"I was born in San Bernardino, California, a city that, for me at least, is straight out of a Jim Thompson novel. The house I lived in wasn't at the edge of town -- it was at the edge of civilization. Across the street the trackless wastes of the Mojave Desert started, and didn't stop until somewhere in Nevada.
I grew up in the 1950s, an archetypical geek. Skinny, Coke bottle glasses -- a poster child for introvertism. My parents were good people, and I have no doubt that they loved me, but they were very undemonstrative. The few times my father smiled I was afraid his face would crack.
As far back as I remember, I've always wanted to be a writer. In the third grade I shamelessly bowlderized a short story from Boy's Life for a writing assignment. My teacher read it to the class, and that day was the first day I didn't get beaten up after school. I knew then that I was onto something.
I grew up mostly in my head -- I had very few friends, and so I spent most of my free time in front of the TV watching old gangster and monster and western movies -- the rest of it was spent reading or in my back yard (or later in the desert), constructing elaborate febrile fantasies. There's nothing like an afternoon spent playing in 115 degree temperatures to fire the imagination.
When I was in my early teens, the Cuban Missile Crisis come along, and my father, who worked as a civilian employee at the local air force base, was sent along with many, many others to various spots around the country where they dug big holes in the ground and filled them up with ICBMs. During this I was packed off to live with my Grandma in Jackson, Tennessee.
I attended junior high there, in an ancient building reeking of asbestos, and got reinforced what I had absorbed at an early age: that I would be best served by keeping my head down and not calling attention to myself. (We're talking deep South here, boys and girls, where the Mason-Dixon line looks as remote as the Aurora Borealis.) We moved back to San Berdoo in 1965, with (for my part, at least) a much less jaundiced opinion of the place than I had previously.
My social skills and popularity remained about on the level of an Ebola-stricken monkey through high school, but along about then I began to write with the hope of making it my craft. The first short story I wrote was rejected by Galaxy Magazine, with a scrawled note on the bottom that said ""Try us again."" I kept that rejection slip over my typewriter for the next four years.
I wrote more short stories. I did poorly in school. I did even more poorly with girls. I wrote still more short stories. I kept people at an emotional distance by gaining a black belt in sarcasm. In 1968 I graduated high school. I enrolled at the local college, did poorly there as well, and was thinking of just chucking it all when, in 1969, I received the only first place award in my life up to that point -- I was Number One in the first draft lottery. (Honest to God. Look it up: September 14th.)
I suddenly developed a deep passion for the fruits of academia. Eventually I managed to acquire the coveted 4-F classification (physically or otherwise unfit for military service), by losing enough weight to qualify for care packages. It's a decision I've never regretted.
I continued to collect encouraging rejection slips for short stories. I took a writing course at the college, only to be told by the instructor that there was nothing he could teach me. (Our tax dollars at work ...) In 1972, I applied for and was accepted to the Clarion Science Fiction Writers' Workshop in East Lansing, Michigan.
Clarion -- the pre-eminent workshop in the country for science fiction, fantasy and horror -- was a revelation to me. Not only did it show me that somewhere in the universe there did in fact exist even greater maladroits than myself, it also gave me samples of my peers' best efforts, and I realized that my writing was pretty good. I think that was the first time I let in the fact that I might actually be able to make a go of it.
After the workshop ended I bummed around the country for six months or so, trying to enjoy the last gasps of the hippie era, and finally wound up staying with my parents in Camden, Alabama, which was where they'd retired. A few months of that was more than enough, and in 1974 I packed up all my worldly possessions (which consisted of several steamer trunks filled with comic books, Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks and old Castle of Frankenstein magazines), and fared westward to Los Angeles. Once there, I found a part-time job working in a bookstore, moved into a one-room apartment in Sun Valley behind an auto parts shop (my neighbors were a Hell's Angel and a hooker; I'm not making this up), and started trying to break into TV. Almost a year later I made my first sale, to a live-action childrens' show called The Secrets of Isis. I quit my job du jour (working in the complaint department of Sears, Roebuck; that wasn't a tough decision), and have supported myself (and later my family) with words ever since.
One of my fondest memories is of the first year I broke $100K in earnings; I called Dad and said, ""Remember all those comic books and movies you said I was wasting my time on? Well ..."") Ah, the fanboy's revenge.
I'm divorced, with three wonderful kids. And I could go on and on, but even though I've shrunk the font, this thing's getting out of hand. Thank you very much; you've been a great crowd."
Steve Perry wrote for Batman: The Animated Series during its first Emmy Award-winning season, authored the New York Times bestseller "Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire. Perry has sold dozens of stories to magazines, and has published a considerable number of novels, animated teleplays, nonficti on articles, reviews, and essays. He is currently the science fiction, fantasy, and horror book reviewer for The Oregonian.