by Jaime Buckley
I was asked to do this article, and I thought it was a mistake. Attempting to write something, to say something profound or inspiring, that belief intensified. Sitting alone in my office, looking at the creations that fed and clothed my family for decades, the truth poked its head out from the collections and waved tiny fingers at me.
“Your purpose isn’t to inspire these readers, you fool,” it whispered. “You’re supposed to warn them!”
That made a lot more sense.
After 11 fantasy novels, more than a million downloads of my comic books and graph novels, I still frown at myself in the mirror. Publishing thousands of articles, building blogs, creating podcasts, games, and illustrating for many famous and hundreds of not-so-famous clients wasn’t what I had planned. I’d taken the wrong path. Riddled with guilt and anxiety, my fractured heart beat with sorrow and disappointment, tormenting my every thought. Each character I’d grown to love, each fantastical place I walked in my imagination, was tainted.
Without warning, my mind cracked.
In less than 48 hours, I’d yanked my works from the world. Every book, every novel, every newsletter and cookie I could find, I deleted, wiping 20 years of dedicated effort from the internet. My heart still pounds thinking about it — trembling fingers trying to end my existence in the eyes of the world. Hell, I even deleted my Instagram, Twitter and In-Yer-Facebook accounts.
Dear reader, I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.
I want you to consider pulling the plug sooner.
I’m pretty confident that you don’t know me, but I know you.
You’re the smart, creative one. Underestimated by those around you, there’s something special inside trying to get out. You want to give birth to this idea so the world can experience it.
You may not know what this idea is, but you know it’s important. If crafted, it’ll improve minds, hearts, perspectives, maybe even inspire the life of a reader. You know it’s important because that ‘feeling’ inside you won’t leave. It catches your attention repeatedly, tugging at your mind, because it wants to be given life. It wants direction and purpose, which is why this idea chose you.
Did you love it, nourish it, wrap your arms around it when it tried to walk on its own? Did you defend and protect it from those wanting to harm or even kill it? Have you even considered these things?
When the greatest idea of my writing life was born, Wanted Hero, I fed it coffee and cigarettes, stunting its growth. As it hungered for nourishment, I kept it alive on doughnuts and pain killers. When it looked to me for validation, I didn’t speak the truth or provide sound instruction like any good parent would. I feigned encouragement, ignored its critical development, then linked its value to the screwed-up opinions of those around us who never gave a damn. That’s right, those who had nothing invested, nothing to contribute, became the taskmaster and gatekeeper of my fictional child.
I’d earned a place in hell, alongside puppy haters and those who talk during movies.
What was my great sin?
I allowed outside influences to change the original, beautiful content of my story. Wanted Hero was a creation that had called to me from the void of creativity, pleading to be loved, nurtured, and cherished, and I betrayed it.
The idea of Wanted Hero was a simple one. Being a new father, I hoped to craft a fictional world to inspire my children where challenges were solved and overcome by everyday people. Stories that would allow my kids to discover critical answers, even if they wouldn’t listen to their father. Stories to encourage them, learning more about themselves, discovering what they thought about various subjects all on their own.
Being raised by a marketing executive father, this ‘simple’ idea soon became a career for me. The possibilities of this story blazed in my mind like a neon ‘OPEN’ sign. I envisioned stories in every genre and projects to span every demographic. Monetizing became my first compromise. Not that making money is wrong, but it became my obsession, rather than the story itself.
I could publish the story, sell it as digital PDFs, make games, t-shirts, mugs, and a message board kids would interact on. To make the dream even bigger, I envisioned a ‘culture’ fostered by a website that would connect readers. Contacting programmers in India, I requested bids to construct my dream.
This was back before World Anvil, and the internet was ruled by those who wrote HTML, and I’d forgotten my foundation.
I’d always intended to create Wanted Hero as comics, so that’s the route I went. Drawing them traditionally, I scanned each page onto my desktop and published them as PDFs, selling them years before the Kindle existed. I dubbed them ‘eComics’ and sold them for ¢.97 each. Buy one, print as many as you wanted, so long as you didn’t alter them or sell them. Before the year was out, I had over 750,000 visitors from 60 countries.
Still don’t understand how that happened.
One customer would pay me extra to print each issue at the local copy shop and mail it to him. He sent me an email, asking if he could tell a few friends about the comic book. I said, “Sure. I don’t advertise, so that would be a kind gesture. Thank you.” He replied the following day, informing me he’d shared the comic with thousands of his fraternity brothers over Facebook.
With the increased sales, I could pay my mortgage that month.
As the comic grew in popularity, I made my next compromise. There were people online who impressed me, and I thought it would be awesome to make them into comic book characters and show kids that ‘heroes’ exist. It was a good intent, and many people I wrote about became friends. They also shared the comics within their circles, expanding the story’s reach.
I shifted and changed the story to include more and more people. New characters, never part of the original story, took over the comics. Before long, I couldn’t recognize the storyline. I’d built a world I no longer knew… or loved.
Now that I look back, I’m grateful for the car accident. I think it was the Universe taking to me. It was saying, “You screwed up, Jaime, but I’m going to give you a second chance. Get with the program.”
If only I was smart… and less desperate.
With mangled hands and losing my fine motor skills, the comics died. In depression, I walked away… never telling my readers what happened. I know that sounds bad, but my life’s dream had ended. My wife and oldest daughter soon convinced me to take Wanted Hero and write them as novels in place of comic books.
It was a crazy thought — I wrote comic scripts, not books — but they applied the thumbscrews of love with a heavy dose of female perspective… and won. I started writing and found I didn’t suck at it. As another perk, my new boss had connections with a famous New York Times author in the fantasy genre. He introduced me to the author, and I received encouraging feedback and instruction. Enough to catapult me from depression into a creative frenzy once more.
In 2011, I published the first book in the series. With little to no marketing, the first book sold roughly 23,000 copies. Writing was also more fun than drawing, prompting six more novels the next year. Rebuilding the website, I sold digital copies and connected with readers through a blog. All I’d changed, though, were a few details to appeal to a wider demographic.
The Universe had smashed the ‘reset’ button, giving me a second chance, and I’d ignored the offer. The books had the flavor of the idea, with little to none of the substance. My writing became focused more on world building, not the hero or the adventure.
I’d compromised again.
The thing about telling a lie is you maintain that lie as questions arise. I’d lied to myself about what I was doing, and each time the Universe whispered over my shoulder, questioning my actions, I’d adjust my answer to justify my current position.
I told myself the books weren’t selling enough because:
I’ll never know what could have happened. I never wrote the actual story. What I dreamed up in 1990 never saw the light of day. On this corrupted path, I created something else. I built what I believed people would want, instead of crafting the story that called to my soul. Can’t recall when I turned down the wrong path, but I’m not sure it matters.
What does matter is taking full responsibility and accountability for compromising on the best creative idea I’ve ever had.
Then correct it.
It wasn’t too late to do the right thing.
That’s why I pulled the plug, dear reader. The weight of my grave decisions destroyed me. The core of my very nature is that I love people. My own children and the surrounding youth are a significant part of who I am and why I do what I do. I’m a father of 13 children, grandfather to 23 grandchildren and I’ve taught over 1000 youth over 20+ years that they matter.
Yet I spent my professional career telling a lie.
That isn’t what I want to be remembered for.
Take this personal and painful life lesson I’ve shared with you, and prevent your own heartache. Avoid disappointment and shame when you look in the mirror. Take your time. Give life to your brilliant idea. Nourish and encourage your characters. Help them fulfill the measure of their creation, to connect with readers and spark the wonder within minds and hearts.
Do… not… compromise your story.
You will regret it. Of that, I know.
What do YOU want to be remembered for?
* * * * * *
Jaime Buckley is a cartoonist and best-selling author.
More importantly, he’s a loving husband and father of 13 children. Since 1986 he’s worked for famous authors and TV personalities, and illustrated for hundreds of new authors across the genre spectrum. If you can think of a creative project or marketing strategy, Jaime's likely done it… but always finds his greatest success by being himself. You can find Jaime writing fantasy for readers on LifeOfFiction.com and sharing his parenting antics through kidCLANS.com.
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