The Passion That Is Writing

What makes a writer?  What ignites the spark in someone that motivates them to communicate their innermost thoughts to others through the medium of writing?

For me, everything started at least partially because I was an only child.  My imagination was the only playmate I had growing up; I spent a lot of time alone, and began to draw pictures that I would caption with my limited child’s vocabulary, and staple the pictures together into “books” to create a narrative entertaining to my young mind.  My parents encouraged such behavior; reacting to each new series of pictures with enthusiasm. 

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

They also introduced me to the joy of reading.  Some of my earliest memories were lying in bed before sleep, with my mother sitting on the bed next to me reading to me.  She didn’t read me children’s books either; she read me classics like the Canterbury Tales, or Treasure Island, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I would lie back and close my eyes and listen to my mother’s voice, watching the images in my mind’s eye as the story unfolded; like a theater in my head.

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My parents were voracious readers; to the extent they even incorporated a library into the house.  It was an eclectic mix of travel books, two shelves of Encyclopedia Britannica, and an astonishing array of novels and histories.  I remember being about six or maybe seven years old and absently running my hands over the books on the shelf, and suddenly one of the books – a small paperback – came into my hand. 

The cover showed the image of an appropriately grim-faced cowboy sitting on a horse in front of snow-covered mountains.   The title was Radigan, a novel by Louis L’Amour, and I was entranced.  I sat on the rug on the library floor, absorbing every word, image, and concept; reveling in the experience until my mother came to get me for dinner. After we ate, I went right back to it and read until it was time to go to bed; I finished it the next morning.  I kept thinking how amazing it was someone sat down and wrote that story, and how it had transported me and affected me… and I thought about how wonderful it would be to spend your life creating such stories.

 Radigan

From that point on, I always had a notebook with me.  I spent every spare moment scribbling down ideas and sentences and phrases I thought would be cool for a character to say.  I thought about people I respected and the qualities they had and how those could become the motivations to drive characters I would find interesting to write about. Then I thought about the paths their lives took before they came to that first moment they entered into a story; the experiences the reader might not glean from the story itself but which shaped the person they were reading about.

Over time, writing became more than just a hobby.  It became my passion, my coping mechanism, my way of understanding myself.  If I had a bad day, I could write about it to put things into perspective.  If I was angry or frustrated, I could write about it to vent the tension.  If I aspired to something, I could write about what I needed to do to get there.  I wrote everything from simple observations to passing thoughts to short stories to basic and fundamental beginnings of novels I wanted to write.  I created characters of every type; warriors and wizards, heroes and heroines, cops and criminals… even of everyday people standing along the periphery of significant events and watching them transpire, fearing the future the events were creating and wondering what they might do to adapt to their new reality.

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Then, finally, came that moment; the moment when an idea was born that stayed with me and kept me up at night.  The idea for a story grand and powerful; so large that I needed to create an entire universe for it to transpire within.  Alien worlds and species to inhabit them, and the advanced civilizations and cultures that embodied them; all came from the depths of my imagination and found their way into that story.  I met characters that became real people to me; people I knew as well as anyone could know another person.  People I cared about and worried about and wanted the best for, and sometimes had to witness them endure horrific trials; but in the end they were successful, and I mourned their losses even as I exulted with them at their ultimate triumph.

 Infinity's Queen  Into the Expanse  The Gathering Storm  The Gunman's Voyage

Such is the power of being a writer.

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The Beauty of Strength

When I first sat down and began my preliminary prognostications for the story that would ultimately become the Desolation Trilogy, I had pretty strong ideas about the type of story I wanted it to be and the people who would populate the universe I was assembling.

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I’ve talked about the character of Reed Cooper, and in thinking about the worldview of a man whose early life was so full of violence I began to wonder about what would be the anchors that would keep him on the right side of things and not just accept becoming a ruthless loner.  His uncle, of course, would have been someone who showed him it was possible to trust someone to have your best interests at heart, and I knew his friendships with his crew mates on the Infinity’s Queen would be based on their having proved themselves to him over time.  But… what else might have been enough to allow him to maintain a spark of humanity within himself?

I didn’t want my story to fall into being a romance novel; frankly I don’t think I have that kind of story in me.  But, I realized that having experienced love might have been one of those pivotal experiences in Reed Cooper’s life that could help anchor him, and so I began composing the background for the woman who had been Cooper’s One True Love.

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Originally, Serita Grant was not supposed to be Cooper’s love interest in the story.  Sure, she and Cooper had loved one another once, but I wanted her there as someone to stand with Cooper not because she had unrequited feelings for him but because it was the right thing to do, and the situation was one she would be personally outraged by and determined to see this person she had a history with get through this horrific situation safely.  My idea, at first, was that they would rebuild a solid friendship, not fall back in love.  But, as I wrote more about her and began to see how her personality pulled her character – and Cooper’s pulled his – I couldn’t help but see them rediscovering their feelings for each other.

Serita herself began with my desire to not create the type of heroine that was common during my childhood; an oft-helpless creature whose primary purpose was to fall into peril so the hero could save her.  A lot of movies and TV shows in those dark days of the late ’70’s and early ’80’s seemed to feature a very pretty but willowy lady whose primary response to danger was to scream helplessly and faint.  That offended me on a lot of levels.

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The first woman in my life was, obviously, my mother, and she was definitely not like those women movies and TV seemed to think women should be like.  My mother was a fiery redhead who had grown up in rural New Mexico, the daughter of a tough-as-nails southwestern lawman and a rancher’s daughter, and she did not suffer fools lightly.  She was a loving mother who dedicated herself to her family, but her temper could be fearsome.  I’ve written about my fighter pilot father, a strong and even intimidating man who had grown up two-fisted in Prohibition-era Chicago, and he loved and respected my mother not only as his wife but as his true and equal partner in life.  They had their arguments at times, they could be thunderous… and my mother backed my father down more than once.  Those qualities of strength, toughness, and will were things I wanted Serita to embody.

That toughness would be necessary for her to have if she was going to be capable of surviving the world I was creating… and if she was the type of person to have feelings for a hard man like Reed Cooper and be his equal, she would have to be hard herself; especially considering the challenges she herself had faced in her life.

From the outset, I envisioned her as having cybernetic enhancements.  The trauma of the accident she survived, her own sense of having had her very humanity diminished; all were part of demonstrating something important about her: namely just how tough she really was.  Not just because she now had the bionic components to make her stronger and faster than any normal human being but because she had the mental toughness to accept her new reality and still find a way to move forward.  That Cooper would accept her as she is was meant to be a surprise for her… and became the realization for me that rediscovering their deeper emotions for each other had to be part of their story.

 

J. R. Winton

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Created by Michael Sciacca