Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How I became a writer...

I’ve always had a flair for the dramatic.


For those of you who even casually know me this should come as no surprise.

I got my very first role when I was five years old.

To be fair every kid in my kindergarten class got a role in the Christmas play, but I was very excited nonetheless.

I was a Wise Man (Ha!). Specifically I was the Wise Man who brought gold to baby Jesus.

I remember very little of the big night aside from grinning at my friend Taylor, who was playing the Virgin Mary backstage just before she took her place.

Minutes later it was my turn.

I had a Styrofoam container painted with gold glitter paint with three little faux pearls hot glued to the top (made by Mrs. Lane’s teaching assistant).

We knelt before the baby doll in the manger, and I grinned at Taylor because EVERYONE WAS WATCHING US. Then on cue I stood up and walked off the stage….with my gift for baby Jesus still in my hands.

I don’t think anyone noticed except my Nanna (grandmother).

Years later we laughed about it; she called me “the selfish Wise Man”.


My technique improved rapidly over the years. I was in every single play at school and at church.

In fourth grade Mrs. May convinced me that I was going to be a famous actor someday.

Me! A movie star!

I had my whole life mapped out by the time I was eleven.  My penchant for writing stories had developed by then. Stephen King and his body of work convinced me that I could give life to my somewhat dark imagination. So I was going to be a movie star, but when I wasn’t “on set” I would be writing my next best-selling horror novel.

By high school I had thoroughly established myself as a theatre kid.

That’s also when I started to notice that I was…different.


Don’t get me wrong. I’ve always known I was different (pertaining to one circumstance or another).

I went to school in a town of 6,000 people. My graduating class was 128 kids.

I was one of three kids in my high school who was – or was some variation of – black.

My freshman year there was a girl who was a junior that was half-black.

When I was a senior there was a freshman kid who was black.

That’s all.

We did have a small Mexican population, but I was certainly the only person of color in theatre in all my scholastic years.

I was sixteen when I noticed it.

Then I began to see it in movies, and on television.

The roles I got in school and church would never be The Son, The Father, The Brother…all of my cast-mates were white. I knew that should I embark on a career performing that the situation would not be any different. There are, of course, familial roles for black characters or people of color, but not any of the shows/venues within reach of me.

At sixteen years old, my junior year in high school, as all of my senior friends were preparing for their college adventures I realized that my life/dream as an actor – a “movie star” – would never be what I wanted it to be. I would be the Best Friend, the voice-over (I sound relatively Caucasian – depending on the circumstance). I would Never be a leading man. Pursuing a career that seemed so self-defeating for someone with brown skin I instantly decided was silly and pointless.

 I remember that day in my theatre class very distinctly.

In an hour and a half my life goals changed.

I asked myself, “What is something where you can be great, and what you look like doesn’t matter? What is something that you can do that is creative and freeing?”

My mind instantly turned to the story that I had been daydreaming about, and in that very moment I knew I was going to be an author…a novelist…a writer.

I was so excited in that moment because a whole new life stretched out before me. One where no one would care that I was brown, and it wouldn’t inhibit anything I said. There would be no constantly unattainable role, or dynamic that I didn’t fit.

Truly, writing plays to all my strengths – external influences pushed me into performing, but writing stories was something totally, entirely me.


You might say “But Colten, how silly! Look at Mindy Kaling now – blazing trails as a minority lead in her very own successful show! Look at Will Smith! Look at Denzel! Look at Tyler Perry!”

My retort would be to ask you to continue naming names.

Because I could.

I could go on for DAYS naming at least 10 white names for every minority actor/actress you name. That’s fine though (no it isn’t, but in this instance it is).

I realized at 16 that I wanted to be worthwhile, I wanted to be remembered, I wanted my life and whatever I did with it to mean something. For me acting would be a completely selfish thing that might have paid the bills for as long as I had work, and I could retire someday with a small stack of films/shows/roles under my belt and happy memories.

But after I was gone no one would really know Me.

I know that not every author is remembered, touted, or celebrated. And trust me I have no delusions of grandeur. Hell, most casual readers can’t even remember the name of the author of the book they read last week.

The stories though. The stories live on. The soul of the author; the blood, sweat, and tears live on even if their name fades into the background.

I don’t care if my name is remembered, but I want my stories to be. If one person – fifty years after I’m gone reads one of my stories then I win.

As an actor My imagination, My daydreams, My Self would have been at the mercy of someone else and shared with no one.

At sixteen years old I deemed this unacceptable.


So here I am (a smidge over a decade later) on the road to publication. Just starting out, and for the life I’ve chosen it’s a road that never ends, it only stretches longer with each step taken. My life is an adventure now, and my goal is to share all my weird, crazy, wild dreamscapes with you.


What got me thinking about how I got to where I am now is something so idle and ridiculous that I loathe to mention it.

The cast of “Mad Max” - coming to theaters near us in 2015.

I went to IMDB after everyone on Twitter was abuzz with the awesome.

I’m definitely going to see it, but there’s one thing I noticed in a fraction of a second about the cast…

Tom Hardy ...
Charlize Theron ...
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley ...
Zoë Kravitz ...
Nicholas Hoult ...
Riley Keough ...
Nathan Jones ...
Rictus Erectus
Josh Helman ...
Hugh Keays-Byrne ...
Immortan Joe
Debra Ades ...
Desperate Women
Abbey Lee ...
The Dag
Angus Sampson
Megan Gale
Courtney Eaton ...
Melissa Jaffer

If I were auditioning/acting today…I wouldn’t be cast in “Mad Max”.

I hope that in thirty years when they re-make “Mad Max” again…because we know they will…I’ll see more variety. But I can walk into a bookstore now and find the variety I long so long for.

We have excellent champions of diversity in the literary community. People that I’m proud to spend my money and time on reading their work.
By opening my eyes to reality I found my dream.

The publishing community is hungry for diversity in all aspects. It is a world that calls me to be my best self, and most importantly my complete self. At the end of all things, though I write fantastical worlds into existence, I will have hopefully broadened the horizon of this world, and made it richer for everyone who comes after.

That’s how I became a writer. That’s what writing means to me.


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