Fascination, awe, and curiosity are all expressed when I tell people I wrote a bestselling fantasy novel. Especially when I mention my background was in systems engineering, and how my whole life revolved around math—the two fields are totally different! People always wonder how an engineer-type mind could possibly write a fantasy novel. Well, let me tell you, it wasn’t an overnight process.
For those who know me, I have one crazy imagination—I always have. If anyone has a conversation with Mamma Johns, she’ll tell you about the countless hours I spent in the basement, playing with my dinosaurs when I was a kid. We weren’t allowed to play video games (except Pokémon) so I had to create my own entertainment. It didn’t stop with dinosaur toys, however. When Mamma Johns put me to bed, I would be daydreaming about being a lion cub surviving in the world of The Lion King and later being a Padawan in the Jedi temple. My entire childhood was based on growing a creative mind (and also developing awful sleeping problems), before I knew I could express my thoughts in writing.
When my elementary school teacher told us we were going to write and develop our own books, I was exhilarated. This was my chance to create and share my own world, my own story. My first story was about a flood at a zoo, and how a family of orangutans (each one representing one of my friends) had to survive. My second story was a fantasy, mixing The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars. I spelled ‘lightsaber’ as ‘lightsaver’ so it’s not plagiarism, right? At home, I would expand these adventures even further. These simple writing activities, along with my vivid imagination and love for storytelling, led to my desire to write later on in life.
During my teenage years, my imagination changed along with all the angst, confusion, and typical teenage drama. I learned to express emotion through writing lyrics and performing. This experience gave me the chance to write down my deepest feelings and see the impact my words had on an audience. But at the time, there wasn’t a bright future for this except for my longing to become a rock star, so I focused my mind on math. I was good at math. So good that I decided to study it in college. I went to Virginia Tech, obtaining degrees in industrial and systems engineering and mathematics. I wanted to try and use my creative and imaginative skills to solve real-world problems. I never stopped writing song lyrics, however. If anything, I wrote even more.
I decided to take a creative writing class my junior year of college for fun. This class sparked my imagination; I wrote two short stories, one fiction and one non-fiction, and many poems. I enjoyed receiving feedback from my classmates and professor. I attended writing seminars, which allowed me to listen to authors speak about their current publications. This class ignited my interest in the creative writing lifestyle; it was a fulfillment I failed to experience with my engineering courses.
However, my creative writing was put on hold after graduation. I started working full-time for a large engineering firm as a Systems Engineer. My time was spent writing proposals and technical papers for the Federal Aviation Administration on their air traffic control programs—I’ll spare you the details.
Although these experiences were great for a resume, I knew this wasn’t where my heart truly lies. I kept thinking back to the fulfillment I had felt in my creative writing class in college, where I was surrounded by peers who shared the same interests as me. Something was not right with my current path, and I needed to fix it.
My life changed when my grandfather passed away in May 2016. I wanted to write a poem for him filled with all the right words, expressing what he had meant to me over my lifetime. I wanted to use all the experience I had gained throughout the years, from writing short stories to writing song lyrics, and create something perfect.
However, I spent the nights before his wake staring at a blank page. I thought I was too upset to write a poem, too stressed to think of the perfect words defining our relationship. I gave up.
I was lying restlessly in bed at two in the morning on the morning of his wake, when the words suddenly came to me. I jumped out of bed, grabbed a piece of paper, and wrote everything down in ten minutes. The next morning, I went on my computer to type it up. I framed the poem and brought it to the wake to share part of my heart with my family members and friends.
The feedback was nothing but positive, and I was asked to read the poem at the funeral—so I did. I read the poem in front of a hundred people. When I finished the last lines, the entire room was in tears, including myself. Family and friends approached me after saying they hadn’t cried all week until I read that poem. I was asked numerous times if I was a writer and that if I wasn’t, I definitely should be.
I learned from this experience that creativity comes in patient waves; it cannot be forced. More importantly, I learned that I wanted to pursue a profession in writing—I wanted my words to continue to have an emotional effect on the world around me.
With the inspiration I received after the funeral, I decided to put my words to the test and write a novel. I worked hard balancing my time between working full-time and my writing life. I had to learn how to be a professional writer on my own. I used many different resources including podcasts (So You Want To Be A Writer and Helping Writers Become Authors) and books on self-publishing, book formatting, and of course, The Elements of Style. I used the connections obtained during my years as an engineer to build a team composed of beta readers, editors, artists, website designers, and other authors to help me stay motivated and encourage me.
During my life-changing experience of writing, I realized that many people in the world say they want to write a book…but only a few actually do it. However, I did not fall into the latter category—as I did it.
As I progressed through my professional career, I came to realize that working in a large firm wasn’t for me. I do not want to solve problems in the real world; I want to solve problems in the worlds that I create. This mindset is what fascinates people the most. It gives them the hope that they also can change their path and do something they truly believe in. It doesn’t matter if you’re an engineer, a master at economics, a nutritionist, a cat-sitter—anyone can be a writer. Just write what you love and don’t forget to dream, believe, and pursue.
Did you have a creative imagination as weird as mine when you were a kid? Share your response in the comments below!