Nothing scares me more than having to talk about myself. I’m the guy at a party who stuffs my mouth with celery sticks, so I don’t have to say anything (plus, I like celery). I may not like to talk, but I love to listen.
My parents managed a grocery store and didn’t spend much leisure time with me. They couldn’t read English so they couldn’t read me bedtime stories. Instead, I created my own stories. I rode my tricycle around the block, pretending to be a detective. My only case was to find out where Dad went every day. Mom claimed he worked at the Beachcombers restaurant, but I suspected she was lying. I pedaled after him when he drove off, but I couldn’t cross the street, so I circled the block, believing if I pedaled fast enough I’d catch up.
Dad came home late at night, and I would listen for the jingle of his keys in the lock. Every night, I waited for the jingle. By day, I pretended to be a detective, but at night I became a superhero and my super power was eavesdropping. As I grew up, I listened all the time. I listened to how my parents talked, how their friends joked with them over a friendly game of Mah Jong, and how strangers whispered ugly comments about the way we looked. Listening opened the world to me.
I think that’s probably why I started my writing career in theatre. I loved dialogue and I had dreams of becoming a great Canadian playwright. My first play, Weeping Moon, placed third in the Alberta Culture playwriting competition. This encouragement was all I needed to keep going and boy, did I need the encouragement. I penned scripts and produced the shows at the Edmonton Fringe Festival, hoping a professional theatre company might notice me. Six years slipped by before this happened.
In that time, I learned the hardest part of being a writer was learning to move forward after getting a rejection letter. I had plenty of practice dealing with rejections. I have a thick stack of polite letters from artistic directors. Some of the letters are yellowed from age, and I should throw them out, but I can’t. They remind me how hard it is to succeed.
My writing has opened many doors to some amazing adventures. My play, Mom, Dad, I’m Living with a White Girl toured across Canada, and gave me the opportunity to see much of this gorgeous country. PanAsian Repertory Theater produced an Off Broadway production, and I spent 3 weeks working in New York. As a teenager, I dreamed one day I’d live in a tiny Manhattan apartment and write a manuscript. My dream had come true as I checked into a tiny apartment on the Upper West Side. I pulled out my laptop and started to write. I loved the experience so much I didn’t even mind the cockroaches in the closet.
Theatre wasn’t my only passion. For six years, I worked in Canadian television. As the executive story editor of The Incredible Story Studio, I spent three weeks in Galway, Ireland. My favourite memory was arriving on the first night completely exhausted from a long flight. I flopped on my bed and fell asleep. Around midnight, I heard kids singing, and I thought fairies were coming to get me. I later discovered local teens would walk along the roads and sing songs to entertain themselves.
I had worked in theatre, television and radio for about 15 years and decided I needed a change. I set my sights on a novel. For a week, I agonized over the right title until I gave up and started to write the first draft. For two weeks, I wrote, discarded and revised the perfect first sentence, which after countless attempts became “I hated secrets.” Four months later, I had a first draft. Even though I had 20 plays, 50 episodes of television, and hundreds of articles under my belt, I fumbled my way through the draft. I made mistakes. I tossed out chapters. I revised. I loved what I wrote. I hated what I created. I revised. I asked my wife to give me feedback, and when she gave her honest opinion of the manuscript, I stomped off and pouted. Once I calmed down, I revised.
Finally, I sent the manuscript to my first publisher, Thistledown Press. Luck was with me because the publisher liked the manuscript. There was one thing I had to do: revise. Ironically, my final revision was the title, which changed from I, Alien to The Mystery of the Frozen Brains.
In a way, my career is similar to my writing process. I’m constantly revising to make myself a better writer.