I used to write adult fiction. Now I write for young audiences.
So why the change? The answer is simple. And complicated.
Let’s look at the simple explanation first. I’ve always had an active imagination. Some of my earliest memories reflect this. When I was little, I’d tuck rolled-up socks into my arm sleeves to simulate muscles, tie a pillowcase around my neck, and run around the house like Superman all day long. I would play with my action figures intensely for hours, pretending they were real-life beings engaged in epic adventures rather than inanimate pieces of plastic splayed out on the living room carpet. And I practically lived for the movies, counting down the minutes until I was once again led into that dark theater, where I could watch all manner of amazing things play out on that massive screen: a boy flying his bike across the moonlight carrying an alien in its basket, a man in a fedora being dragged through the dirt behind a moving truck while holding onto his trusty whip, a large space ship warping through the cosmos with a crew of intrepid explorers in tow…
These were the things that fired up my imagination and set me on the path that I’m still on today. So when it comes time for me to tell my own stories, it’s only natural that I gravitate back to those very same themes, to try and tap into those moments from my own youth—the ones that inspired my first sparks of creativity. After all, when it’s all said and done, that little kid with the sock muscles and pillow case cape has never really gone away.
So the real question is: Why haven’t I been writing for young audiences all along?
That’s where things get more complicated.
Aside from comic books, I wasn’t a big reader when I was little. You have to remember, this was in the days long before the Harry Potters and Percy Jacksons set the young-reader world on fire. We had chapter books for my age group, but they didn’t seem to be about things that excited me. As such, the reading bug didn’t bite me until I was about fifteen. And when it did, it bit hard, with adult fiction teeth. Stephen King. Dean Koontz. Robert McCammon. Horror. Thriller. Once I was old enough to appreciate those names and genres, I was hooked. That’s when I decided to finally lock the toys and pillowcase capes into a mental chest and tuck it safely away in the recesses of my mind.
From there, my first teenage attempts at the written word were mostly short efforts designed to emulate these new literary muses I’d found. It wasn’t until I got into my twenties that I started to take my writing aspirations somewhat seriously. By now, I’d discovered a brand new crop of authors to inspire me. At the same time, I began to study Criminal Justice and writing in college. The plan was to somehow combine the two. I saw myself crafting tight tales of crime and suspense in the vein of all these cool new thriller authors that I was having a hoot reading. Makes sense, right? Well…
Despite the time constraints of school, then graduation, and—eventually—a day job, I still found time to write. Not much came out of these early efforts. But that was okay. I was learning.
By my mid-twenties, my ideas had finally begun to gel into something that resembled a literary path. I penned what I considered to be a nifty little crime tale that I felt was worthy of at least a limited audience’s attention. It was no masterpiece, and not without its flaws, but the experience of both writing it and getting an audience’s reaction to it was enjoyable. This led to crime book number two—a somewhat improved effort … better suspense, better character motivation, better twist at the end. By book three, I was ready to pull out all the stops. The result was my best story yet, a wild thriller full of danger, suspense, and intrigue. Dark and brooding, it deals with some pretty intense themes—fear, regret, redemption.
By the time I was done with it, I felt emotionally and creatively drained. I’d just spent the better part of a decade writing what turned out to be a loose trilogy of very serious, very grown-up books. I was happy with what I’d created, but I began to wonder: Was this really for me? I knew that I had to keep on writing, but I felt like I was walking through the middle of a dark forest with no end in sight. To write another book in this vein would mean that I’d have to continue on that path for the foreseeable future. I didn’t want that.
I was tired of the darkness and ready to step out into the light. But how could I do it?
By now, I was in my thirties and seriously trying to re-evaluate what I wanted out of this whole writing thing. Then I remembered…
That little mental chest was still tucked away in the back of my mind, just waiting to be opened once again. So I dug it out, popped the latch, lifted the lid, and peered inside. What I found was astounding. All those toys, all those movies, all those hours of playing sock-muscle Superman and countless other games had congealed into an intense, bright ball of creative energy just ripe for the plucking. I knew right away that this was where my imagination belonged. This was the voice I wanted to share. This was the audience I needed to write for.
So I set a firm foot on this new path, started walking, and never looked back.
It was the best decision I ever made.
Do I regret the time I spent writing adult fiction? Not achance. I’m still proud of those stories. They were the right thing for me at the time, and I learned a lot from the process. Sometimes you have to try several things before you discover what it is you really want. Some people know right away. Others need a decade or two to figure it out. It’s okay. The important thing is to keep on going until you finally find your way.