TO EVERY STORY A BEGINNING
I received my Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois after an abbreviated stay on the concrete campus in Chicago. I say abbreviated because I graduated ahead of my class, grinding out my degree in 3 years.
Who can say why I wanted to get the hell out of there? Maybe it was the Brutalist architecture or the long gray winters. Perhaps I just wanted to avoid a third helping of Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, which the curriculum seemed destined to serve up.
The Creative Writing track, a discipline in itself, felt like a double major shoehorned alongside the requirements of a Literature degree. It probably didn’t help that I was working full-time through most of my post secondary education.
I’ve always loved learning but the higher reaches of academia felt stifling to me. Much of the time I didn’t feel like I was writing for myself. There’s no better example of that than in intermediate fiction when my professor rejected a story proposal on the grounds that horror wasn’t a valid genre. Incidentally the man went on to head the writing department.
Naturally, I felt like I would find my voice elsewhere. I wanted to be out in the world living life.
Thanks to AP credits and an overload of summer courses, the English department granted my early release. They even humored me with highest distinction for something or other, but my proudest accomplishment was escaping without a single homicide on my record—not counting fictional murders, or course.
DOWN THE LONG HARD ROAD
I spent the next 15 years selling books. Unfortunately they weren’t my books. I traveled the country running some of the finest bookstores in the USA, which naturally meant fixing up some of the shittiest. I have an acrylic star from Borders to prove the former and lumps on my psyche as evidence of the latter.
Somewhere along the way life happened. The biggest changes came unexpectedly in 2008. Over a stretch of three months while away on paternity leave, I finished my first novel. A bulk of the writing was done in that metaphoric bubble with a baby literally strapped to my chest. (I have pictures…I need to find those pictures.)
The arrival of my son Tristan and the birth of the novel I had been gestating since college stand as highlights in an otherwise awful time.
I returned to Borders, a chain of “no longer fine” bookstores, just as it downshifted into reality. After a decade of being bullied by hedge funds and golden showered—err, parachuted—by a rogues gallery of recycled CEOs, the company teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. I joke about it now, but it was sad to witness the slow deterioration of a once rich book culture.
Amazon.com was killing our foot traffic. The economy, which hadn’t been great for years, went to shit with the housing crisis. Naturally now was the time to embrace full scale implosion, implementing quota based sales while burdening stores with greatly diminished payroll. Needless to say, hardline sales tactics alienated whatever customers remained.
The novelty of running a bookstore with no staff quickly wore off. When it became clear I could no longer offer security to our longtime employees, I opted for mental health rather than clinging on to the bitter end.
OTHER DOORS OPEN
In 2009, I left to start a web design business, which allowed me the flexibility to work from home and care for my son.
As my wife April returned from maternity leave, her bank was bought out a second time. She ended up a casualty of that merger. We went on to lose our house and much of our savings trying to stay afloat.
Despite sideways glances from family, we bet on ourselves during tough times. I’m proud to say we’re on the other side of that now, but it has been a long hard road.
April went back to school, earning undergraduate degrees in Economics and Technology & Information Management. She birthed our daughter between semesters, never missing a beat. Then she followed that act earning a Masters from the School of Information at Berkeley. Now she’s managing technology projects with a top consulting firm. Kicking ass like she always has.
Our kids are school aged with the little one in elementary school now. Thankfully I am back to writing full-time, currently pursuing publication for my first novel Buried by the Sound.