Doug Walsh is a writer, traveler, and speaker actively writing his first novel, an adventure-filled love story inspired by the two years he spent cycling the world with his wife.
A Brief History
It wasn’t long after I read my first Stephen King novel, at age fourteen, that I knew I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t know what that entailed back then, but I loved the effect a well-told story had on me and I wanted to bring that experience to others. A few years later, armed with a kernel of an idea and my trusty Brother WP-3400, I took a deep breath and typed the words “Chapter One”. Two quick returns later, the orange monochrome cursor sat blinking at me, begging me to create. Just as it does to this day, although now in the glory of high definition.
I managed to combine my love of writing with my video game hobby in 2000 and, over the ensuing thirteen years, authored over one hundred licensed strategy guides for BradyGames, an imprint of Penguin. It was a dream job come true. I was a published author, not to mention one with a book that cracked Amazon’s top 25. Yet, it wasn’t the dream: I still yearned to write a novel.
My wife and I set off in March, 2014 on an around-the-world bicycle trip. We made our way from Seattle to Singapore, the long way around without airplanes. We traveled for nearly two years by bicycle and by ship before heading home in December, 2015. One of the many reasons I had for taking such a trip was because I knew I would write a book about it when it was over. And that’s what I’m working on now. It’s not the travel memoir I expected to write, but the novel I dreamed of writing my entire life.
The Take-A-Seat Edition
I stretched my neck and noticed pencils stuck in the asbestos drop-tile ceiling. I can picture them here today as clearly as I saw them in 1989, during the three days I was assigned to in-school suspension. It was my freshman year of high school, in Carteret, New Jersey, and I was not off to a very good start. Whether it was punishment for skipping class or being late to the classes I did attend, I cannot remember. All I recall are the pencils, the cessation of time, and The Dead Zone.
I had never read for pleasure before those interminable days spent, at age fourteen, in the quiet room with other delinquents. Quiet save for the minute-by-minute movement of the lethargic hands on the institutional clock above the door. My mother, knowing I wouldn’t have enough homework to occupy me through my sentence, picked me up a paperback book from the pharmacy. It was Stephen King’s The Dead Zone. I was skewing darker in my adolescence and the title instantly appealed to me. I was hooked before the first chapter break. I devoured the book over those three days and begged for another. Freed from the reins of assigned reading, a love for story ran wild in my mind. And continues galloping to this day.
King’s early novel didn’t just help me pass the time, but inspired in me a desire to one day become an author myself. I spent the next several years reading everything he and his contemporaries wrote. I gradually began to take my studies seriously and, by senior year and with no prior experience, was named the Editor-in-Chief of the high school newspaper. My reading list remained heavily King-based, but I also warmed to the books we had to read for school. I was so attached to Catcher in the Rye that I decided, at age seventeen, my future son would one day be named Holden. Maybe the next dog?
The trajectory of my writing career was deflected at Lafayette College where, perhaps from the pressure of living in a dormitory filled with engineers and chemists, I discarded my plans to major in English and opted to major in geology instead. Whether entirely due to an inferiority complex or the knowledge that geology majors get to spend a lot of time outdoors, I can’t honestly say. Regardless, a focus on independent research and technical writing served me well in the years that followed.
A First Dream Fulfilled
The horror paperbacks of King and Straub (not to mention a touch of Poe and Vonnegut) inspired in me a dream to one day be a novelist, but it was Nintendo Power magazine that first made me want to be a writer. By the time the magazine’s first issue was released in 1988, I already had some eight years of video game experience in my short life. And it wasn’t long before my first life’s dream was born: I wanted to write for Nintendo Power.
Many years later, married and living in North Carolina, a serendipitous bicycle crash and a “get-well” gift card from my father led me to a video game store. I hadn’t bought any new games in a while thanks to too many hours spent training for triathlon. But in that store, on the counter, was a help wanted ad seeking a video game strategy guide writer. A local writer was looking to sub-contract out some of the writing assignments he was pulling in from the big video game websites. This was in 1999, when the dot-coms were still throwing money around with abandon. You only needed to know someone to get some. I hurried home, put a sample together, and met him two days later for lunch. By the time the crash came a year later and the money dried up, I had already written numerous guides for IGN, Gamespy, and DailyRadar. I also helped him co-author an official strategy guide for publisher BradyGames, then a Penguin imprint. It wasn’t long before I quit my day job and focused on writing video game strategy guides full-time.
I made the first of many trips to Nintendo of America’s headquarters in Redmond, Washington in late 2000. I saw the Nintendo Power staff’s cubicles, I ate lunch in the Mario Cafe, and I brought home souvenirs from the company store — two stuffed Pokemon for my dogs to play with. Along with a far bigger paycheck than I would have if actually writing for the magazine. It was a dream come true. We moved to the Seattle area in 2002, fresh on the heels of my first six-book contract with BradyGames. My annual contract immediately grew to ten books per year and, by the end of 2013, I had authored more than one hundred official strategy guides, covering a bevy of major franchises including Halo, Diablo, Gears of War, The Legend of Zelda, Bioshock, and Final Fantasy.
I didn’t want to be an astronaut or a fireman: I dreamed of writing about video games. Check.
An Adventurous Intermission
I turned to face my wife one night in 2007 and asked her, completely without warning, to promise to quit her job and spend a year traveling the world with me when our dogs were no longer around. A very long conversation followed, as did a handshake, a hug, and a kiss. She had just enrolled in business school, and I was only five years into authoring full-time for BradyGames, but I was getting a little antsy. We married straight out of college; she immediately went to work and I went to graduate school. Like most Americans, we never even paused to think about taking the gap year that is so popular among our European and Australian counterparts. But that night, each of us sitting atop our respective desks in our home office, swinging our feet as we volleyed pros and cons across the room, we agreed to not wait for an unguaranteed retirement in order to finally see the world.
The dream gradually crystallized into a plan over the ensuing years, time spent paying down our debts and saving as much money as possible. Instead of taking a one year trip around the world by train and plane as we originally envisioned, we decided to go for two or even three years and travel strictly by bicycle and ship. Our Siberian huskies passed in 2012 and a few weeks later I learned that 2013 would be the final year my publisher could offer me a contract, due in part to the coming merger with Random House. We pedaled our fully-loaded touring bicycles away from the Seattle waterfront on March 23, 2014. To the east!
We spent nearly two years traveling, first eastward from Seattle across North America by bicycle, then across the Atlantic Ocean aboard the Queen Mary 2. From Scotland we pedaled to the edge of the Sahara Desert in Morocco where we spent a week in the company of camels. Onward! A series of ferries combined with thousands of miles and too many mountain passes to embed an intimate knowledge of Italian, Greek, and Turkish landscapes on my memory. From the Mediterranean we caught passage aboard a cargo ship and transited the Suez Canal, Red Sea, and the entirety of the Indian Ocean to Malaysia. We pedaled to Singapore and made our final dismount. Seattle to Singapore, the long way around. We toasted our accomplishment every night for a month in Bali before heading home.
I didn’t want to wait until retirement to travel: I wanted to cycle the world while I was still young. Check.
The Big Dream in Progress
Part of my desire to spend two years cycling around the world was because I knew, without an ounce of doubt, that I would write a book about our journey when we were done. I often described the work I did for BradyGames as “authoring travel guides to fictitious places,” so it seemed only natural to me that I would write a travel memoir. Finally, a real adventure!
I journaled every day, sometimes tapping out thousands of words for a single day’s events. And I took copious amounts of photographs, filling memory cards and my Flickr account with gigabytes of reference images. And then, in the mountains of northern Spain, a tiny seed of an idea lodged itself deep in the nurturing soil of my mind. I stopped and jotted down some thoughts. Ride, rinse, repeat. The hundreds of miles we spent cycling the backroads of Spain proved to be all the nourishment my little morsel of a concept needed to blossom into the premise of a novel that I have given thought to every day since.
The three weeks we spent at sea, crossing the Indian Ocean, was devoted to working on an outline. I wrote over 50,000 words during those days. A brief outline; a long-form outline; and a beat-by-beat breakdown of every scene in the first act. I wrote character bios, scene descriptions, and so much more. And now it’s time to get to work making that other childhood dream of mine a reality.
My work-in-progress isn’t a travel memoir: It’s the novel I’ve been longing to write for nearly thirty years. Watch this space.