A few weeks ago, in the midst of this exhausting book tour for ASHEN WINTER, I saw this tree:

It's an old, hollowed out sycamore tree growing beside a stream in Fortville, Indiana. From the top of that seemingly dead trunk sprouts a vibrant young sycamore about six inches in diameter. I took a picture because the image plucked a chord within me.

Sometimes students ask why I became a writer. And I tell them it was the only job left after I got fired from every other profession I tried. I answer that way because it's funny, and I like to be extremely candid in my interactions with students--they can smell fakers from all the way down the hall.

But the truth is that I fired myself; I quit most of the jobs I held before I was a writer. I did a bit of everything: janitor, marketing executive, wine salesman, and remodeling company owner among others. In each job, I felt like that old sycamore tree, getting progressively more hollow as small daily iniquities rotted me and office politics gnawed my core.

Now, I feel more like that new tree, growing fast and proud from a base of failure. In another sense, though, all those abandoned careers were anything but a failure. Everything I tried informs my writing today. The new tree could not exist without the roots the old one put down.

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