Dear Greg (in 1986),
So you’ve just turned fourteen, and you’ve just entered your freshman year of high school. I wanted to send you…well, not a pep talk, exactly. You’ve never liked or trusted those; they’re treacherous, and too often they’ve been empty promises, or outright lies. But I’ve got perspective now, perspective you don’t yet have, and God knows you could use some. I remember that year.
I would be lying if I told you the months ahead are going to be easy. In fact, in a lot of ways they’re going to be brutal. You know as well as I do how out of step you often feel these days, gangly and uncomfortable in your own skin, a book-lover and game-player and role-playing enthusiast and all the other things which are the opposite of popularity-producing. You like people, but they don’t always like you—or at least some of them. (You think it’s most of them, but you’re wrong there. And you’re not the only one feeling that way.) Those people will make fun of you a great deal, and worse. You’ll be bullied, hit in hallways, pushed in lockers, have your lunch spit in, your backpack ripped, your glasses broken. And you’ll be so goddamned passive (everything in that last sentence was done to you, enacted upon you) when all that’s happening, so uncertain of how much is your fault (just so you know: none of it is. None.), wishing you could use your intellect and general good will to override the anger and hatred and vitriol. You won’t be able to, though. You’re not old enough, and neither are they.
Mom and Dad won’t be able to help. They’ll mean well, and they care about you, but in some ways they’re as awkward as you are, as uncertain what to do with your messy emotions (and Christ, are they messy) as you are. Other adults—teachers, principals, other figures of authority—will do what they can, when they’re not busy blaming you for being punched in the stomach or slapped or unceasingly, mercilessly, unendingly mocked and humiliated. And you will have some friends, some places of refuge in the storm. Take shelter with them as often as you can.
And take heart—because the real reason I’m writing this is to tell you to hold on. You won’t see it now, but you’re building something within yourself; knowledge, wisdom, and a fundamental understanding of what real strength actually is. You’re developing empathy, and the ability to transform that empathy into advocacy for others. Don’t give up your music (ever!); don’t give up your writing (never!); don’t give up your reading, or game-playing. The Dungeons & Dragons Red Box you bought a couple of years ago? When you get older, you’ll meet some of the people who worked on that. The map of the Forgotten Realms you’ve got on your wall? The man who created that will become not only a friend but a colleague. You’ll do readings with him eventually; you’ll work with him on projects. Believe it or not, he’ll invite you to become part of a new world he’s created; he’ll publish a trilogy of your books, and he won’t do so out of pity, but out of genuine respect for your skill as a writer and a desire to draw upon your own base of readers (you’ll have one!). He’ll call your book good, even great—in public, in front of everyone! And others will agree.
There’s more. You’ll have a wonderful and growing group of friends, on and offline (you’ll understand the online part later—give it maybe ten years or so), and you’ll play games with them, and laugh and have fun just like you (sometimes) do now. You’ll have a wonderful family—not seamlessly perfect, but loving and caring and warm, with two wonderful children, and a house, and a job as a writer and teacher, like your mother and father, able to learn from their example in both strengths and weaknesses. And most of all, Greg, you’ll be able, thirty years from now, to talk about this, to open yourself up to others without fear or uncertainty or doubt (okay…maybe a bit of doubt, but you’ll get past it). And maybe talking about it will help others who feel the same way you often do now; maybe it will help them think of a future beyond, well, whatever this is. It can’t hurt.
So…be well. Take care of yourself. Trust in your path. It will be rocky and rough and difficult. But you have people who do and will care about you. Have faith. It is often hard to see, even harder to feel. But it is also, sometimes, rewarded. I promise you it is well worth the chance taken. Until then, remember this: you matter, all of you, now and in future.
Greg (in 2016)
About Gregory A. Wilson:
Gregory A. Wilson is Professor of English at St. John’s University in New York City, where he teaches creative writing and fantasy fiction along with various other courses in literature.
His first academic book was published by Clemson University Press in 2007; on the creative side, he has won an award for a national playwriting contest, and his first novel, a work of fantasy entitled The Third Sign, was published by Gale Cengagein the summer of 2009. His second novel, Icarus, will be published as a graphic novel by Silence in the Library Publishing in 2015, and he has just signed a three book deal with The Ed Greenwood Group, which will be publishing his Gray Assassin Trilogy beginning with his third novel,Grayshade, in 2016.
He has short stories out in various anthologies, including Time Traveled Tales from Silence in the Library, When The Villain Comes Home, edited by Ed Greenwood and Gabrielle Harbowy, and Triumph Over Tragedy, alongside authors like Robert Silverberg and Marion Zimmer Bradley, and he has had three articles published in the SFWA Bulletin.
He is a regular panelist at conferences across the country and is a member of the Gen Con Writers’ Symposium, the Origins Library, Codex, Backspace, and several other author groups on and offline. On other related fronts, he did character work and flavour text for the hit fantasy card game Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, and along with fellow speculative fiction author Brad Beaulieu is the co-host of the critically-acclaimed podcast Speculate! The Podcast for Writers, Readers and Fans, a show which discusses (and interviews the creators and illustrators of) speculative fiction of all sorts and types.
He lives with his wife Clea, daughter Senavene–named at his wife’s urging for a character in The Third Sign, for which his daughter seems to have forgiven him–and dog Lilo in Riverdale, NY.
Visit Gregory’s personal site: http://www.gregoryawilson.com/ and check out his book, Grayshade.