriting. I wrote a couple of pretty depressing dramas before arbitrarily deciding to write a gag-filled, highly-offensive teen comedy. I called this one “Two Bucks,” which was a ludicrous story about a highschool kid named Scott whose dad is murdered by the mob, but still with an outstanding debt of two dollars. Now Scott’s got a weekend to scrounge up two bucks and pay back the mob! No really, it was actually pretty funny.
I’d hit my first bout of writer’s block not long after this (though I wasn’t really stuck on something; I simply wasn’t writing), and I was looking for some kind of jump start. I came across an ad in the paper for a 3-day novel writing contest, which sounded absolutely preposterous but also maybe exactly what I needed. So I did it. I prepared myself by roughly outlining my story for a couple of weeks and then I stayed up for those three days just writing. I think I had a 4-to-6-hour nap in there somewhere, and maybe went for a walk at some point, but basically I consumed iced coffees and Twinkies at a regrettable rate and wrote for three days. “Barber Chair Prophets” turned into a pretty good little 60-page story. I don’t think I came anywhere close to winning the contest, but I rediscovered how to be proud of myself and my work.
And then came the point where I go and get another big idea in my head. This time it was: “Well, if I can write a novella, then I should try writing a novel!” Most — including myself — assumed I was naive and didn’t think it was within the realm of possibility, but after the right idea came to me in the form of a seagull diving off the rooftop of a Vancouver condo, I dove right in myself.
In the midst of writing “Molt” — the tale of a young ornithologist who was only ever comfortable resisting change — I was also working on pitching the idea for a cartoon series with a group of friends and co-workers. I would take the lead as head scriptwriter for “8 Guys in the Head,” which told the story of Heath, who was a bumbling college kid, unlucky with the ladies, mostly due to having eight tiny, pink brainy guys working in the spacious office of his cranium, each guy representing different personality traits and emotions. If it sounds familiar, that’s because Pixar released an eerily similar idea years later called “Inside Out”. We were in love with our concept — and had a handful of scripts penned — but pretty much scrapped it after that, and I focused again on my solitary endeavours: writing novels.
I completed Molt and immediately self-published it so I could have it on my shelf as another notch in my belt of completed — though ultimately, still unnoticed by the world — projects.
But the novel-writing bug had officially bitten me now, and I was eager to start another. I jumped right into what I would call my ode to New York: a book called “The Falling”. This one was about four childhood friends who had grown up together in New York City, and it dealt with relationships, careers, dreams, love, and loss. I completed it in three years — while juggling a career change, going back to school, and having a baby — and it remains probably my favorite work to date. The Falling was sent out to literary agents, but after getting next to no interest, I was determined to not let it get me down. I jumped into writing a third novel: “This Never Happened,” a story about a young man trying to discover his place in the world. A young man who dreams about his life taking a much different path.
With a renewed enthusiasm, and a much better grasp on how the publishing industry really works, I shopped the heck out of This Never Happened. And then I shopped it some more. There was a part of me that was beginning to think I was perhaps only pretending to be a writer. But I was old enough now to identify when I should move on (ergo, quit) and when I should keep going.
Pretending to be a writer meant I was always seeking ways to connect with someone who actually was a writer. When I discovered that an established Young Adult author lived in my own quaint little neighborhood, I made a connection. The first time I sat down with Darren Groth, he asked me, “So, you’re a writer?”
I said, “No, I’m not a writer. I’m this and I’m that, and I’m trying to get published, but I’m not a writer.”
“Yes you are,” he said. “You are a writer.”
It took me a while to understand what he was saying. In fact, it wasn’t too long after one of our chats that I discovered Endever Publishing Studios, and before I knew it, I had signed a publishing contract and was collaborating with other authors.
And now my first book is out in a matter of days. Upon reflection of all my previous artistic endeavors — all of those projects I’d created for very little notice or recognition — I’ve finally acknowledged it myself: I am a writer.
If only Hobo could see me now.