Every one of my novels has a short “About the Author” section. Really short. Like, two lean sentences short, and one of them is a link. This is because I recognize that readers read my books for the stories the contain, not because of my less-than-interesting backstory. I’m not Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. Nobody cares about my idiosyncratic weirdness.
And yet, I still get asked from time to time about my writing backstory, which I am always happy to regurgitate into willing ears. Apparently some people like to know such things, so I decided to document the tale for prosperity (read: help 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 my accounting classes counted as elective credit, so it wasn’t a giant waste of time. I remember sitting in a Cost Accounting class one day thinking, “If this what my life will be like, I may 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 career trajectory. At that time, companies were giving away high-paying IT jobs to anyone who could spell “computer” (sorry, Millennials). Coupled with a cum laude graduate 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. I oopsie-doodle back-flipped into an insanely 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 skill to translate blocks of machine code into meaningful user instruction. That’s why Technical Writing is a career in and of itself. The good ones are worth their weight in gold because they alleviate a lot of confusion and training costs.
This is why I can say that I’ve been writing professionally for longer than I’ve been a writer. That’s 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 reputation. 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 a meaningful 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 writer that emits a pretentious vibe. Unless your accolades include a letter of praise from Tolkien, shut up and sit your delusional ass down. 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, then I will gently redirect you to something far more entertaining. Here’s a baby monkey riding backwards on a pig. Enjoy.