Hi, I’m Clay.
I had no idea who I was when I began college. I mean, I knew I was Clay, but what in the world was that supposed to mean? I certainly didn’t know I wanted to be a writer. And I absolutely had no clue then how tinkering with words would come to define my entire existence.
Everything changed one day as I sat on the cool, concrete steps of Manderino Library in southwestern Pennsylvania at California University of Pennsylvania where I spent a few years struggling to find my identity while chasing down a degree in history.
I had just come from a class in 20th Century European Literature and was eager to see what pen marks I would find scratched over our final project of the summer. We had been tasked with finding inspiration from our semester reading list to craft our own original, short story. That was the first real story I ever wrote.
The instructor, a raconteur named Ron Forsythe, had energized and excited me since my freshman year, but he downright inspired me as I progressed into an upperclassman.
While writing that story, I found myself hunched over the kitchen table late one night, feverishly scribbling out words fast as they flowed through my hand. I didn’t want to play videogames or watch TV. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I just wanted to do schoolwork. SCHOOLwork. And it wasn’t even the night before it was due.
So you understand why I didn’t make it back to my house or car but instead perched on the first stoop I could find that warm, spring day, like a pigeon at the park jittery with a mixture of eagerness and anxiety. Whatever Forsythe had written on those pages was going to matter. Never one to coddle student’s feelings, he wrote in red pen. If he took enough interest, your prized submission looked like a bloodbath by the time he completed marking.
I turned the pages and began reading. First came simple hieroglyphs of correction. A missed word here, a spacing error there. Then came some comments, from notes of praise to chides made of ink slashes. I neared the final page, my heart beating more quickly. Turning one more sheet of paper would reveal the final score from a man who once played in the minor leagues for Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers. I took a breath and revealed the final page.
Forsythe told me it was a good story. He said I had talent. He gave me an A.
The thing about moments that change our lives is that we so often fail to recognize them in the moment. That man changed my life. I became the writer I was born to be. I became a college teacher. All at once I found my identity and purpose.
As fundamental as that story is to who I am, for some reason I’ve never told it. That’s what I love about stories, how inexhaustible they are. We will never run out of tales to tell for as long as humanity roams the plains, takes life from the sun, and feeds nature with every exhale.
I’m still writing a ton and have been fortunate to carve out a full-time living built on nothing but words. Communication is my life’s passion. I most love writing about culture, history, and the meaning we find in life. Thanks for stopping by.
If you’d like to see some more of my writing, my Updates page or NorvilleRogers.Com are great places to start. That’s where I blog on a shared site with fellow authors JR. Forasteros and Matt Mikalatos.
If you’re into podcasts, we’ve been doing The StoryMen Podcast for years now, where we’ve interviewed lots of people, including George R.R. Martin, Julianna Baggott, Mark Waid, and Stephen Donaldson.
I’m also the author of Undead: Revived, Resuscitated, and Reborn.