Today, we have a guest post from Eric Zawadzki, author of Kingmaker. Take it away, Eric!
I first want to thank Brian for hosting us on his blog. He was one of the first people to welcome me to Kindleboards almost a year ago. At the time, he shared a bit about how he started writing – a topic that has always fascinated me. These tales are like superhero origin stories, “how I met my spouse” stories, or any other coming-of-age experience that both shapes who we are now and describes how we were then. There are as many origin experiences as there are writers. In the spirit of fair exchange here is mine.
Many authors came to writing later in life. They took a creative writing class in college. Or they experienced a major life change. Or they had a baby (redundant with the second, I know). I fear I’m one of those annoying folks who always wanted to be a writer. I can’t imagine wanting to be anything else.
That doesn’t mean my early efforts weren’t terrible. The imagination was there. The ability to put it on the page in a form recognizable as a story to anyone not on hallucinogenic substances? Not so much. That would take decades – yes, with an s. You have no idea how undisciplined and impatient I was at the beginning of this journey.
Cut me some slack. I was 9.
It began when I discovered Choose Your Own Adventure Books. Do they still make these things? Back before video games had moved past Pac Man and Adventure, these books cast the reader as the protagonist of the story and allowed him (or her) to make critical decisions along the way. Depending on those choices, the book could have a happy ending or (more often) a decidedly unhappy ending. These things were red hot – the post-modern movement of children’s literature. They became more advanced by the year until some clever person decided to add a character sheet, some dice, and a simple conflict resolution mechanic (i.e. “rules that tell us what the dice mean”).
I loved those hybrid “pick-a-path with dice” books so much that I set out to write one. I got as far as researching monsters of mythology and legends before losing focus. I didn’t end up with a finished book, but the experience ultimately exposed me to Dungeons & Dragons – still a win, as far as I’m concerned.
For the next few years I explored D&D, read fantasy and science fiction voraciously, and played ever more elaborate games of pretend with my three younger siblings. Those three things, plus some amazing English teachers who emphasized creative writing, were all critical to developing a storyteller’s instincts.
Games of pretend? Really? Absolutely. In fact, the fantasy places that developed out of those games of pretend are the seeds from which the world Matt and I write about sprang.
The seeds of Kingmaker were more his than mine (and he often takes out the baby pictures from when we were in high school and posts them on our blog). Lesson of the Fire, though, had a very simple and childish origin in those elaborate games of pretend. My family had a big back yard (about 3.5 acres), and when it rained, parts of it would get very soggy. At the center of one of those soggy patches was a pile of sand that served as our sandbox and, in games of pretend, base of operations. When it rained, we imagined that it was our home in the middle of a monster-infested swamp, and we had to brave the dangers of the swamp in order to find food. Of course, sometimes the monsters would attack our home, and we’d have to drive them away.
Those games are present in Lesson of the Fire only as echoes of echoes, but I can still point out some of them. As with so many linguistic relics, place names often betray the history. Why is the capital city Domus Palus? That was our parents’ house on the first map I drew of our swamp world. “Domus” is Latin for “house” (“palus” means “swamp,” but that came later). The town of Rustiford? On the old map, it marked the place where my parents’ old Ford van had been, um, put out to pasture – literally a rusty Ford.
Silly, yes? You’d never think those games would turn into a book about an idealistic wizard-dictator’s violent rise to power and descent into madness as his ambition threatens to destroy the very nation he hoped to lead to a golden age. But then I’m not 9 anymore.
I have always felt it is important for readers to see the humanity of their favorite authors. Sure, I don’t want to read a bunch of rough drafts, but it can be quite illuminating to see a bit of an early draft next to the finished product. I guess I find the creative process endlessly fascinating, and hearing a “where I got this idea” story or seeing a scene evolve from revision to revision is the next best thing to being present in the author’s head when it’s happening.
I’ve also maintained that it is important for a writer to remember what it was like to be new and barely able to string sentences together. The reason Matt can talk on our blog about how Kingmaker evolved from an artless but earnest action story about princes, ogres, and thieves is because we kept every first draft, revision, rewrite, reimagining, and rework of that story seed from the last 20 years (16 versions of it, in all). It look like we’re on course to it 11 versions of what has become Lesson of the Fire. Those old manuscripts remind us of one of the most important lessons we have learned as writers:
No matter what your origin story, writers are not born. They grow. And they should keep on growing.