Each of my novels has a short “About the Author” section. Really short. Like, two lean sentences short, and one of them is a website. I have never been one to vomit my backstory onto unsuspecting readers. They are there to read a story, not hear me drone on about my idiosyncratic weirdness.
Nevertheless, I do get asked about my writing history from time to time, which I am always happy to recap. Some people like to know these things, so I decided to document the tale for prosperity (read: keep my facts straight). Without further ado, here is my official, expanded, detailed, sanctioned, author-approved backstory.
Zachry Wheeler, A Bio of Sorts
The first thing I can say about my writing backstory is that I never intended to be a writer. I went to college to become an accountant, and I really wish there was a punchline to follow that statement. Nope, I actually wanted to be an accountant. No offense to accountants, but your career choice is soul-crushingly boring. I made it through half the curriculum before switching my major to Computer Information Systems. Luckily, all of my accounting classes counted as elective credit, so it wasn’t a giant waste of time. I remember sitting in a Cost Accounting class thinking, “If this what my life will be like, I might as well end it now.” Thank goodness I had the keen insight to switch to a more exciting career path in, um … programming.
I graduated from Appalachian State University in 1999 with a BSBA degree in CIS. Yes, I left college with a computer degree mere months before Y2K (talk about lucking into a trajectory). At the time, major companies were giving away IT jobs to anyone who could spell “computer.” Coupled with a cum laude status, I was off to the money-making races. I even had the extreme foresight (total batshit luck) to teach myself web development as it was gaining momentum. In other words, I oopsie-doodle back-flipped into a lucrative career.
That’s when my writing career began, but I didn’t know it yet. Most people think that programming is just staring at code all day. And in a sense, it is. But, there are a lot of other tasks that go along with it, including a large bolus of technical writing. Think documentation, wikis, manuals, etc. At a baseline, most competent programmers are actually decent writers. They need a strong grasp of language in order to do their jobs. It takes a certain amount of editorial skill to translate blocks of machine code into meaningful user instruction. That’s why Technical Writing is its own career. The good ones are worth their weight in gold because they alleviate a lot of user confusion and training costs.
This is why I can say that I have been writing professionally for longer than I have been a writer. A strange statement to digest, so I’ll give you a minute (cue Jeopardy theme). It took me a while to realize that programming was writing. Plus, coding gave me the tools to develop my own writing platforms. I own and operate numerous online ventures, including BrewChief.com and The Herrington Post. I crafted a unique situation where I didn’t need to hone a writing rep. I had the next best thing: a killer web presence.
When I decided to write fiction, I already had the basic tools. The only thing I lacked was proper technique. When I wrote the first draft of Transient, much of it read like a technical manual. I needed to learn act structure, hooks, provocation, etc. You know, the things that make fiction interesting as opposed to a sleeping aid. Looking back on it, the first draft actually read quite well as a medical journal about vampires. But, the story lacked pacing, structure, and plot. In other words, it sucked, which kind of defeated the purpose.
That’s when my writing career began to take shape. I started learning more and more about the craft. I read constantly and devoured every pro tip I could find. The most exciting moment for me came when I was reading a book and could actually critique it. “This writing sucks and this is why it sucks.” Course, I was reading my own damn book, but that’s beside the point. I had gained the insight I needed to write decent fiction. I was by no means at a Douglas Adams level, but I finally had momentum and I’ve ridden it ever since.
That’s what writing is to me: a never-ending battle of brain-melting masochism. It’s a skill you never truly master, which is endlessly appealing to me. I like learning new things and writing offers a bottomless pit of improvement. This is also why I want to slap any pretentious writer who claims to “know” the craft. Unless your accolades include a letter of praise from Tolkien, you can shut your trap and park your lap. You write at the kiddie table with the rest of us.
I realize that I’m meandering a bit and to be honest, I can’t think of an insightful way to end this. In fact, if you’re still reading, I’m forced to question your judgement. I know I’m not that interesting, so I have to assume you’re really bored, really wasted, or both. And if that’s indeed the case, allow me to gently redirect you to something far more entertaining. Here are some True Facts about the Mantis Shrimp. Enjoy.