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Why I write

Fri, Sep 28th, 2012
Posted in All Commentary

If you dig very deeply into a closet somewhere in Canton, Minnesota, you will find a copy of something called “The Underwater Adventure,” consisting of two pages of dot matrix text and pictures depicting aquatic life and exploration, including a misspelling of the verb “squiggling” as “squigeling.” As far as I can recall, it’s the first story I ever wrote, beginning as a writer at the age of six…and yes, that spelling error still unsettles me to this day.

That was only the beginning. By fourth grade, the school supplies in my desk became story characters, wherein a heroic pink eraser battled an evil box of crayons. When I discovered in middle school that the family computer could do more than run QuickBooks, I set to work writing a magnum opus, defeated by the forces of evil (a CPU-destroying lightning storm). By high school, floppy disks in hand, I had managed to put together both a whopping ninety-page story and a reputation as “that guy who wrote a book.”

Still, writing was a hobby: something to do on the side, for my own enjoyment and limited audiences. Partway through college, I came upon the idea of putting my ideas upon the internet, and for seven years I claimed the title of “blogger,” writing about anything and everything. Amongst the dross of everyday college life, there was the occasional story or idea I would cultivate, not unlike growing mushrooms in a trough of manure. It wasn’t until I left college that I finally started to think of writing as something productive. I scraped together a few dollars, enlisted my tech-savvy brother, and started my own website.

Then, the issue became how to best kick off the new site; how to best introduce myself to the world as someone who wanted to be not a “writer” or “blogger,” but an “author.” I spent a few days waffling about how best to do this, and then something happened.

Brian Jacques died.

Brian Jacques, author of a series called Redwall, where simple creatures like mice, moles, and hares engage in fantastical battles and voyages the likes of which you’d expect to see from the works of Tolkien…although, as far as I know, Tolkien never turned Aragorn into a mouse and still had him swing a sword. It was that idea that drew me to the cover of Jacques’ Martin the Warrior one day in the library (I refuse to call it an IMC) in middle school.

Up to that point, I was what teachers now refer to as a “non-reader.” Though forced by teachers and begged by my parents, I was finding it blisteringly difficult to find a book that could keep my attention because the stories in my mind were simply more interesting. But when I saw that book, it unsettled my adolescent brain: a mouse, with a big sword, in an epic fantasy setting, taken completely seriously. Surely, that’s worth a look.

But I didn’t, until later that week. When the book fair came to my school, I found that same book I’d seen before, along with another one featuring a majestic looking badger in medieval armor, hefting a spear and cradling a helmet. Something told me I needed to have these books.

As a rule, my parents tried to avoid book fair books, having had more than one literally fall apart. Still, when they saw I was actually interested in a book, especially one with 300+ pages, they bought them both for me. I began to devour every Redwall book I could find, including the entirety of The Bellmaker in two days, just under the deadline of school letting out. (I had to. I couldn’t let school end without knowing what became of those characters.) For a lonely boy with a wide waist and a wild imagination, these were my friends, my comrades in arms, all created by this delightful, grandfatherly-looking Englishman with a weirdly French-looking name.

The rest, well… that’s why I’m writing this right now.

Brian Jacques became to me what Tolkien was to my brothers: a gateway into the world of fantasy and imagination and most of all, reading. It’s because of him that I’m writing at all - why I was inspired to share my worlds, my characters, and my ideas with the world. I owe everything I am today to that peculiar book that made me realize that mice can be heroes, badgers can be Lords, and there is still a place in this increasingly necrotizing society for the good and the strong and the brave. He’s the reason for my number one hobby, my number one dream, and an entire world to escape into when things go bad and the real world looks its blackest.

I chose to kick off my website with a tribute to Brian Jacques, and it seems only prudent to do the same with my first article as a columnist. I can’t tell you how much it pains me to have never met the gentleman, but as I write this I dream that years from now, decades maybe, another frustrated kid will read my books and be inspired the way I was. I can’t stop writing or creating, because I feel I owe it to him, after all he’s done for me.

Who knows… maybe one day I’ll go back and finish “The Underwater Adventure.” With correct spelling.

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