Cody Mcfadyen was born in Texas in 1968. He designed websites before selling his first novel, Shadow Man, in 2005. He has since had a second book – The Face of Death – published. Both were international best sellers. He lives in Southern California with his two black labs, often referred to as ‘The Black Forces of Destruction.’ He drinks coffee (copiously), plays guitar (badly), and reads (voraciously). He abhors adverbs in writing, except when used in short bios like this one.
I was born in Texas in February of 1968. Good and bad things happened in 1968, mostly bad. Martin Luther King, Jr was killed. RFK was killed. The Beatles released the White Album. My mother always told me I was the only good thing that happened in 1968.
My mother was only 20 years old when I was born. Now that I’m 40, I experience a kind of boomerang/time warp/solipsist moment when I realize just how young she was to be having me in the hard old, cold old world. Twenty and watching the 60’s die a hard death and not too much dollah to the name, but she was happy I was around. She’s always been happy that I’m around, and has always made sure I know that.
I don’t really believe in fate or destiny; I subscribe heavily to the doctrine that we can always change our own course, better or worsen our own lives, and that where we are is basically where we got ourselves. However… I can’t deny that a person is influenced by the times they came up in, or the environment. I remember the '60s without ever having lived them. I grew up listening to my parent’s music first; Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Donovan, Joan Baez. I ended up loving a lot of that music as my own.
I heard all the stories of that time, and I’ve watched as (some) people sneer at the 60’s, at all the Hippie liberalism and idealistic notions. People blame that generation for the ‘me me me’ aspect of our lives today and for the widespread drug culture.
Whatever. Here’s what I know: my parents came from that time, and they taught me how to dream. My parents weren’t always perfect, but they were always there, and they always told me to do what you love, follow your dream, take the road less travelled –or not – swim against the tide – or not, but don’t let the world at large tell you what is or is not possible.
My mother and father loved to read, and one of the first gifts my mother gave me was a library card. I read like crazy growing up, and I still do.
Mom and Dad got a late start on the whole career path thing, so when I was young, we were poor. I remember a very brief time when I didn’t have a bed. They went and got ‘Chicken boxes’ which were double reinforced boxes that Piggly Wiggly supermarket got its frozen chicken delivered in, and turned four of those over to make a bed.
The first Christmas I remember I believe I was four or five. I remember it vividly, and as a great Christmas, one of my favorites. We didn’t have any money for a tree, so someone gave us a branch from their tree. We made our own decorations for the tree. Mom cut the bottoms off an egg carton. We turned paperclips into fishhooks, flipped the egg holders over and poked the paperclips through. We hung strips of newspaper off the paperclips and voila’ – homemade ornaments. We also strung popcorn on thread. I believe the gifts that Christmas totaled three: I got a cap gun, Dad got a letter opener, and Mom got a pen.
I loved that Christmas, and that’s a true memory, not history rewritten by nostalgia. I felt safe, I felt loved, and I shot off that capgun till it busted, then used a rock to finish off the roll of caps. I remember the cold air on my cheeks and the feeling that things were okay. I didn’t have a sense of anything missing. My parents remember that Christmas differently, of course. All they could see at the time was that they weren’t providing enough, when the truth is, they were giving me everything I needed.
Dad went back to college when I was five or six, and we moved into the Brackenridge Apartments. This was what was known as ‘Married Student Housing’, which could also be translated as ‘We’re going to school and we already have kids, Holy Cow are we poor!’ The quality of the apartments reflected our general station. We always made sure to close up the cereal boxes tight, because in those apartments, when you flipped on the lights, you watched as the roaches raced back into the dark places. There was no central air (which is saying something in Texas), the world’s tiniest living room, and two bedrooms and one shared bathroom upstairs. Again, my memories of that place are grand.
One thing the apartments had was kids. Wall to wall. Most of our parents worked and went to school, so we had time after school where adult supervision was… let’s call it loose. We could get twenty to forty kids together to do things, and sometimes those things were ill advised. Playing guns was pretty awesome, because we’d play with about twenty people, two teams of ten. There were fire escapes and small backyards and a lot of places to run and hide.
One time we decided we were going to bury every dead bird we could find. Well, twenty kids or more could find a lot of dead birds, let me tell you. We buried each one carefully, and our parents came home to row upon row of crosses in the front yards.
Brackenridge Apartments was also across the street from a golf course. There was a big fence erected that was supposed to protect us from errant golf balls, but they still ended up in our front yards pretty frequently. Once or twice some kid got beaned. We didn’t think much of it; we were poor, that was life.
One thing I remember that is probably a memory gone forever in most places is getting milk delivered to our front door. Saturday morning, I’d get up when everyone was still asleep and bring in the milk. Sometimes it still had ice in it. I’d make cinnamon toast and sit in the bean bag and watch cartoons on our 11 inch black and white TV.
So what’s the point of all this? Maybe there is no point. I was raised by two idealists, children of the 60’s, by a mom who urged me to read Walden Pond and Lord of the Rings, and who explained Dylan songs to me when I was seven or eight years old. I grew up in a time when TV didn’t really figure into my life until I was in my teens. Most of the things I did in my youngest years involved other kids and the outdoors, because we didn’t have any cash to do anything else, and I never cared because I was having the time of my life. I grew up creating my own world through reading or listening to music or fantasizing with other kids. Does that have something to do with my becoming a writer? I imagine so.
Of course, all that idealism translated into the general idea, in my own head, that one should do something that mattered. Maybe not your whole life, and maybe not forever, but you should do something that involved helping other people. More on that later.
Dad finished college and went to work for IBM. When I was ten we kind of entered the middle class. Mom and dad took cautious steps into that life, but eventually realized yes, we could afford our own home, and we became full on suburbanites.
I was a teen in the '80s, which I remember as a pretty vacuous decade. Pretty empty, fairly soul-less. A lot of bad music and worse fashion and yuppie hell. It all made me restless. I was a straight A student with the exception of grammar and Algebra. Algebra was my first F ever. I remember being shocked at getting an F. It had just never happened. I waited for the ground to open up, but the world turned on.
I hated High School. Academically, it wasn't a challenge at all. On a personal level, I was a short, skinny sorta-dweeb. I was dissatisfied and bored. I felt that my life lacked substance. When I was 16 I decided to drop out and go do volunteer work with a self help group. To do that ‘something that involved helping other people’. I did a lot of things. I helped people get off drugs, helped people learn to study, did construction work, accounting, and travelled all over the United States and Canada and other places. I felt I was following the dream that I’d grown up with, the idea of making the world a better place. And at times, I probably did.
When I was 26 or 27, I decided my time in that life had come to an end. It was time to do something else now, more restlessness. I tossed all those ideals in the trash can and dove into materialism and hedonism in earnest. I drank and did my drugs and explored lust as a path to personal enlightenment.I told myself I was ‘living life to the fullest, and on my own terms’, but I wasn’t really happy.
I got married in the midst of this maelstrom, and being married, was given the gift of a stepdaughter. A seven year old pixie. I got to raise her, and that experience changed me. It was tough sometimes. It was work. Most of the time we didn’t have enough money and I remember lying awake at night worrying about how we were going to care for this child next month, and the month after. Where were the money for clothes coming from? For food?
Which brings us back to that boomerang/time warp/solipsism thing. I remembered my parents, and realized how hard they had worked just to keep us afloat, and how much they must have worried, too, sometimes. I came to realize that, sometimes, helping the world means helping the person right in front of you. Sometimes it’s just as simple as doing the right thing for your kid.
I came back to myself in the end. Back to the kid who grew up reading and thinking about writing, who’d always been told it was okay to reach for your dreams. That’s the thing: my parents never told me what the dream should be, just that I was allowed to pursue it. I was 35 years old then. Late in the game to make a change. But hey, so were they, right? My wife at the time told me I could write, but not too many other people thought much of the idea. I just grabbed onto the past and its lessons, and sat down and started writing.
My hat is off to those who have learned by listening, and I don’t mean that with any sarcasm. I didn’t learn that way. I learned by making mistakes, by screwing up. I often didn’t listen when I should have, and at times only learned the value of character by seeing the consequences of failing to have it.
I'm in my 40's now, divorced and remarried, a published author, vastly imperfect, but infinitely more balanced. I’ve recovered some of my idealism and I cherish my lessons learned. My desire now is to continue to learn how to be more and more honest as a writer. I think honesty is the basis of all the best writing. We know when we read something that isn’t real. I don’t think I’m there yet, not by a long shot, but I do feel I have my feet on the right road.
In the end, nothing ever boils down to a single lesson. But there is an important one that is apropos to this writeup: You can dream whatever dream you want, but pick one, man, pick one!
And make it happen.