I lived in Wichita, KS, for six years while I was growing up. That’s where I attended middle school and high school. That’s where I wrote my first fantasy story, and my first (terrible) novel. That’s where I met my wife. That’s where I made most of the friends who have shaped my life in the decades since.
Partway through my senior year, it really hit me that I would be leaving. My dad drove me down to Oklahoma City to tour the university I’d chosen, and in addition to meeting English professors and peeking into classrooms, I also got to see the student center and the dorms.
And I interviewed with the director of the honors program, who went on and on about the interdisciplinary focus of the program. Students from every school at the university came together to study a core humanities curriculum and participate in debates, discussions, and extracurricular events. More than social clubs and majors, he said, honors students tended to stick together and become friends.
The interview went really well. So did my meeting with the chair of the English department and the Dean of Academic… Something. I dunno. Because I was enrolling in the honors program, they had me meet with a lot of important people, and we all got along really well.
But I spent the long ride home feeling uneasy. It took me a while to place the source of my discomfort, but it was the idea of making new friends. I’d had to make new friends when we first moved to Wichita six years ago, but the friends I made then had served me well ever since. Now I would have to do it again.
It was terrifying. But I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time on it. Senior year is a busy time, so I spent two semesters ignoring my worry and wrapping things up so I’d end with an impressively high GPA, but not high enough that I’d have to make any speeches. It was a tricky balancing act.
And while I was doing that, my dad was living his own life. I didn’t really pay much attention when he complained about his bosses. I didn’t really pay much attention when he spent a weekend out of town, interviewing for another job. I didn’t really pay much attention when he started making plans.
Then we had a family meeting one night, and Dad explained that he’d accepted a job in Little Rock. They wanted him right away, but he had put them off for two months so my sister and I could finish up the school year. That gave me time to graduate, and then we’d be moving.
As it happened, we moved to Arkansas the night after my graduation. I left behind everything I’d known, and found myself in a strange town, surrounded by strange people, with three short months of summer before I’d have to move off to college and do it all again. I felt overwhelmed and very, very alone.
Several weeks later I was at home when Mom and Dad threw a dinner party for some of my dad’s coworkers. I locked myself in my bedroom to avoid having to chit-chat with strangers. To pass the time, I started work on my second novel. I sat on my bed with a scribblebook in hand and wrote the first three chapters of Taming Fire.
Taming Fire was about a boy who had nothing. He was talented and ambitious, but he had no friends and no real path to success. It was about a kid who got invited to the prestigious Academy of Wizardry to study among some brilliant minds, but found himself unwelcome there and surrounded by hostility. It was about a brilliant if overly-optimistic old teacher who had a vision to train a swordsman in the art of magic — the height of interdisciplinary study — and whose plan fell to tatters.
It was, in short, all the worst fears of my little teenage heart written in high melodrama.
I wrote it in my free time. I workshopped it in creative writing classes and did a complete rewrite as a senior project. I presented it to a class full of engineers and business majors and ended up feeling like a meganerd. I shopped it to publishers and agents. I gave up on writing.
I left it untouched for eight long years, even as I rediscovered my love for writing. And then, back in March, I dusted it off in the hopes of adding it to my self-pubbed library.
And I discovered to my horror that it was wretched. “Melodrama” doesn’t say enough. It was unstructured. It was meandering. It descended into tedious philosophizing at times and jittered into farcical swashbuckling at others. And I had about eight weeks to set it right.
It took me ten. And it took me hundreds of hours and tens of thousands of brand new words. But I built a story I can be proud of out of a project I’d once poured my life into. I found the diamond. I made it shine.
Taming Fire is available for $0.99 at Amazon and Barnes&Noble.com. Look for it in other formats soon (including a $12.99 paperback). Grab a copy, and let me know what you think. If you ask nicely, I might even let you read the original.