I'm currently being interviewed by a college student for a class project, so I thought I'd blog my responses:
Tell me about yourself: When did you first start writing? When did you know you had to write?
When I was in elementary school, I remember sketching fairly elaborate drawings and creating stories in my head to go along with them. I'm no artist--the important thing was definitely the mental scenarios. One of my first attempts at actual story writing came in the third-grade classroom. The teacher provided this little random story-generator device, with two wheels that you spun to get your assignment. After coming up with "Write a story about what it's like to be a hamburger," I returned to my desk and wrote one sentence before giving up in creative frustation: "Sometimes your pickles slip out."
By sixth grade, I was writing good-enough stories to win the class contest for best story, something I'd written about dinosaurs. Then in junior high school, I entered my Dungeons & Dragons years, when I created elaborate stories for our group to act out verbally. While this didn't involve writing down a narrative, it did feed my passion for telling stories, and it taught me about using my imagination to keep an audience engaged. In ninth grade I published a D&D fanzine that reached a national circulation of about eight hundred, in which I included some fantasy fiction written by others, giving me experience in recognizing good storytelling.
I don't remember doing much if any creative story writing in high school or pre-mission college, but somehow on my mission I developed the desire to attempt writing some autobiographical stories about spiritual transformation, and I even sent one to the Ensign magazine. It wasn't until post-mission studies at Emerson College in Boston that I really formulated the desire to write creatively as some kind of vocation or avocation. My main influence in that direction was taking creative writing classes from real-life fiction writers who liked my stuff and encouraged me, particularly the novelist and memoirist James Carroll. By the time I graduated college in 1991, I knew I wanted to write a novel as my key vocational ambition.