William L. Culbertson
I’ve always been a writer, it just took me a long time to realize it. Growing up in northwestern Ohio, I was an inveterate reader—okay, a bookworm. The space program in its early heroic days seemed an exciting extension of my favorite science fiction books. In college I discovered J. R. R. Tolkien and became a fan of fantasy stories as well.
Once out of college, I married my high school sweetheart and started teaching. For twelve years, I taught mainly middle school mathematics in the public schools. I enjoyed my students—most of them anyway. When I offer that thought about the age group to others, especially other educators, I sometimes get strange looks.
Yes, youngsters that age can be creatively obnoxious. However, their budding intellects meant I could introduce them to interesting topics in the subject matter. Yet they were still kids, young and blooming with enough excitement that we could have fun doing it. So far no one has challenged me with the obvious comeback-back that my enjoyment of this age group might an expression of my own arrested maturity.
For the remainder of my career I taught courses in mathematics and astronomy at our local community college. Many students were fresh out of high school taking their first year or two of a four-year degree at a local and less expensive institution. Yet many in my classes were non-traditional, older and in a completely different stage of life.
Working-age people come to a community college to advance their skills in a current job or build their qualifications for a new one. Many were in the midst of difficult life transitions. They were out of work, newly divorced, fresh out of prison, or other challenging situations.
Their reasons for enrollment were multitude, but they all shared a common desire to better themselves. These students knew why they were in school. They had a variety of goals, but they were all grateful for the help our faculty gave them in achieving their objectives.
The importance of what we did for these students was brought home to me at the very first commencement ceremony I attended. I sat there with the rest of the faculty trying to look interested while they called names and awarded diplomas. As one woman walked across the stage to shake the president’s hand, a high-pitched voice piped up from the crowd. “That’s my mommy!”
I imagined what that piece of paper meant to the woman and swallowed hard. We were doing something important this day. Our ceremony meant the world to these non-traditional graduates. Our institution had made a difference in their lives. As an educator, the appreciation expressed by the people I encountered in my classes is something I’ll always remember—and treasure.
So where did my writing career come from? I’d always had an urge to create my own stories to match the ones I enjoyed reading. Although I’d finished only a few of the stories I started over the years, I knew I liked to write. However, earning a living and graduate school consumed much of my time and energy for a good number of years. I wrote a lot, but the products were turgid academic polemics—big words, passive voice, and dull. I produced nothing that anyone would want to read for entertainment.
Yet academic writing prepared me, even propelled me, into writing fiction. First of all, I got (very) used to expressing myself with the written word. Finishing my dissertation convinced me that I really could complete a large writing product.
In fact, once my dissertation was approved, I had subject matter backlash. Released from the stogy and plodding, in a few short weeks, I completed a ribald and rollicking (and unpublishable) short story featuring Puck, the fairy. After years of writing to meet academic requirements, I did this story strictly to entertain myself. With that out of my system, I started writing more conventional fantasy and science fiction short stories.
Freed to writing whatever I wanted, I had the opportunity to craft several local histories. Just like my academic work, those projects involved lots of research. History books have lots of facts, but the challenge was to weave those facts into a coherent narrative to entertain my local audience.
With three history books under my belt, I could no longer deny my need to tackle an epic fantasy story which had grown and evolved in my head for years. Once the words began to hit the page, I became consumed with chronicling the characters, the world, and the narrative which became my King’s series. I’ve written several blog pieces with more specifics about creating these works, but once I’d had the experience of holding a physical copy of King’s Exile in my hands, there was no turning back. Since then, ideas for characters and their adventures just keep coming. Once I start to tell these characters’ story, they take on a reality for me. At that point, I’m driven to bring their lives and trials to the printed page.