I couldn't find any of the paperbacks out here in the sticks, but I spent many a long night hunched over my computer screen squinting at the ebooks, living the trials and tribulations of Roland Deschain as he struggled against the slow mutants and fought to bring his ka-tet into Mid-World: Jake, Susannah, Oy, Eddie.
Mesmerized by this unique fantasy-western, I caught up on his other works, mostly his post-accident works like Duma Key, Lisey's Story, Bag of Bones. Then I went back and read his older stuff, including his short stories and novellas (my favorites). When the seventh and, at the time, final DT volume came out, I snatched up the hardback as soon as I could...and like many of you, the ending was bittersweet, but what was even more bitter was being at the end of a multi-year journey.
"May your journey be more than its end."
"May it never end."
As a real-life gunslinger (US Army MP, 2005-2013), the underlying message under all the others permeating King's fantasy masterpiece resonated deeply with me: the journey is always more important than the destination.
And I had a hell of a journey that long eight years. Cross-country drives with my then-wife to attend Army classes. My first ferry ride. More plane trips than I can count. Having to hitch-hike across Afghanistan because I couldn't get a flight out of Kandahar. Weaving through traffic in an SUV with its doors poured full of concrete. Skirting mountaintops in an open helicopter. Riding in a Spanish cargo plane as it damn near did cartwheels over my base. Watching Taliban rockets fly over my head and blow holes in our airfield.
Regret. Regret of things not accomplished is not an emotion you want when you're staring death in the face. Unfinished business, that's what all the ghosts are into, aren't they? If I'm going to be a ghost, I want to be the kind with a full resume.
People ask me, "If you could go back in time, what would you change?"
When I got home, I discovered that my wife had moved into another man's house while I was gone. I won't go into the gory details, but it was one of the big catalysts in my life, the one that put me back on the road I was always meant to walk. The road I'd started when I was younger, the one I'd stepped away from in an effort to be what I thought everyone wanted from me. To work hard and settle down.
When that can all be ripped out of your hands in a single night, you wonder, just what is this ambition made of? Cobwebs and bullshit, that's what it is. If you want something that's going to outlive life's attempts to crush it, it's going to take blood, sweat, and tears.
Those people that ask me about going back in time to change something in my life, I tell them, I wouldn't change a thing, because everything that's happened to me--the adventures, the heartache, the violence, the joy, the misery, the boredom, all of it brought me to this point and made me who I am today. You are the sum of your memories. And I think that's the important part: the journey is life.
Once I was divorced, clear of that mess and back in my home state, I regretfully moved back in with my family and tried to reacclimate to civilian Earth with the added handicap of a broken heart and an empty bank account.
Life is the adventure that makes you who you are, and in the dark of night when you're lying on your back under your sheets, trying to fall asleep, you feel a familiar, savory burn. The journey has worked you and built you into this condensed iteration of who you are at your core, and the satisfaction you feel at the end of an adventure is the same as the muscle-burn the morning after a big workout. Your fond memories form the pleasurable, meaningful ache of a character well built.
Lying in my bed wearing firing-range earplugs in a house quiet enough you could hear a ghost fart, I thought back to those nights spent in my containerized housing unit, listening to perimeter security shoot at insurgents, and understood what I was meant to do: write.
What would I write?
Well, what does anybody write? You write the books you want to read.
What did I want to read?
I wanted to read more Dark Tower. But at the time, Wind Through The Keyhole hadn't been published yet so I was bereft of any real offerings. So I decided to start my own gunslinger journey.
Opening the laptop that had seen me through four countries and a year of sand, I typed the first words of The Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree and set foot on the Beam of the Wolf.
Two years and six hundred thousand words later, I'm publishing the third book in the Outlaw King series, an all-original homage to Sai King's magnum opus and to the 80's fantasy & horror movies I loved growing up. People email me in the middle of the night to tell me it's the spiritual successor to the Dark Tower, to threaten me over potential character deaths, to demand to know when the next one will come out. Maybe they're full of shit, but I love them.
This is my Beam. This is my journey. Will you walk it with me? Will you be part of my 100,000-strong ka-tet?