I grew up in a tiny town in northeastern Ohio, a stone’s throw from the town cemetery, which was peaceful during the day and spooky as all get-out at night (like most cemeteries). We also lived only a short walk from the town library, a quiet, musty place that nonetheless had a pretty good sci-fi collection and a hill out back that was great for sledding. I loved growing up in that town. The summer before eighth grade, though, my parents announced that we were moving to Michigan. That declaration prompted considerable wailing and gnashing of teeth from my sisters and me, but we survived the move, and by the time I graduated from college I regarded Michigan as my home. Since then, I’ve married and become a father, carved out a decent living as a writer and editor of reference books on American history and current events, and developed an unhealthy emotional investment in the fortunes of University of Michigan football.
But none of that (except for the spooky cemetery, maybe) tells you much about how I came to write an epic fantasy novel, does it?
Well, like many kids who grew up in the Nixon-Carter-Reagan years, I inhaled a heady blend of Marvel Comics, Stephen King, and Dungeons and Dragons during my childhood. I loved wandering through those worlds, heart pounding at the fantastic events taking place therein. I sensed the chill in every dark corner of The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, thrilled to the power coursing through Thor’s hammer, shared Frodo and Sam’s dread as they approached Mount Doom. And then there were those endless nights of D&D around Randy’s living room table and down in Hugh’s basement. Nights punctuated by shouts of triumph and outrage and bursts of laughter. If you’ve ever found yourself playing D&D at 2 in the morning, convinced that the eyes peering back at you from the other side of the dungeon master’s screen are gleaming with malevolent glee, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
I was in no hurry to leave that existence, but eventually I was dragged kicking and screaming into adulthood. After college I found myself in the Ann Arbor and Detroit areas, toiling by day in the offices of a reference publisher and spending my nights and weekends soaking in the sounds from a big fat choir of new (or at least new to me) voices. People like Neil Gaiman, Cormac McCarthy, Bob Dylan, Margaret Atwood, James McMurtry, and J.K. Rowling. Novelists and songwriters capable of transporting me to another world with a single turn of phrase. Some of those worlds were soaring, magical. Others were full dark, no stars, to borrow from King. All were delightful in their own ways.
My wife and I also caught the outdoors bug—hard. And with each paddling, backpacking, and camping excursion we undertook—whether in Alaska, the Canadian Rockies, Michigan’s own Upper Peninsula, or some other green spot on the map—I fell more deeply under the spell of a new constellation of storytellers who wrote about men and women who battled—or sought solace in—the planet’s wildest places. Alfred Lansing’s Endurance. Beryl Markham’s West with the Night. Tomalin and Hall’s The Strange Last Voyage of Donald Crowhurst. Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Wind, Sand & Stars. Great books all, full of joy and despair, with adventurers and settings that could have sprung from the pen of Jules Verne.
To be honest, I never really felt the desire to tell my own stories during those years. I had dabbled in short-story writing in my youth and early adulthood, but I didn’t have the necessary discipline to make a go of it back then. Or to develop a narrative voice that was truly my own. Which amounts to the same thing, I suppose. And there was so much wonderful stuff to read out there already!
But parenthood changes us all, and one of the ways in which it changed me, to my complete and utter surprise, was that it rekindled a long-dormant desire to craft stories of my own. Maybe it was all those bedtime stories I read to my daughters when they were little. Or the pleasure of joining with them in discovering the worlds crafted by Brandon Sanderson and Jo Walton and Naomi Novik and so many others. Or seeing how their eyes lit up when they talked about Harry Potter and Gandalf and Katniss Everdeen. Or finding them curled up on the sofa, thoroughly engrossed in Into the Wild or Fahrenheit 451 or some other old favorite of mine.
Whatever the spark was, it found enough tinder in my imagination to become a full-blown four-alarm fire. I spent two years feeding those flames, drawing on a lifetime of firewood bestowed upon me by all those starry-souled writers and poets and songsmiths with whom I’d been fortunate enough to cross paths. Although at times it sputtered and gave off more smoke than light, I managed to keep that fire alive until Gryphon’s Eye finally took its present form. If you look in its pages closely enough, you might even find a sly tribute or two to some of the talented folks who have carved out a special place in this reader’s heart over the years.
So here it is, and I hope you like it, no matter who you are or where you’re from. Because if Gryphon’s Eye was a rock concert, I’d call it an all-ages show.
What’s next? Well, Gryphon’s Eye is only the first book in a planned trilogy. And the bed of that fire is still glowing red, thanks to all those wondrous stories and storytellers. So I guess I’d better get back to my laptop . . .