Photo by Marcia Bednarcyk.
I've been telling stories since before I could read. No, I'm not kidding. I got a file from my mother recently that contained a story about Mino the lion, dictated to my mother and illustrated by my sister. From the date, this was when I was three and a half years old. Skipping ahead a long way, by the time I was in high school, I was pretty dead set on a career in Computer Science - which is what they called Information Technology in the 1980s. It wasn't until I was forced to keep a journal for senior English in high school, and was so desperate for content that I resorted to making stuff up that the writing thing really took hold of my imagination again. So Mrs. VanPelt, teacher of that long-ago senior English class? I blame you for this.
Seriously though, it was the influence of that English class that led me to a degree in Creative Writing (Concordia College, class of 1990) with minors in CS and Psychology, and to graduate school in communications (Colorado State University, finally finished the master's degree in 1999).
Entertainment-wise, I admit it. I've been a role playing game junkie since junior high school, and the emergence of text-based online role playing games certainly fed into this. They also doubled or tripled my typing speed. And started getting me into the habit of creating interesting characters. And introduced me to dozens of people I'd have never met, and gave me true stories from their lives I'd have never known. Online text-based gaming probably was responsible for the excessive amount of time my graduate degree finally took. On the flip side, I did meet my wife on a text game. Writing-wise, I accomplished very little - some short stories for class assignments, scraps of what would have been my first cyberpunk novel, and of course, some game modules and lots of character backgrounds, but what the heck? This was for fun.
I was making my living in high tech. You could say that was an inspiration, certainly. The pages of Looking Glass are replete with the experiences of that career, mostly in technical support and/or Unix, VMS, and network administration. It was there that I got my first glimpse of what big corporations were really like, for better and worse, and why the people who work there do what they do, even love what they do. It comes down to this: When you're supporting a fundamentally defective system for a large corporation, you're not doing it for the betterment of OmniMart, and you're not really doing it to help your stock options grow (though that may explain why you stay). You're not even doing it for fear of losing your income. Jobs can be replaced. You do it because your boss is depending on you to get that part of his or her function done. You do it for your downstream customers, and most importantly, you do it for your peers, and for pride, and for sheer cussedness.
Then they lay you off.
So yeah. That was me getting laid off. First instincts? Retrain, get a better job. So I retrained. Cisco CCNA certification as of 2001. It would have helped, in retrospect, if the high tech jobs in my town hadn't been boiling away like a drop of water in a pan of hot grease.
So it was in 2002 that I started writing seriously again, for National Novel Writing Month. Take one character from an online role playing game that fizzled, put him into an alternative past, vaguely steampunk world, mix well, and go. Enter Jack Cooper.
Or not. I finished the book, and haven't touched it since. I may cannibalize it some day, but it's not on my list to work on any time soon.
More high tech. More online gaming. Deeper and deeper characterizations for these games, and the shareware project I was working on was actually client software to play them better. It never rolled out, and it finally dawned on me that, while there are people in this world who really get joy from programming computers, I'm not one of them.
National Novel Writing Month 2004 rolled around, and I decided to play to my strengths. Take the world I came up with back in 1991 for my abortive cyberpunk novel, and mix in my frustration with the results of the 2004 election. Write it in the first person. Figure out who this deeply sarcastic woman who wandered into my head is, and try to make sense of her opening lines: "I don't work for the military. I work in a net where legitimate users have to be allowed to come in. We're a discount store chain, for Pete's sake. I'm the best at what I do on this site, maybe in the whole province. Me? I work for OmniMart."
Enter Dr. Catherine Farro. The novel that became Looking Glass was born, then called /dev/ICE.
I'd love to say "The rest is history." But history is one of those things that's only visible in the rear view mirror. The turns you made, the roads you traveled look like a path when you're going backwards, and if they're successful, the trail is the obvious right one, and the history makes a good story. But when you're going forward, it's still a road with crappy signage and frankly you guess a lot which is the right way.
Some mile markers though:
Looking Glass was completed in the summer of 2005. It was purchased by Flying Pen Press on March 4th, 2007, although I had a pretty good idea that the publisher was going to offer on it by the end of 2006. It went to press following lots more revisions in May of 2007, and remains in print. I rolled it up into a Kindle edition and we got that out some time in late 2007 to early 2008.
Irreconcilable Differences, my second novel, got started in the "off season" - between National Novel Writing Months - in January of 2006, and was finally completed in February of 2008, and published that same year. It turns out that having a novel published is fairly disruptive to the process of writing new novels, something I'm working on balancing. Irreconcilable Differences took a long time to write. There were long gaps for writing and trying to sell short stories, because that's what authors ought to do. The short story thing would be one of those "turns." At any rate, Irreconcilable Differences was purchased on March 12, 2008, and went into print in August of the same year.
What lies ahead? There's a line from Fight Club that goes something like, "On a long enough timeline, survivability drops to zero." However, between that eventuality and now, lots more novels, movie deals, tv shows, lunch boxes, and all that good stuff. So watch this space, eh?
James R. Strickland.