The Answer is 42

Wandering Down a Familiar Road

dune coverFrank Herbert’s Dune was the book that finally sparked the desire within me, at age 14, to write, even though I read voraciously as a kid without thinking anything more of it other than I really enjoyed stories.

After finishing Dune, I promptly wrote the first three chapters of a horrid, epic medieval fantasy with space opera tinges that has never ever seen the light of day, and never will. (I’ve lost those chapters by now. Back then, we had what we call “typewriters” to format our words to readable type if we wanted to share our scribbling.)

I told my mother I finally knew what I wanted to be when I grew up: I wanted to be a writer, much to her horror and chagrin. She told me that good writers commit suicide. I couldn’t decide then, and still can’t today, whether she meant “you have the talent to make it and I worry about you,” or “this is a futile, reckless, and bad idea.” Probably the latter. Most of her sage advice through my formative years — good advice, I know, in many cases — centered around the key messages of “live practically” and “don’t be a naive and idealistic idiot.”

Before that moment, I had dutifully set myself on the path toward academic scholarships, Ivy leagues, and medical school. (I kid, I kid. Sort of.) I wound up going to a public university majoring in creative writing, returning briefly to my straight and narrow roots by collecting an MBA several years later, and working odd jobs/careers ever since — until today.

Over the past 6 weeks, I’ve written thousands and thousands more words of epic crap, and it’s been a struggle to overcome the habitual and deeply ingrained feelings of self-doubt and self-worth when it came to my writing. Put me in a room full of business executives, and I will rock whatever message I need to deliver, no problem. Put me in front of a blank page, and I will freeze, 9 times out of 10. Some days, the pages lie empty as the scenes turn over in my mind and I discard them like used tissues, unwritten. Some days, I put the words to paper, then put the words away, knowing they’re not worth saving, and feeling like I still wasted my day.

It’s a hell of a challenge when your own worst enemy is yourself.

Lately, though, it has been easier and easier to sit down and simply write, to remember the joy and pride I felt at 14 when I wrote epic crap then, too, because I loved creating characters I could relate to, and I wanted my own Paul Atreides to rise from my imagination and set fire to someone else’s dreams, to make them weep as I did when he became emperor and messiah, and sacrificed himself as a man to do so. If I can compel half of the emotion and impact that some of my favorite authors have done for me in the past, I will consider myself a success.

The road to hell meanders through good intentions, is paved with accidental heroes, and — more often than not — colored by idealism.

I am glad to wander down this familiar road.

C.H. Hung grew up among the musty book stacks of public libraries, where she found a lifelong love for good stories and lost 20/20 vision for good. Her stories have appeared in Analog SF&F, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, and khōréō magazines, as well as anthologies edited by Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch, among others. She was a third-place winner of the Baen Fantasy Adventure Award in 2023.