My father has become a big fan of my writing, especially my spy novel, Nobody Dies forFree. My grandparents read my books too. My grandfather loves my pulp work, especially my Allan Quatermain and Sherlock Holmes stories. My grandmother is, like Dad, a fan of my espionage agent character, Richard Monroe.
Like any writer, I’m always happy to hear that any reader has enjoyed my work. But I have to admit to feeling a special sense of victorious satisfaction when I hear my older relatives talking positively about the fact that I’ve grown up to be a published (and sometimes paid!) author. This is because there was a time when the same personality traits that enable me to pursue this art form made those same relatives of mine suspect that something might be wrong with me. I know there were times when they worried, when they wished I was what they expected me to be, wanted me to be what they defined as a “normal kid.”
I don’t hold it against them. It’s the job of parents and grandparents to worry about their offspring. But I do find it ironic now that the eccentricities of my boyhood, the things that made them upset (and no, they never treated me cruelly, but I know they wondered), are the same things that led me to write the words they seem very much to enjoy reading now, several decades later.
In every generation of children, there are those that shun the usual social activities of their peers, or that would rather sit inside and read no matter how sunny the Saturday afternoon is, or would prefer to sit with Grandpa in his basement workshop and listen to his war stories. These are the kids with powerful imaginations, who spend more mental energy wondering what grand adventures the future might hold than they do worrying about the baseball game in the park or their homework or who’s wearing the most fashionable sneakers.
I know my parents worried that I had my nose stuck in a comic book when I should have been playing football with the rowdy brothers from down the block. I overheard my grandmother complain to my mother after she babysat us one day, concerned that I sat in the cellar for hours staring into the little black and white TV we kept as a spare. Little did she know that I was busy discovering—with rapt amazement, I might add—how thrilling it was to witness the havoc unleashed on Tokyo when Godzilla, Mothra, and Rodan rampaged.
I’m sure Mom and Dad also heard me sneaking around the house at 3 A.M. some mornings, long before an 8-year old should have been up. I’ll let everybody in on the secret of what I was doing, since it’s safe now that 29 years have gone by. The local public TV station used to show old silent movies in the wee hours. I was sneaking out of bed to get my education in things like the fantastic set designs of Metropolis, the ahead-of-their-time dinosaur effects of The Lost World, and what might still be the single greatest shocker in horror movie history: the unmasking of the Phantom of the Opera!
Yes, that strange little boy who didn’t want to run around and get dirty every summer afternoon, who wanted instead to spend his time falling merrily into the worlds created by JRR Tolkein, Isaac Asimov, Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, Ian Fleming, Roger Zelazny, Stan Lee, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and so many other wonderful creators, was doing something much more important than getting skinned knees and hitting doubles past the shortstop’s frustrated reach. He was working, though he didn’t realize it at the time. He was a writer in training, absorbing the wonderful products of the minds of those who came before, the scribes of fantastic worlds who would exert a lifelong influence on him and make him dream and ask the eternally perfect, vitally important question of, “What If?” until one day, years later, the dreams and ideas in his head, the trees of imagination that came from the seeds planted there in childhood, would burst up and out of that mind and become stories in and of themselves.
I knew I was different when I was a kid, knew the other kids thought I was weird, and realized that even my family found me a little odd and probably wondered why I couldn’t be like the other kids (or maybe more like they’d been when they were my age). But I was who I was and today I am who I am. I like the way the story of my life has gone so far. As that unusual little boy, I loved stories. As an adult who’s still strange, but (I hope) not in a bad way, I still love stories, and I feel lucky that others enjoy the stories I now contribute to the world.
When I was a toddler and it became apparent that my left hand was the dominant one, my great-grandmother suggested that the hand be tied behind my back to force me to become right-handed, but my mother and grandmother refused. I’m glad that when I grew into a slightly older kid and the eccentricities that came from my imagination and interest in fiction became obvious, nobody did anything similar to try to strangle my developing sense of wonder and love of storytelling. My parents may not have understood why I did the things I did, but they never actively discouraged me.
And I hope that the parents out there now won’t worry too much if their kids seem to spend a little too much time reading or drawing or watching movies. As long as they don’t have any serious problems, as long as their schoolwork doesn’t suffer and they get some kind of exercise and they seem happy, be proud of them and encourage their interests. They just might grow up to make the books you like to read or the movies you like to watch. Every generation needs its dreamers. If we didn’t have them, we wouldn’t have had Ray Bradbury or Alfred Hitchcock or HP Lovecraft or so many other creators of the stories that have shaped the imaginations of millions of human beings.
If your children are dreamers, please let them dream.