“Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.”
—LL Cool J
As I write this I am 64 years old. I have known highs and lows few people ever experience. I have lived and I have died. I have seen heaven’s brilliance and have walked hell’s depths. I know the joy of truth and the stench of deception. I have tasted the false pride of the world and have felt the burn of its stripes. I know utter joy and utter hopelessness. I once stood on the mountaintop and was feted with the ether of praise. Then I plumbed the depths of devastating illness, of failure, of terrible loss, and said, “I am Job.” But now, with the help of God, family, and a few good friends, I am back. But like the man said, “Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.”
May 22, 2020
I’ll start at the beginning. I was born in Japan. My father was an officer in the United States Army during the Occupation, and he was privileged to have his wife with him part of that time—an important part for me, as it turned out. We lived in Beppu, which is like Japan’s Las Vegas, but I was born in Fukuoka, at, as I recall, a drab army hospital with few amenities and even fewer toys. Fast forwarding, we came to the States before I could talk in either language, which left me a bit confused, and we eventually ended up at BYU, where my father graduated. After getting his teaching credential at Chico State, we moved to Modesto, California, where I was raised.
One note on the confusion of my birth and quick transfer to the States. I was born on February 19. Now, any astrologer worth his or her salt knows that this is a cusp day: February 18 is the close of Aquarius, and February 19 is beginning of Pisces. Of course none of this mattered much to me over the years because I was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (formerly known as Mormons) and had an inbred aversion to signs and such (Genesis 1:14 notwithstanding). But one day while ruminating on the confusion and addlement that has plagued me since my trip to America, I realized that if I had been born where I was raised, in California, I would have been an Aquarius, because it was still the 18th in that fine state. So, in Japan I’m a Pisces, but in America I’m an Aquarius. Who can handle such an existential conflict? Certainly not a three-month-old boy who barely knows enough kanjis to write his name. In that moment of epiphany I realized that “It is not my fault.” Let confusion spiral forth from me, let foolishness spew from my pen; let “bizarre” be newly defined by my words and deeds—still, It Is Not My Fault. I am the product of an arbitrary International Dateline, of unwise travels, of signs and wonders beyond my power to control. Thus, you may read and find fault, you may snicker at my errant “wisdom,” you may mock my foolishness but just remember, it is not my fault, and, as you well know, greater is the crime of not forgiving another’s sins, especially those of a simple man riddled by the vagaries of the universe.
Anyway, back to something I could control. Although I seemed to have some limited facility for writing in my early years, I had no desire whatsoever to pursue it. (I once got a D- in Creative Writing—and only got that because the teacher, one Miss Nicholson, was the picture of forbearance and generosity.) Then, when I was 17, a spiritual experience changed my course. Although I didn’t want to write any more than necessary, I felt that I was supposed to, so I began studying the craft, partly by viewing musicals and partly by reading scriptures. The next year, I went to BYU on a track scholarship (sprints and hurdles), then served a mission to Japan, where I was a Pisces again, in the mid-70s. After returning home, I resumed my education and embarked on a composite degree in English. A composite degree consists of both a major and minor in the same subject. In my last two semesters I had on average one paper due each morning. That’s when I learned to write fast, though not necessarily well.
During this time I also met Janet Scott, on the BYU women’s track team, and we were married within a year (April 6, 1979) in the Oakland Temple. She also ran sprints, and long jumped (20 feet). Although I had a respectable mark on the Top Ten record board in the Fieldhouse, Janet was the real athlete in the family, as she was ranked 5th in the United States in the indoor 60-meter dash when we married. (Another interesting fact is that we are both the oldest of eight children, both have five brothers and two sisters, who came nearly in the same order, and we both had brothers born to our parents two years before we were married. Also, we ran the same events in high school and college—sprints and jumps. We may have other uncanny similarities, but I have been too skittish to research the subject.
A year before our marriage, I had, quite by random, been roomed with one Todd Hester, an engineering student, who is undoubtedly the funniest person I have ever known. As it turned out, he also wanted to write, so we began working on an adventure novel for boys. It was called The Not-So Private Eyes and was published by Randall Books before the end of our sophomore years. Combining Todd’s creativity and humor with my ability to encourage him, made us a good, if unequal, team. He was truly the brains of the operation, and I was the lucky one to grab onto his coattails.
Getting published at an early age was both a blessing and a curse. It was nice to know that we weren’t altogether misguided in our attempts, but it gave me false hope. I thought we had arrived, that I could quit school and write full-time. But, alas, as soon as I dropped out of school, the royalties dried up, and I was working as a janitor back in Modesto. Needless to say, I hurried back to BYU, where I resumed both my studies and athletic career, where I managed to stay most of another year before another book got published and I dropped out again. I was writer, after all. I didn’t need homework and tests and term papers. Unfortunately, I was not a successful writer. Although our books received some nice reviews in library journals (where perhaps five or ten people glanced at the innocent pages), and although Todd and I had been invited to sign books alongside Walter Cronkite and Diane Keaton at the ABA convention in Dallas, Texas (American Booksellers Association), we were, again, financial failures. Some bookstores said our books were good enough to be successful, but unfortunately we had chosen to write them just when video games were beginning to rage across the land, consuming every self-respecting boy’s time and energy, not to mention hopes and dreams. Poor judgment on our part, I guess.
So, I went back to school, again, had another stint on the track team (my coaches were the epitome of patience), and I eventually passed a few more classes before mistakenly getting published again and trying the same old trick.
By following this course of action, college became the longest 18 years of my life, and I graduated (whew!) At the tender age of 36, with a number of books to my credit, a faithful and patient wife at my side, and four children under my feet (especially when trying to write). My track career had long since dried up, along with the coaches’ goodwill, and my mark on the Top-Ten board in the 400 meter hurdles had finally fallen off the board like a withered leaf from its branch. But the winds of change were blowing, and success like I couldn’t have imagined was sneaking up on me.