I started writing novels when I was twelve. My first book, The Quest for Mortoangus, was full of dragons and damsels and a main character who looked suspiciously like me, only with muscles and long hair because nothing was cooler to a boy with a crewcut than a ponytail. At 250,000 words, it was also a sprawling, unfocused mess. Even so, by the time I finished it, I was an addict. I was addicted to transcribing my imagination, to jotting down the dream.
I went on as a teenager to write black-t-shirt poetry, comic book scripts, and teleplays. A producer at the BBC, who was unfortunate enough to receive my script for a high school sitcom, wrote back, "We here at the BBC feel that you should live a little more and write about it less." It was solid advice, but I only followed the first half of it. I began writing science fiction short stories, few of which ever saw the light of day, all of which were short shadows cast by Ray Bradbury, J. G. Ballard, and Phillip K. Dick.
By the time I was in college and listening to Radiohead rock dirges, I had exhausted all the charms of the world. I became an absurdist. I produced a William S. Burroughs-esque "text" on a typewriter and grew a goatee. Those were dark days. I read just enough Stoppard, Sartre, and Beckett to poison myself (one has to read through to find a cure), and began writing one act plays which sounded like the sort of Nietzschean screeds one might deliver at a cafe after a fatal dose of caffeine.
I discovered the world of literary fiction and MFA publications, and these (incredibly) pulled me back from the brink of solipsism and obscurity. I became a two-bit Raymond Carver, writing stories full of human weakness and cosmic disappointment. I rediscovered poetry, which I was convinced would be revivified in popular culture by my contributions. I would be the Tiger Woods of free verse. Five years later, Tiger Woods had fallen from grace. I concluded that poetry was dead, and I probably had a hand in killing it.
At which point I began writing Senlin Ascends, a fantasy adventure, not so unlike the story that got me addicted to this fiddly business of piling up words in the first place. I wrote Senlin Ascends because this sort of writing, this sort of invention and exploration, is the most enjoyable work. I wanted to do for others what my favorite writers had done for me: namely, to pick them up and to carry them to a wonderful and perilous world that is spinning very fast. If I've done that with this book, then I'm happy, and the kid with a crewcut who dreamed of a ponytail... well, he's happy, too.