Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Smash

In September of 1996, I was married, unemployed, living in Austin and running out of options. I'd graduated from law school, but I wasn't going to be a lawyer. That much was clear: I'd spent most of law school writing fantasy and franchise novels and now, back in Texas, I wasn't really likely to work for a large firm.

But there wasn't much else. By my birthday in early September, I'd been in Austin for a Summer and had not found a job.

Then on my birthday, a box arrived at our apartment-- it was a stack of X-Files comics from Topps. The editor of a web magazine called Smash!-- an online mag intended to drive consumers to the brick-and-mortar store Another Universe (now TFAW)-- had sent these to me as part of a new assignment. I was to read the comics and post blow-by-blow reviews of the comics.

This was a lifesaver, because I was paid a few cents per word. My reviews were epic in length, but I strove to be very detailed. Every nook and cranny of the issue would be explored for meaning-- if the evil General's name was Shadenfreude, I'd include a definition of the word; if writer Stefan Petrucha hid references to classic songs in the dialogue, I'd make a note of it. It helped that Petrucha is a writer who includes layers upon layers of hidden meaning. But anyway: what this meant was that I had a job. I was writing for the web, and it actually paid the bills.

For several years, writing for web magazines was one of the chief bread-and-butter gigs I had. For Smash!, which became Mania!, and then Another Universe, then Cinescape and finally Mania again, I wrote reviews of comics, books, movies and TV: I reviewed X-Files, Buffy, and Angel for all media, Spawn and Witchblade comics, and eventually added three weekly columns: a manga column called Otaku, a comics column called The Graphic Novelist, and a gothic horror column called The Hammerscape.

What's amazing is that I couldn't keep up with demand: at that time there was an unending appetite for content.

 I started writing for games, often as a full-timer, but sometimes I got by for years as a freelancer, one by-the-word assignment at a time.

All of this came back to me as I was looking at the Internet Archives of Smash! and thinking how it all just kind of lined up. I wondered: if I had been born 20 years earlier, would I have survived the Summer at all? In the past twenty years most of my writing has been in the technology field, for games and websites. (Yes, I've done some novels. And that did exist before.) But I can't help wondering what this life would have looked like if I'd landed in Austin in 1976, and not 1996.

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