I’ve had this blog entry on my mind for a while. As I near the finishing line on my third book in a year as well as having completed a Dieselpunk short story that I’m now eyeing into making a book for 2015, I find myself thinking a lot of my dad and how, in a way that I would have not dared admit years ago, that Dad was right. I am a far better writer because of it, and it is directly tied to why I’m an indie author.
This is not a posting about poor me, or about daddy issues. It’s about recognizing how without the actions taken, without the reflections made, I would be poorer for it. For 25 years I wrote short stories for friends and family. I kept putting my creative-side aside in favour of my technical career, time and again. As I started my writing career, I’ve come to realize the depth of experience that I gained because of this path, and I have my dad to thank in large part for it.
Creative Arts vs Science
As an undiagnosed dyslexic, high school physics and chemistry were my first introduction to nearly-failing courses. I had very strong aptitude in math, but chemistry was lies and physics was a teacher randomly giving me information and then apologizing when I used it, or so it seemed.
High school in Quebec ends at grade 11, then you go to CEGEP which is effectively a junior college where you earn a 2 year diploma before going on to university for a 3 or 4 year bachelor’s degree or you go on to do a trade. CEGEP is an acronym for (translated from French) College for academic and vocational education.
I was accepted into two key programs at my preferred CEGEP in 1990, the new Creative Writing program and the classic Pure & Applied Science.
If I wasn’t writing software programs, I was writing stories, if I wasn’t writing stories, I was playing D&D (though that was already starting to dwindle by then). I loved the idea of being able to take my writing to the next level. My dad said no. We argued, loudly, very loudly.
I still remember the feeling of the carpet beneath my bare feet in that downstairs living room, the wood-look of the walls, where the furniture was. It’s like I step into a photo. I also remember the thoughts, as if frozen in time or written in the air.
My dad argued that if I studied science, I could do whatever I wanted afterwards. As a first generation Canadian immigrant who only had a high school education, whose career had been built by taking leaps and risks and learning to get up more often than he was knocked down, he wanted his elder son to have ‘everything he didn’t have.’
I understood where my dad was coming from, but I felt that I had enough gusto to make it work. The death of a close friend of mine, and programming mentor, collapsed my will to fight it. Going into Pure & Applied science would allow me to get to programming, and did I love that. At university, I went to the top Canadian technical school, the University of Waterloo. At first, I was in Mechanical Engineering, but I switched out to the Mathematics faculty with a Computer Science major, and a Philosophy minor. All the fun around that is in my memoir, which might be released next year)
Growing up, my dad and I weren’t close, not the way that I am with my kids. He was very focused on providing for the family, and he also came from a fundamentally different culture than the one I was growing up in.
The things that we could always talk about were business/work and politics. Everything else were pretty much misaligned, from women to humour.
Anyone who knew me growing up knew of the struggles I had with my dad. While I often didn’t agree with his advice or views, I understood he was trying to do the best thing he could for our family.
As an adult, when my parents needed me most, I was there. At one point, forced to make a very important decision, I made it and I wore their disdain for a couple of years until they came to realize that I had done the right thing, and that it had been done for the right reasons. If I had learned anything from being my father’s son, it was that you do what is right, regardless of what others think. I’ve made that into an expression my kids have already heard too many times, “Sometimes the one is correct and the hundred are wrong. Wisdom is knowing when.”
In another world, with different parents, I might have created a start-up like Sierra On-line (the King’s Quest company) or Origin (the Ultima company) or Facebook. I had so many ideas, and I worked effortlessly and endlessly on them, but there was no support.
At CEGEP, I found flaws in the course catalog and got myself registered for programming courses I shouldn’t have been allowed to take. Professors agreed to allow me to stay in the Fortran, and then C courses, in exchange for explaining how I’d done that.
At university, with money running out, I started up my own little company and worked 80-100 hour work weeks. I ruthlessly prioritized my assignments versus doing work for my clients, and managed my way to graduation. Then, before I knew it I was in Silicon Valley.
Within a year and a half, I’d made the leap to architect when one day at a consulting company, they needed another architect & everyone was booked. The chief architect had thrown my name at the hunger sales person, and away I went. Like Napoleon leaping ahead instead of spending years in the trenches, I was succeeding by the skin of my teeth. Over the years, I had to deal with my fear of being a fraud, coming to terms with actually being smart, and tons of others.
As twenty years went by and I moved Silicon Valley, to Toronto, to Montreal, to Calgary, my career built. I experienced the crushing parts of the dot com bust, I built up practices within consulting companies from scratch, I came to understand what real leadership was about, and I provided a very good living for my family. I’d also been a speaker at some conferences, someone that my former colleagues and friends at Microsoft could ask in a pinch to present about almost anything. I’d never thought I’d be software architect, or more specifically a solution architect, but I had. A reliable one. One that people have made very strong statements of support regarding, including one by a man I tremendously respected as “Being one of the best in the industry.”
From my dad I inherited a drive to get things done. To take things into my own hands, and show, despite the odds, that it can get done. Through his various entrepreneurial efforts I witnessed growing up, none of which provided for us for long, I got to see it from the inside out.
Like my dad, I’ve never done well in confining corporate environments, though I can easily state that my dad is better at it than me. I’m an “enfant-terrible” as soon as I get bored or as soon as I can’t stop seeing the multitude of sins (idiotic behaviour, not the other kind).
That willingness to role up my sleeves, that desire to see how far I can push myself so that I can learn what skills do I need other people for, is at the heart of why I’m an Indie Author.
Did I even send The Yellow Hoods to anyone? No. Have I ever sent anything? Yes, twice, both rejected. Did it scare me? No. Will I one day become a hybrid author? Probably, but when that day comes that I pitch a book to an agent, I will know what I’ve been able to accomplish on my own. I will be able to not just demonstrate the value of myself as a writer, but as the full package of what it means to be an author (speaking, organizing, building a following, etc.).
Sometimes you’ll catch me using the term author-preneur. I didn’t come up with it, but it is exactly what I’ve been doing, and part of the why is because I can. Being an author for me is the technology start-up that I wanted to build over the years, but where my ideas are not limited by the current generation of technology. The only thing that limits me at this point is reach, and that comes from hard and smart work.
Over the years I’ve learned so many lessons that I bring to my author-preneurial career, from how to talk to people to how to look at a product. On November 28th, it’ll be the one year mark from when I decided I wanted to try and be an author in five years, and on January 4th it’ll be the anniversary of when I started writing the first of The Yellow Hoods book.
As I start building that secondary career, and on my goal of within 5 years being able to stop the technology career (which some believe I’ll never truly be able to do) and write full time, I’ve had to stop and think back to the route that my dad adamantly insisted I go down. Was he right about the details? No, but the broad strokes? Yes.
If I’d started down that path to be a writer 34 years ago, I would have likely been frustrated, or found myself with less means or options than I have today. The most important lessons that I learned were to trust my own judgement, to know how to invest in myself and in other people, and how to fix what I break.
These days we have an excellent relationship and he the type of grandfather for my kids that I wished I had had.