King of Summer wasn't the first thing I wrote. There are notebooks and digital files full of unfinished projects that span the course of my life. It wasn't even the first thing I had published. First novel yes, first professional writing, no.
I'm not sure when I decided I wanted to be a writer. It feels like it has always been a part of my identity, not something I made a choice about at any point. I love to read. I love story. Being part of that world, whether I was “successful' or not, has always felt like the most natural thing in the world to me.
I learned to read very early, mainly from comic books. Mom is an avid reader and always read to me as a child. Comics were simply part of what she read to me, along with children's books. I remember drawing superheroes in notepads at a very early age, and even then I knew they weren't simply drawings, but part of a story. Because of comics the idea of images and text coinciding has always been the way I viewed the world. I am a very visual thinker and when I write I see everything very clearly. I know how I would lay out the comic version of anything I write. Then it's a matter of describing that in words.
I graduated quickly to “real” books. By third and fourth grade I had read Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Howard Pyle's Robin Hood and loved them. I'm pretty sure I didn't pick up the deeper layers of Huck Finn and read it as a boy's adventure story, but I read it. Robin Hood was a huge influence on me (and I'm still drawn to the imagery). In delving into my memory this may have been responsible for my first attempts at writing. I wanted to stage a play of Robin Hood and cast all my friends in the roles. This was not simply playing in the woods. This was an actual, “hey, let's put on a play in the barn” moment, only I didn't want to do it in the barn. No, this was going to outdoor theater-in-the-round. I wrote scripts based on the novel and cast my friends (I was going to be Robin, of course) and gave them lines to memorize. Though some of them seemed excited by the project and others indulged me nothing ever came of this. It was way beyond my ability to organize and make real.
But I wrote.
As an aside... in sixth grade I was cast as Will Scarlet in a musical version of Robin Hood that my school put on. I'm pretty sure being the only redhead in the class was my primary qualification.
In my early teens I read a lot of bad Westerns and “Men's Adventure” series. My favorite Western was a series called Edge (the main character's name). I read series with such testosterone-filled names as The Death Merchant, The Butcher, and The Destroyer. These were probably... no, they were definitely inappropriate material. They were filled with over-the-top gratuitous violence and graphic sex (this at a time when I had yet to experience either of these at any level). These weren't the only types of books I read. I did eventually discover Lord of the Rings and various good Science Fiction. Somewhere in there I read Shogun and Roots. But, I read a lot of these adventure novels. So many that I decided to write one.
So when I was fifteen I started filling a notebook with the chapters of the first book in my proposed Men's Action/Adventure series called Knight and Armour (the main characters were named Todd Knight and John Armour... anyone notice a theme that still runs through my life?). They were ex-Mob hitmen, on the run from their former employers. It was, and I quote myself here, “filled with over-the-top gratuitous violence and graphic sex (this at a time when I had yet to experience either of these at any level)”... and it shows. While it was probably pretty good for a fifteen-year-old, it was terrible, by any real standards of writing.
But when it was done, and I did finish it, it was 90-plus pages of single-spaced type. Not a bad achievement for a kid.
After that was the aborted attempt at poetry (all bad), and some fantasy short stories of the barbarian/sword and sorcery type. I had been sucked into the worlds of Fritz Lieber and Michael Moorcock by then. I sent some comic book mini-series proposals to both Marvel and DC.
By my mid-20's I had discovered Hermann Hesse and Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac and spent probably the next ten years trying to write like them. My friend and collaborator, Fred Wheaton and I spent a tremendous amount of time creating what was to become the Grey Legacy universe and wrote and drew an issue of a book called Shadowlock. We both also began contributing short comics to some late 80's 'Zines, as well as publishing our own mini-comics. As a result of this, Matt Wagner (creator of the comic book series Mage and Grendel) asked us to submit a proposal for his Grendel Tales series. At the time he said he liked what we sent him, but a decade-long copyright dispute prevented him from publishing the series for a while.
And I kept trying to write novels. Eventually, finally, in the 90's, I began to get paid for my words and became... Ta-Dahhh!!! A professional writer!
If getting paid is the primary definition of that.
More on that next time.