Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Letter To Spencer, Circa 1993

Without further ado, I give you this.

Dear Thirteen-Year-Old Me:

I just read the ending of The Wheel of Time.

"Aha," you say, "I must be receiving this missive [don't know about emails, do you?] from three or four years in the future. Perhaps I'm a junior in high school. But no, it couldn't take THAT long to finish the series, could it? There's already five of them!"

I know what else you are thinking. "I have to know. I want to read the end so badly. I love these books so much."

You are even thinking "if my house was on fire, the first thing I would save would be those books." Yes, I remember thinking that.

I'm sorry.

I'm really sorry.

I am thirty-three years old, TYOM.

I have two children and a third on the way, I live in Washington, and I'm a teacher.

And no, I'm not a professional writer. Kind of close. I have been published. But I have not published any of the massive fantasy volumes I have slaved over.

There's one that I think I will send off soon. It's short and it's pretty funny. It's got economics in it.

Wait! Don't cry!

Seriously, don't cry. I remember crying that much. It's weird and makes people uncomfortable.

(Although, for what it's worth, the depression and lethargy is not just from puberty, it's partially a complication of your celiac disease, and as annoying as it is, you really, really need to stick to a strictly gluten-free diet, kid. Like, entirely. Not even Postum, damn it! Listen to me.)

So, how was the book?

Pretty good. Some stuff was amazing. Some stuff really deserved a little more time. Some stuff was boring and I wish the author had spent less time on it.

What part of the ending do you want to know? Yes, Rand wins. What did you think would happen? Does he die? Um, kind of.

He also has hot foursomes with his three wives. At least, it's implied. What does "foursome" mean? Changing subject!

You have to understand that there are now fourteen of these books. Robert Jordan is dead. He wrote eleven books and died and they drafted someone else to finish the series. They got really bad. I hate to tell you this, but you're not going to even like books eight through eleven.

And another guy wrote the last three. His name's Brandon Sanderson. They're pretty good books. Gets the series back on track for the most part.

I met Brandon Sanderson once. He's a really nice guy.

Yeah, it wasn't me. I know what you're thinking. I would have thought the same thing, had I had this conversation at your age. Who else but the fabulously brilliant, talented Spencer Ellsworth would be drafted to finish the series? After all, I'm 33 and haven't I've had years to write tons of fantasy bestsellers?

You have, after all, just decided that you will focus all your energies on writing. You sat down at Dad's Macintosh Plus and said "I will be a writer." I remember that decision, and I remember the novel you started as soon as you made that decision.

You'll finish it, TYOM. You'll finish it and you'll write another one, a huge one, before you finish high school!

Hell, you'll have an actual girlfriend for a while, and she will even ask to read it, and her determination will outlast the relationship, even. I know, because she just turned up the manuscript when she was moving and she wrote me a Facebook message... it's kind of like a letter... to mention it. And your wife, who is awesome, will start your relationship by breaking into your room and reading all the copies of your stuff you have lying around.

You will never ever went back on that resolution. You have just made a decision that will change the rest of your life.

It's just that you won't be a famous author like Robert Jordan. At least not by 33.

Ah... shit, you're crying again.

Yes, I swear a lot. It's one of the few advantages of being an adult.

The truth is, writing is really, really hard. 

You know it's frustrating. But what you don't know is that writing is REALLY frustrating. Like when your sister won't stop berating you frustrating. Like when a cold hangs on for a month. Which is also related to the celiac autoimmune issues. Writing is hard. Like when Mom brings home a bunch of Costco muffins that you can't eat, and you are supposed to just stay away from them because you can't eat them.

I've written some stuff that I thought was really good. Even as good as The Eye of the World, TYOM. I published some fantasy stories that I think you might really like, if you read them.

But TYOM, I know you don't want to hear this... life throws you curves. I didn't expect to have kids this young. I did and I love them and they need my time. I didn't expect to feel this exhausted from working a day job and being a dad. I do. Every day I feel more tired than I ever thought possible.

I didn't realize how much rejection was involved. Call me stupid, but I still hate it when I think about how much stuff I've written that got a billion rejections that I finally threw away.

Also, the universe is not really handing out contracts to finish a multivolume bestselling fantasy series. We didn't have Mat Cauthon's luck for that one.

On top of that, there are not a lot of Robert Jordans in the world. In fact, I even worked in the publishing industry, TYOM, and mostly an author gets famous through luck, not skill. They write a book that people didn't know they wanted.

And, also, I suspect I've never been that good.

Shit, now I'm crying. Give me a tissue. I know you have a cold. Gluten-free diet, damn it!

It's a wonder I got through that stupid book--all fourteen of those stupid books--these last few months with this existential crisis on the heels of the reading.

Truth is, TYOM, you will save yourself a lot of pain and a lot of therapy bills if you realize, right now, that writing is its own reward. Telling a story is fun. But the big famous author dream hasn't happened yet, and may never happen, especially because of how the entertainment industry faces its own Breaking of the World and Last Battle called file-sharing... never mind. You're bored. Point is, when you sit back down at the Mac Plus, think less about your name in print and more about the characters.

Think about how much you love Rand al'Thor's frenzied journey, and then create a character you can love as much as Rand al'Thor. Then follow him. Or her. You'd be surprised how misogynist you unintentionally are, TYOM.

Life is better than you can imagine, TYOM. There is even decent gluten-free food in the future. See, I brought you back a muffin. Tastes like the real thing, eh?

Just be happy with who you become. Much like The Wheel of Time, life has all kinds of derailments, oddities, stupid plot twists, and endless delays. It also has unexpected wonders, and times when everything seems new again.

Write your way through it.


  1. Aww :) I am going to find you a time machine so you can break the world by sending this letter!

  2. That was sweet. A lot of it resonates with me, although I started reading the WoT in college.