You Are More Thank You Think You Are
A Guest Post by Brock Heasley
I’m a writer, but for most of my life I didn’t know that.
Drawing Not Writing
Back in high school, writing was an academic exercise at best, a vehicle for whatever B.S. I needed to create to fill out the required page count and get the grade. Once out of school, writing was one of the many things I gratefully left behind, ranking below locker room showers and just above Chemistry teachers lazily pontificating on the politics of the day.
I hated writing. I was the kid sketching superheroes in his bedroom for three hours a day, and the kid in the corner of the classroom drawing monsters. No doubt, I was going to be a comic book artist. The path to that destination—the inevitable result of all my hard work—wasn’t even a question. I agreed to go to college to appease my mom, but I was pretty certain I didn’t need it. A solid portfolio is way more valuable to an artist than a degree.
I went to college anyway, getting that degree in Graphic Design. I’m no fool. A stable job feeds a wife and kids better than dreams, and I was still working in art so…kind of a win? But, not enough of one. A few years after graduation, I dragged my wife to the International Comic-con in San Diego to show off my skills and land that dream job. I was gonna draw Spider-Man.
A reality check I didn’t expect woke me up to the fact that I was never going to draw Spider-Man. It wasn’t that I wasn’t good enough—the pros I talked to were complimentary—but when I found out about the fourteen hour work days and low pay, I knew I couldn’t ask my family to follow this path with me any longer. The idea I’d had of myself ever since I was a kid was gone. I thought I was destined to be a comic book artist, and I was wrong.
It was, to put it mildly, heartbreaking.
An Unexpected Discovery
And then, something magical was invented that changed my life: MySpace.
MySpace was a mess of a social network that preceded the almighty Facebook, but it was fun for its time and it introduced me to the democratization of creativity known as blogging. This is hard to put into perspective now because it’s our everyday, but blogging was this amazing thing once upon a time. You could create and strangers in Zimbabwe would see your work in seconds. Strangers. No publisher or distribution required. When had that ever happened before?
I tried blogging on a lark and something stirred within me. You ever do or say something that just leaps out of you and you think to yourself, “Where did that come from?” That’s what writing was for me. The first time I wrote what I wanted to write—for pleasure, for fun—I discovered this huge, huge piece of myself I didn’t know existed. I was a writer, and, more particularly, I was a storyteller.
I was 28 years old.
The only question I had was: what story do I tell? I wanted it to be grand, and, to me, that meant a book. I’d never written anything longer than a 20 page essay, and I was going to write a book.
I spent the next five years writing about my father, how he was the victim of two armed robberies, and the growing up I did in between. After another year of effort, I secured a literary agent who believed in me so fiercely she sent my manuscript to the top editors in the world. She’d never not sold a book.
I had the honor of breaking her streak.
She told me that, despite the rejections, I was a good writer and that I should write another book. I spent the next three years doing just that and came back to her with 90,000 words she hailed as an obvious sign of my growth as a writer and a terrific story. And, much as she believed in me, she didn’t know how to sell it. She wouldn’t send it to anybody because she didn’t think they would know how to sell it, either.
I was devastated. Again. I loved writing, but did writing—and, possibly, the universe—hate me? At about the same time, my wife and I both lost our jobs within 24 hours of each other.
This is what we call a low point.
A Lesson in Grit
I felt completely, hopelessly lost, though I smiled through the pain as best I could. Things began to turn around when, four months after the double job loss and coming up dry with each and every position I applied for, I was contacted by a local production company who thought my storytelling skills might be of use. Within a year I was working on feature films and writing and directing my own short film, The Shift.
Now, I have always loved movies, but I never once thought I would actually work in film. I didn’t have an imagination that big. But, I was more than I thought I was.
I think we all are.
And I think there are always clues. When I think back to high school, I just didn’t really know who I was or what I was capable of, despite the hints. Lots of them.
Hindsight is 20/20
The Whomper was a wooden sword my history teacher, Mr. Bushman, used to call the class to order. He wielded it as his totem of power. So, of course, some friends and I—including one Alice Klepac (now Keeler)—stole it and held it for ransom.
We made videos at my house outlining our list of threats and demands—videos I wrote and directed. We donned paper bag masks with eye holes cut out and used a voice-changing microphone to alter our voices.
Despite our disguises, when an amused Bushman showed the video to all his classes the next day, a few of our friends recognized us and wanted in on the next thing we stole.
Hanging from the ceiling in Bushman’s classroom was a 10-foot long, paper mache replica of the Whomper. While the entire school was in the gym for the last rally of the year, a few of us took the Giant Whomper down off the ceiling, ran it out the building and down the stairs, loaded it up into a truck, and drove it the safety of my house.
A second ransom video was made, and more threats and demands were leveled. Did Bushman want to see both Whompers destroyed? We insisted it was time to take us seriously.
And that’s when the police got involved and things got really crazy. Here, take a look:
That girl who tripped and made the cameraman (me) laugh? That was Alice.
Paper Bag Mask, released by Pen Name Publishing on October 23, 2018, is my full circle moment. After failing with my first two books, I wrote a young adult novel based on this crazy thing Alice and I and our friends did when we were a bunch of know-nothing Juniors in high school. I like to say the book is about 40% true. And now, it’s a published and real thing people can buy.
That’s kind of nuts.
I believe that each of us has endless potential and that we are all more than we think we are. It’s been far, far harder a road to travel to get here than I ever thought it would be, and my destination may have turned out to be far afield of where I thought I was heading, but I can’t help but be grateful for all of it.
It’s been worth every second.
Brock Heasley is an author, artist, and filmmaker who lives in California with his wife and three daughters. He is a graduate of California State University Fresno, the creator of the online comic The SuperFogeys, the award-winning writer/director of The Shift, and the writer and illustrator of Paper Bag Mask. Brock is available for speaking engagements and interviews, and can be contacted via his email at firstname.lastname@example.org.