Actually, that’s not 100% true. In my heart, I knew I had one gift, one love, and one hobby that were a three-in-one slam dunk of inner happiness. I nearly flunked out of high school because all I could do was sit there during Calculus class and pen short stories about romance and vampires (which I’d been obsessed with since I’d fallen in love with The Count on Sesame Street at the age of four) to my best friend. I didn’t even care if it irritated the teacher. All that mattered to me was getting to the next tooth-sinking, grip-tightening, desperation-filled moment of maddening lust and writing about it in vivid detail. Obviously, that one gift-given hobby that I loved was bad news; it almost deprived me of a high school diploma, it sure as hell wasn’t going to pay the rent one day. At least that’s what everyone and their poodle was very fond of telling me.
So, when I want to college, I started with an empty slate, not really interested in anything. Because of this, I took classes in, basically, everything. I took classes in psychology, teaching, astronomy, journalism, architecture, art, and even criminal justice. I hated all of them.
Eventually I flunked out. For real this time.
I was granted the opportunity of living a few years under the very tight, very itchy, and bruise-leaving bridle of minimum-wage existence in which I worked forty to sixty hours a week, had no medical or dental insurance, and made enough money to pay for Ramen Noodles and Goodwill clothes and then I bit the reality bullet: I needed to go back to school and earn some sort of degree. At the very least.
My grades had been so bad, it was difficult for me to get back in. I literally had to write a letter to the governor and plead my case — explaining how serious I was this time around and how voters were sure to remember being given second chances — before he convinced the dean to let me back in under a grade probation. This should have been a massive clue that I was meant to be a writer, but I’d been writing these kinds of letters my entire life and didn’t look at them as a gift at the time — they were simply how I survived.
I got back in, but I had to earn a 3.0 or I’d be out again.
No problem. I was smart enough by this time to have learned a few things about myself that helped me to choose the right schedule: I am incapable of coherent thought prior to 10 a.m. and only then with caffeine in my system. I can not work in groups; don’t ask me to. And I absolutely abhor politics.
Religion, on the other hand, fascinated me. I’d been fascinated with it since I was little and recognized the hypocrisy in my own church when the very same girls who had sent me to the emergency room with a cracked jaw were sitting a few pews up from me and bowing their heads as if in prayer. At the same time as my gag reflex was kicking in, the dichotomy of the situation really occurred to me. I mean, it really, really hit home.
For the next ten years, I read books on religion, watched shows on religion, and questioned people of different religions, trying to figure out what it was that made people believe in something so strongly, but in such a strange, non-linear manner. In doing this, I discovered the joys of world religion, myths, beliefs, legends and pantheons. Godly figures swam in my mind’s eye, their names thundering through my ear drums as I tossed and turned in bed: Daghda! Zeus! Butsu! THOR! I went from Taoism to Wicca to Judaism to Buddhism and back again and then — to my extreme joy — I came across a world religion class offered by the Philosophy department of the university I was attending and thought, “Wow. I can actually earn credits for learning this stuff.”
I signed up, and one class turned in to twenty, and twenty turned into an eventual degree in religious studies. It did wonders for my grade point average, but it didn’t make too many other people happy. What the hell was I going to do with a degree in religious studies?
And they were right, more or less, which I learned again as I went out into the work-a-day world and took jobs as everything from a customer service representative at a start up internet company to a marketing writer at a chiropractic college (this really should have been another clue as to my “gift,” as I helped write that college into their current university status).
In the meantime, I wrote, usually about romance or vampires and often about religious figures. I didn’t even realize I was doing it, but I filled journal after journal with stories about vampire kings and wraith lords and even Thor in love and Zeus in lust, and I dreamed, very much in private, of one day getting published.
I went to law school, had a kid, moved around a lot.
Eventually the internet REALLY took off and a few sites popped up where we wanna-be authors could post our work for free and get feedback. I did so on Literotica.com (great site) and received such amazing feedback, it threw me.
For the first time in my life, I honestly wondered whether I might have a gift.
Then Kindle came along and I thought…. “Maybe?” What the hell. I posted a book.
A few months later, that book hits #1 in vampires on Amazon and the highly illustrious chairman of Trident Media Group calls me up and asks me if he can represent me, and whether I’ve written anything new.
After my initial shock and joy wear off a little, I take a deep breath and say, “Well, I’ve started this new series about angels. I’ve been wanting to write about them for a long time.” My agent is thrilled and wants to read the first book. I send it to him and he loves it.
I have an epiphany.
Everything I have ever done in my life has led me to this moment. Even the religious studies degree that no one thought I should get — in fact, perhaps, especially that religious studies degree — has played a major role in getting me to the position I currently find myself in:
As an author. Writing about romance. And vampires. And angels.
I hope that you all enjoy reading it as much as my life has enjoyed building it. 🙂
Heather Killough-Walden, New York Times bestselling author
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