How Did I Get Here?

I’ll be giving a talk at the Menomonie Public Library tonight and one of the things I want to talk about is how I decided to become a science fiction and fantasy writer. The only problem is I never did decide that.

When I was growing up, the idea of becoming an author never even entered my mind. In fact, if you’d asked me what I thought of writing back before college, I’d have said something less than polite. I hated typewriters (yes I’m really that old, though only just) and I hated the book reports and other writing assignments I got in school.

Which is not to say that I didn’t like books. I loved books, particularly science fiction and fantasy. I’m a third generation fan. My mother and grandmother read me Tolkien and Asimov and Shakespeare before I ever learned to speak, and my father is a long time genre reader as well. It just never really sank in that people wrote them and that it was like…a job.

Which is funny, because I’m also a lifelong lover of telling stories and playing make believe and I understood from a very young age that careers could be had doing just that. I started my first acting class at 11 and pursued theater all the way through a B.A. with every intention of making a living at it.

Then I met my wife. Well, she wasn’t my wife then, of course, but she was wonderful and lovely and I knew within weeks that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

That’s when I ran into one of the great problems with theater. Between the hours and the travel your chances of having a normal stable relationship are pretty seriously hampered. The second great problem is that you spend a lot of time with actors and actresses. Let me note, as someone who used to be an actor, that if a person wants to make a career out of pretending he is someone else, it might be because he doesn’t want to spend time with himself. And if he doesn’t want to do it, maybe you don’t either.

Anyway, that was the point where I found myself wondering: If I’m not going to do theater, what am I going to do? That’s when the completely mad idea of writing a book occurred to me. I say mad, because A) I had no idea what I was getting into, and B) I’d never written anything longer than a bad poem. Nothing creative anyway. Oh, I’d co-written one or two mini-plays in college, but that was because no one else was going to write them for us, not because I’d particularly wanted to.

So, why write a book?

Well…lots of not very good reasons: 1) In college I ‘d gotten a good deal of praise on pretty much every paper I’d written, so I had some sense that I was good at writing. 2) The mini-plays had been kind of fun. 3) I’d just gotten my first computer and had something to write with. 4) If I didn’t find some other art to replace theater, I was going to have to find a day job, and that didn’t sound like any fun at all.

Then a funny thing happened–I fell in love.

That first book took me three months to write and it was pure joy.

Some of my earliest and happiest memories are of the elaborate fantasy and science fiction worlds I half lived in while spending hours and hours in the woods on my aunt’s farm every summer, hours spent with a toy bow or ray gun. This was that all over again. Plus theater without having to deal with actors. Plus reading my favorite stories, only this time they didn’t ever have to end. Plus role playing games where I controlled all the dice. Plus people sometimes got paid for it.

All of that, and I didn’t even have to leave the house.

Later I discovered how much sheer work it takes to make a career of writing. How low the pay is for 98% of writers. The longs odds. The rejections. All of the hard parts.

And do you know what I decided after learning all that? No, it wasn’t that I was going to become a science fiction and fantasy author. I decided that I already was one and that it was the best job in the world.

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There are 4 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Beth

    Thanks for sharing, Kelly – it’s fun to read about how you started, knowing where you are now.

  2. 2. Al Bogdan

    I have a vivid memory of one of my theater instructors saying to me quite intensely, “Theater is a jealous mistress” and then walking away. He found out I was also taking computer classes.

    Hope the talk was an enjoyable experience!

  3. 3. Stephen Leigh

    The world’s best and sometimes the world’s most frustrating job… :-)

    Me, I always wrote. I was a voracious reader as a kid who loved sf and fantasy, but the local library didn’t carry any titles in the genre and after I read them all, I had no choice but to start writing my own very, very bad imitations.

  4. 4. Kelly McCullough

    Al, I can totally hear several of my theater profs making that statement. The talk was fun, well attended considering the the temp 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Beth, you’re welcome.

    Steve, yeah it does have its bad days.

Author Information

Kelly McCullough

Kelly McCullough is a fantasy and science fiction author. He lives in Wisconsin with his physics professor wife and a small herd of cats. His novels include the WebMage and Fallen Blade series—Penguin/ACE. His short fiction has appeared in numerous venues including Writers of the Future and Weird Tales. He also dabbles in science fiction as science education with The Chronicles of the Wandering Star—part of an NSF-funded science curriculum—and the science comic Hanny & the Mystery of the Voorwerp, which he co-authored and co-edited—funding provided by NASA and the Hubble Space Telescope. Visit site.

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