One morning in my Junior year of high school, I woke up with an idea. I was going to write a story, an epic about a prince who sacrifices himself to redeem his kingdom, a tale of camaraderie and suffering, of triumph begat by a young man’s willingness to stand above his past sins and move beyond them. I was a writer from then on.
Well, no, I didn’t really get started that way. I like to think that about myself, that I just woke up one morning a writer with a story to tell, but the actual story isn’t so romantic. It is true that I started a novel called The Waste in high school, a novel which I’ve been working on for the last few years and which is in the final phases of being edited for publishing at the time of this writing. But let me start earlier.
I grew up with Legos. Piles and heaps of them, sorted into bags by type and utility, not color. Whatever Lego set I bought survived only a few hours before I took it apart and used the pieces to build something that was clumsy and eccentric and mine. The Star Wars Lego sets I bought certainly contained all of the odd little yellow parts to make Obi-Wan and R2-D2, but the figures inevitably turned into odd little amalgamations as I designed my own characters. Spaceships became jetpacks and BattleBots-style droids. Lightsabers—well, they stayed lightsabers, but now I was wielding them, represented by a yellow minifigure with a big goofy smile. Together with video games, Legos occupied so much of my time that I wonder if my parents ever worried for me. I never had anyone else join in on the private, silly little worlds I was creating.
Throughout elementary school I wrote a few silly stories for assignments, the kind where aliens are replaced with giant bells or something inane like that and the entire thing seems a bit like the plot of the last movie I saw. I was always making things, but I was never serious about it. As a child, I never had grand dreams for what I wanted to do or accomplish, not even in play. I was always too busy playing Pokémon off by myself.
By middle school, I had read enough books and played enough fantasy games that I figured I ought to try my hand at it, but there was no committed effort here. I waffled between ideas, making intricate charts of whatever I experienced, half-planning out Legend of Zelda card games or making profiles on almost every enemy in Pikmin. I liked Fire Emblem enough to try writing fan fiction, and this lasted nearly as long as any of my other efforts. I’ve dug up an old story I wrote in middle school, a fanfic that lasted two very short chapters before I got bored of it. Let me give show you this first paragraph.
“The woman saw the bolt of darkness coming, but it was too late. Pain erupted from the woman’s every pore, and a feeling of pure evil coursed through her fragile, petite body, driving her to her knees. Immediately, a chant ending with the word “mend” could be heard over the repugnant din of battle, and the shrill death-dry of gorgons as their blood poured into the magma-filled crevices of Mount Neleras.”
If you listen carefully, you can hear the repugnant din of me cringing and groaning at once.
So I tried writing, certainly, just like I tried mapmaking, karate, writing poetry, and the scores of other things children try then abandon. I wasn’t a writer. Later on in middle school, then in high school, I took up internet text roleplaying without any real coherent plot or consistency. My character shoots a fireball, the other character ignores it completely, and then we get into an argument about being a bad sport and not taking this seriously, as if our dignity truly depended on beating each other in a roleplay battle. Of course we were never taking any of it very seriously.
I kept up roleplay online in various forms, inventing dozens of characters with one-note personalities. In high school, I enjoyed the game Etrian Odyssey so much that I filled in the gaps of that game’s threadbare narrative with characters that fit into a sprawling fanfic I would write. I recorded the beginning of said story into a thin spiral which almost immediately disappeared, probably into some unpleasant thief’s backpack. But I still remember the tale I was going to tell, the adventures of Arcley, Kameron, Riccio, and others in their mysterious wood. Even then I had a taste for world-building and wanted more.
High school had me ending up in Theatre and Debate, too. I took a Speech class because I couldn’t find an art class that still let me be with my friends, and the Speech teacher offered me a passing grade if I used her class to work on writing speeches. I don’t know what she saw in me, besides an overactive voicebox and a penchant for Legos, but I took the offer and soon enough she had me wearing a suit and going to competitions. You might remember that I mentioned debating in my first blog post as something I enjoy. Back then I was terrible, and I hated it. I wrote speeches and delivered them in front of students and judges I’d never met, stammering and forgetting my points all the while, suffering from a lack of confidence, experience, and commitment. I quit debate after the first year, only to jump back in after a year or so, at which point I still had trouble committing the effort to succeed. I could write a competent speech about the legal drinking age or firearm registration or whatever topic they had me cover, sure, but I didn’t want to. I spent every year of debate surrounded by teammates who loved the competitions to death, who would fight tooth and nail to prove their point even if it meant talking faster than I can actually understand. For me, I figured debate was just another thing to try and discard.
Then something changed. Two events in close proximity set me on my path in my sophomore and junior year of high school. Event one: I saw Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, a riveting mecha anime that suggests a rich story based in alternate history and falls apart a bit in the second season. Code Geass, for the uninitiated, stars a prince who fights against his own kingdom and undergoes immense personal suffering and sacrifice to bring the world a brighter future. If that subject sounds familiar to you, it’s because that’s how this blog post begins. Perhaps Code Geass opened some door in my mind, its concepts inviting questions I’d never considered before. But the second event probably influenced me a lot more.
Event two: a young man I knew named Bayan Jalalizadeh completed a novel. Bayan was a senior, just a couple of years older than me, and the twin brother of Rohan, a student who helped me struggle through advanced Biology. These twins were far and away smarter than me, with lofty ambitions and numerous talents; Rohan and Bayan were the valedictorian and salutatorian, respectively, of their graduating class. Anyway, when he was still in high school, Bayan published a fantasy novel called Danyen’s Gift, and I had the pleasure of buying an autographed copy from him. I was happy for Bayan, even though I didn’t know him well and I doubt he thought much of me. But something bitter awoke in me, an envious thought that has probably driven many if not most of my ideas since then. “Well, I can do that. But better.”
I don’t remember the key date, the morning when all of the untapped creativity, borrowed ideas, and sheer envy came together. But one day I woke up with an idea: I would write a book about a hero who sacrifices himself to redeem his kingdom. There would be a village getting blown up, a sweeping war, and a badass warrior woman named Voyevoda. As luck would have it, that very morning I was late for a class, and my high school’s dubious tardy policies meant I would sit out the class in “tardy tank”. So I had a full hour to sit and draft ideas, few of which made it into the story and all of which were crucial to the beginning of my project. I’ll admit with some embarrassment that I took far too much inspiration from Code Geass, but so be it. We all had to start somewhere.
Since then, those ideas have coalesced into a book called “Beautiful War: The Waste”. I’ve long-since finished the novel, and I’ll be putting it on numerous e-publishing sites in a few months, at which point I will shill it to death on this blog and anywhere else I can. But in the beginning, the prospect of me becoming a writer didn’t occur to me. I was a hyperactive goof with a story I needed to tell, and at the start, I don’t even think it was a particularly good story. I’m not sure when I actually became a writer.
It may have been in my second or third semester of college at Texas A&M, when I failed out of the engineering department and desperately needed to find another field. It may have been in my fourth semester, when I found a field that I thought called to me, and found the peace of mind to actually write the novel that I had been kicking around in my head for years. It may have been that Christmas, when my parents gave me Stephen King’s On Writing, his autobiography and the bible of my developing writing style. It may have been a few months afterwards, when I picked up other writing books and became dedicated to improving my craft. Or it may have been far earlier, some time in pre-adolescence when the piles of Fantasy and Star Wars novels I read filled my mind with sprawling kingdoms and epic battles, stories that had to be told. Whatever the case, I know that I’m a writer now.
Writing is the pastime that gave my rampant imagination a place to thrive, the all-consuming void that finally began to draw my attention away from video games. Writing was the beginning of my examination of society, and the rejection of tired old sexist and racist values I had once taken for granted but now decided to shed. Writing is the means to make something out of my inspiration, the affirmation of my embarrassing mantra: “I can do that but better.” Writing was the art form that got me out of my shell and into the world, because apart from a few incomplete stories, this blog I’m working on now is the first time I’ve ever published a thing for the world to see. Writing is my demonstration of my own worth, my evidence to myself that I can make something, reveal it to the world, and say “I made this. It is mine. I am proud of it.”
Writing is what makes me Andrew Ryan Crider.