A True Journey Into Fiction

Whenever someone learns that I just spent two years traveling and that, before the trip, I spent thirteen years as a writer in the video game industry, they invariably ask if I have plans to write a book about my travels. I did. And I am, just not the book I originally envisioned.

My wife and I were having dinner in August 2014 in a flat in the Crystal Palace section of London, with the wonderful Emily Chappell and two of her friends from the bicycle touring community. Emily had recently bicycled from London to Tokyo and was planning a winter crossing of Alaska. Also at the table was her friend Mark, the supposed first Irishman to bicycle around the world; another friend whose name I can’t remember; and my wife and I who were nearly 6,000 miles into our own round-the-world bicycling adventure.

Enormous pots of rice and various curries gradually emptied as the stack of depleted wine bottles rose in height. The conversation was hilarious, ranging wide within the confines of the subject that bonded us. Soon after the inevitable recounts of travel sickness and roiling, roadside evacuations, the topic mercifully shifted to that of writing. Emily, a bicycle courier, was in the midst of authoring a book about being a female courier in London. I shared my career history but held my travel memoir intentions close to the vest, a rare display of restraint for a guy who typically wears his dreams and desires on his sleeve. It was good that I did.

“The last thing the world needs is another book about cycling around the world.” It was Mark, a little drunk perhaps, but without prompt. “It’s been done too many times. There’s so many people out there bicycling the world nowadays, it’s just not original anymore.” The others chimed in with agreement, remarking how similar all of our journeys ultimately are. It was true. We don’t encounter the same people and we may not travel the same route, but the experiences we bicycle tourists have are all very similar on the surface.

This was a truth I had been refusing to admit since we were halfway across North America.

An Intent Killed, An Idea Born

I had been diligently journaling everyday, actively recording the events and descriptions of our days in hope—no, in anticipation—of writing this generation’s “Miles From Nowhere”. Yet even I had to admit that nothing all that book-worthy had yet happened. Sure, we had a long way to go, but I was getting concerned.

That fear of nothing happening stayed with me as we made our way from Denmark, through the low countries and France and across the Pyrenees into Spain. Finally, one day in the Sierra Morena mountains of northern Spain, a thought came to me: What if…? Big mountain passes are the perfect incubator for ideas; there’s nothing like two hours of slowly pedaling your way up a mountain to allow the mind to roam. And roam it did. Atop the pass, our highest in Europe, I hurriedly filled several pages of my notebook as I waited for my wife. That kernel of an idea, first conceived en route from Pamplona to Madrid, stayed with me as the journey continued for another thirteen months.

I wasn’t going to write a travel memoir after all. I was going to write a novel, a novel inspired by our bicycle touring adventure, but every bit a work of fiction. Finally!

This website isn’t just my Internet home; it’s the train on which I invite you to join me in a journey. The many years I spent authoring licensed video game strategy guides pale in comparison to the number of years I’ve wanted to write a novel. I spent that final year of our trip plotting my route from A to B and it’s time to embark on an odyssey, one of professional evolution. It’s going to be a challenge, of this I’m certain. It will likely be the hardest thing I ever try to do. I will make mistakes, from which I will learn. I will feel moments of despair and frustration, instances that will only make the taste of triumph that much sweeter. There will be tears.

There’s no instruction manual or road map for transitioning from a writer of video game guidebooks to a successful novelist. Did I just say that aloud? Is that my goal? Yes it is. A goal is not an expectation, however. I expect only to give this my best effort and for this novel to be just the first that I write that may or may not find an audience. Yes, I am comfortable saying that I aspire to be a successful author, as that would mean that people read, enjoyed, and recommended the story I created. It would mean I am able to provide for mine while doing what I love. Yes, I want that very much: To go pro.

Like I said, desires and shirt-sleeves.

This Time is Different

I rented a cabin in Washington state’s glorious Methow Valley in early December, 2008 and spent four nights there alone with my laptop, a milk-crate of reference books, a French press, a pound of beans, and the notes I had for a novel. Like the one I am now working on, it too was an escapist love story set against the backdrop of adventure travel. I arrived there at my solo retreat unprepared. I wasn’t ready for that moment either professionally or mentally. My attempt at pantsing (what writers call writing without an outline, as in “by the seat of one’s pants”) went okay for two chapters and then fell apart. It was an undeveloped idea, a pan of Yorkshire pudding deflated by my hastiness to peak inside the oven. I was so anxious to get started that I ignored the way I know I work best. I went there to write without distraction and ended up spending that time doing a very small amount of the preparatory work I should have done at home, for free, where I would have had better Internet and been more productive.

I never came back to that novel in the years since, except to occasionally jot some ideas down while on our bicycle trip.

Mike Krahulik, part of the incredible duo responsible for the Penny Arcade empire, once told an aspiring comic book artist that if you truly have a passion for your art, you will find time in the day to hone your craft, even if you spend all day at work in that same field. The artist was a professional graphic designer, doing commercial artwork by day. At the end of a full day’s workload, he found it very hard to then practice his comic book craft at night. I can sympathize.

My annual contracts with BradyGames (now Prima Games) were a blessing in that I had steady income and always knew where my next project was coming from. On the other hand, the deadlines and workload allowed for little downtime when on a project, particularly once seemingly every book required lengthy time on-site at a developer’s studio. Like the artist, I found it very difficult to want to expend any remaining energy I had on writing fiction after spending the bulk of my day writing for a paycheck. There was also the matter of effectively being on-call. The benefit to having me under contract was, theoretically, that I was always available. I took this seriously, both as a condition to honor and as an excuse. I refused to dig back into my novel between projects, citing the inevitability of having to abruptly turn my attention to the next strategy guide. I used this same mentality to talk myself out of taking on a number of DIY projects around the house as well. It was a paralysis caused by the fear of leaving something unfinished, not realizing that making some progress would have been better than making none at all.

In my memory I see myself moping around like Eeyore, “Oh, what’s the use? I’m just going to have to stop in a day or two anyway. Oh bother.” The reality was that I sometimes had weeks between projects instead of days and I could have actually gotten a lot done, had I not have been afraid of putting it on hold.

A largely self-directed apprenticeship that lasts some five to ten years and receives little attention because it does not contains stories of great achievement or discovery.” – Robert Greene in Mastery

That’s not going to be a problem this time around, thanks to my amazing wife. We return from our travels in a situation that allows me to focus full-time on my fiction writing (with the occasional strategy guide thrown in to keep me honest). She and I have discussed the realities of this pursuit ad nauseam and she knows full well that it could take multiple books and several years to truly launch this career. These are the difficult years, as Robert Greene calls them. If it happens at all. In preparation, I’ve put together a four-year timeline of key milestones I hope to hit in pursuit of my goal. It’s an amazing opportunity I’ve been gifted, to not only find the so-called muse, but have her financial support and blessing as well. I’d do backflips if I could.

What to Expect?

My plan for this website and blog is to chronicle my journey to becoming a novelist. Along the way, every Tuesday, I’ll be sharing with you the lessons I learn studying the craft of writing and story telling; thoughts and analysis on the books I’ve been reading; and infrequent updates on my work-in-progress. You can also expect to find occasional entries discussing our return to the Pacific Northwest, my love of mountain biking, and thoughts on travel, among other things. Essentially, everything I’m passionate about and feel most strongly about that given week.

A second weekly post, live every Friday, will include six curated links and summaries of articles that I found interesting and/or helpful. Five of the links will be strictly related to the world of publishing. Most are geared towards writers, but I suspect avid-readers and lovers of all things bookish will find some interesting reads here as well. The sixth link will be a pure bonus link relating to anything and everything I find fascinating online.

I have a few other plans for annual and semi-monthly recurring topics, but you’ll just have to stay tuned for those.

So welcome to my site. I’m really happy to have you along for the ride. Please be sure to leave any questions or comments in the space below and I’ll try my best to respond. Thanks for reading!

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