09 July 2012

One Fateful Phone Call

A True Story

I never felt comfortable answering calls when I worked at Xennsoft. I guess I never felt at home. So one day I was sitting in my dark office (Christie said the fake lights gave her a headache), and my phone rang. I answered as I hustled down the hallway and pushed through the glass doors to the lobby.

I hadn’t yet told my boss that I’d been accepted to BYU’s Master’s of English, which was another reason to be discreet (for some reason I was afraid they might let me go too soon).

I kept walking till I got to the stairwell—which wasn’t carpet and picture frames like the rest of the building but was gray concrete, painted railing, and hollow echoes.

On the line was Professor Chris Crowe, calling because I had registered for his Writing Young-Adult Fiction class and he wanted to give me a personalized reading recommendation (having taught now myself, I realize the time it takes to make this sort of personal gesture for a whole class). Based on my interests, he recommended The Gates of Excellence by Katherine Patterson and Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.

With the phone to my ear, I told Professor Crowe I wasn’t sure I was going to keep his class because of a rhetoric class scheduled at the same time (I was accepted to the rhetoric program, not creative writing). If he hadn’t called, I would have dropped his class without too much debate. I asked him if maybe I could take his class next year. He told me it was only offered every two years, so the next chance would be after I graduated.

I looked up the five-floors of empty stairwell.

This was the pivotal point—the moment of truth—between rhetoric and fiction. I was supposed to do rhetoric. But...

I told him I’d stay in his class.

I read the books he recommended and began my first novel, ECKSDOT, in his class. The following summer, I declined the chance to teach so I could finish the first draft (and enter it into the Utah Arts Council competition, which I didn’t win). His tips led to my first agent retreat (with Stephen Fraser) and first writer’s conference (LDStoryMakersConference).

It was also in Chris Crowe’s class that I met author Gary Schmidt and volunteered to drive him to the airport. Chatting with Gary, I realized that as a Rhetoric teacher I would be expected to publish in rhetoric for the rest of my career—which I had some serious doubts about.

After finishing Mistborn, I read a lot more Brandon Sanderson (all of them except Warbreaker, actually), and eventually landed in Brandon’s 318 Fiction class—another crucial step I wouldn’t have taken if not for Chris.

Somewhere along the way I decided this fiction thing might actually work (emphasis on might). Otherwise I’d have never dared to start on that path because of the lingering doubts I had about being successful. I still have the doubts, but at least I’ve started walking.

I’m not sure how this story ends. I don’t know what will happen with my writing or where my teaching career will end up. But I am sure about one thing:

You can’t measure the weight of one caring phone call.



P.S. If you’re interested, here’s my tribute to Professor Doug Thayer.

And don’t forget to sign up for Artemis Fowl tickets!