Recently, I was dubbed the Man of Zeal by a woman who is, by her actions and heart alone, a superhero. I thought it a comical title for a good three minutes until it occurred to me she wasn’t all that far off. I am, by nature, a zealous person, running around half-cocked on a mission to salvage some sense of purpose in this thing called life. Some times the quest pursues the fantasy list of happiness and dreams only an idiot–this one in particular–would dare expect to realize, the rest to serve those around me. The two entwine, often, but generally I find the latter balances out the failures of the former. In the end, though, I just like to help people. I like to be there when they need an ear, a voice, a shoulder, a heart, some muscle, whatever. It’s what I do.
I never stopped to consider why. I never questioned if I should let someone else handle it. I just did what my heart told me and hoped to hell it didn’t break me. I have no idea if this is healthy, if this is sane, or if it even matters. I know I’ve been taken advantage of. I know it’s blown up in my face from time-to-time. I know I’ve overreached when help wasn’t necessary. And still, I trudge on, zealous in my quest to do something, somewhere, anywhere, for anyone I can.
I imagine that sounds a bit braggadocious. I’m certainly no superhero. As far as I know it, superheroes tend to succeed more often than fail in their endeavors. That alone disqualifies me. However, that isn’t the bait on the hook here. The above is merely a train of thought leading to the station ahead. To narrow the field a bit: It’s only just now in life occurred to me that I never looked for any return of this way I have. I wanted it, somewhere within. Some quiet place where my brain sat idle in its desk, hand raised, patiently waiting to be called upon. Could very well be why my relationships have blown up, or why I don’t have a deep circle of friends to visit or hang out with regularly. No idea. I guess it’s irrelevant to me.
Truth is, I don’t worry about it. It doesn’t inherently change who I am. This is the way I’ve chosen to live my life, and I’m good with it. I’m at peace with it.
But it got me to considering the others out there. You know them. They’re in your life. The people who do, not for gain or reward but because someone needs to. The people who call, text, message, visit, invite you to coffee just to see how you’re doing. The people who aren’t asking for anything in return. They just want to help. Some will consider their motives suspect. Some might find annoyance in their do-goodery. Generally, however, they are beacons of light in an otherwise dim moment. You know exactly who they are.
So, should you actually be one of the ten or twelve people who read this, I ask of you a simple task: Find the superhero in your life. Thank them. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them if they need any help with anything, or need to talk life and its myriad challenges, or would just like to sit silently with someone and have some coffee or food or whatever and not feel as though they fight the good fight alone. Don’t let them turn the conversation on you. For one day, one moment, one blink of an eye, be their hero. It will fuel them more than you know.
In the words of the reality firestorm that is renowned chef, entrepreneur, cheeky Brit and Tantrum King of the World, Gordon Ramsay, “Here’s the thing.”
I know I’m not dumb. I am, I will acknowledge, a few sprinkles shy of a full spread of shredded cheese on the taco of common sense, but I’m not dumb. Hey, I made all A’s in fifth grade. Not exactly A Brilliant Mind level accomplishment there, but it’s notable. Sure, I misspelled parsley in the school spelling bee, denied the notably visible crush I had on a girl who liked me quite a lot—to her face no less—and chartered my socially awkwardness bus of one onward to middle school with no sign of let up, but I made excellent grades. What did you do?
Point is, I rather like the mad festival of characters that comprise the committee of my brain. I would prefer they come to some consensus on what they ultimately want of me, but they do entertain me so. That has to count for something.
The problem is—the thing that has made my journey through this life so frustrating—I chastise my brain regularly as if it operates individual of the Me that is me, while moving through each moment like a spastic terrier in a thunderstorm. Can’t really blame the brain if I’ve soundproofed its walls, right? I’ve developed this utopian idea of what the world around me should look like and, ignoring my brain’s insistence I step clear of the cabin and move to the back of the plane please sir, I’ve gone ahead and bypassed the computer in order to pilot from the toilet.
In no aspect of my life has this whimsical spontaneity of questionable choice (see? not dumb … questionable … whimsical spontaneity) been more apparent than in my desperate quest to find the perfect woman. I want to say love here, rather than woman but it doesn’t fit the mold. Because, like any good writer, I’ve embodied this woman with a character, a persona, a name by which I might better define her. I call her Aphrodite. I know. Clever, right? Real original. She’s been at the forefront of every decision I’ve ever made, deeply ingrained in every story I’ve ever written. Moreover, she’s become a beacon to the greater dreams of life, thus rendering the name Aphrodite to a branding effort of all things I desire. Primarily, I seek her companionship. Tragically, every aspect of my life has fallen miserably short. Allow me to demonstrate. This tidbit is the into to my current work-in-progress, tentatively titled On the Market:
When night comes she falls asleep on my couch, hand tucked between face and pillow, crumpled folds of cheek powdered and soft in the moon glow, and I see Aphrodite. There’s a peaceful chaos to her hair, a darkness that betrays the night, finds refuge across a pale canvas of forehead and slips unnoticed behind an ear. She smiles, not much, a simple turn now and again, just a glance behind the curtain. Not enough to comprehend what is seen, but enough to know that whatever it is beats whatever dream I may conjure behind closed doors.
She’s a queen of beauty and magnificence when she sleeps, this Aphrodite before me. Time can only grant me a glimpse, I know, until sleep has abandoned her, until her body goes rigid, arms outstretched, fingers flexing, uncoiling, reaching for a heart that is not my own. Then she’ll flash that smile, say my name and never realize how much she makes me quiver. I’ll go weak in the knees, and know that I will love her forever.
Though I understand now how this image has trickled down into every nook and cranny of my desire, I channeled it all for years into this hopelessly romantic ideal of a perfect mate. I simply had to find her. I had to be complete. I put it all on the unwitting shoulders of every woman in my life in order to make it so.
From pretty, shirt-signing, Lori in third grade onward, every female I’ve fallen for has been unwittingly and unfairly compared to this image.
Hey, did you know my relationships haven’t gone well? I wonder if there’s a link? Probably not. Just life stickin’ it the man.
The great irony is that, as a child, I went about pursuing every girl I liked as if things would work out fine, as long as I just never ever talked to her ever ever. I mean, I made no secret about liking a girl. If my repeated stares didn’t cover it, my insistence on giving said girl a note to define said liking then sprinting off as if I had just dropped a ticking time bomb in her hands spelled it out without question. Granted, in the few instances in which I spilled my soul to a girl who actually liked me, the resulting connection was one of her trying to talk to some paralyzed, non-responsive, version of myself. I swear ladies, I thought you all were a different species. I feared any measure of contact, verbal or heaven-forbid physical, would result in complete annihilation of self and soul. This lasted all the way through high school. It got mildly better as an adult.
To deal with this, I began subconsciously (I’m leaning on hope here, otherwise I have to admit it was by choice) sabotaging my efforts to find a girlfriend by fixating on girls who clearly had no interest in me (if they even knew my name in the first place, which most didn’t), while simultaneously ignoring any girl I truly liked. I wrote notes to girls I knew would never respond. I wrote one to a girl who—I was told by a friend sitting near her on the bus—laughed her way through it with friends. Yay me! I actually spoke to girls with whom I clearly had nothing in common, fishing for any kind of attention, blinders set to the rest of the school’s female population in order to maintain my focus. I was thirty-five before I learned most of these girls actually liked me. You know … liked me liked me.
In tenth grade, I moved in with my father. The shift from small town Florida to small town Georgia wasn’t much of a transition. Leaving the one friend I had behind hardly registered. In fact, I don’t even remember being at all fazed by the move initially, other than missing my mother terribly. My brain might have had issues with it all, but I wasn’t listening.
My first day at school I made my way to First Period, drifting down the hall of a foreign land like a fading cloud against blue skies, ducked into class and found a seat in the second to last row, three seats from the front. I would have tucked all the way into the corner had other students not beaten me to it. About two minutes after I sat, a girl walked in the room. The second Lori life offered for me to crush on. Dark curly hair, incredible smile, piercing eyes, absolutely beautiful. To this day, I still think she’s one of the prettiest women I’ve ever seen. She sat in the last row, two seats further up. First bell hadn’t even rung and there she was. Aphrodite.
Any normal kid might have thought about talking to her, introducing himself, finding some way to at least say hello. After all, we were going to be in class together for a few months. Plenty of opportunity to get to know one another, right? Nope. I sat there through that class learning everything I could about her without ever saying a word. I mean, I didn’t say a word. To anyone. I managed to channel my inner-chameleon just to ensure the teacher never called on me. What a crushing blow to the universe it would have been had she actually heard what my voice sounded like.
Though I carried this quiet crush through the whole of the next three years—we managed to be paired in exactly zero classes going forward—I never spoke to her. Sure, I watched for her, put myself in positions where I could see her from afar (ahem, yes I will cover the football and basketball teams for the paper, conveniently watching from seats near the cheerleaders, ahem), but I didn’t do that whole Hello, my name is Awkwardhow can I make you run away? thing I feared so much. Instead, I actively pursued all the girls whose primary talent or hobby seemed to be syphoning my soul into a tin can and crushing it whole. There really were a lot of them. I got quite adept at it, in fact. Practice does indeed make perfect.
Now, this isn’t meant as a lament. I don’t regret not talking to this one girl. Well, I do, but for different reasons. I don’t fear I may have lost my singular chance with Aphrodite. Rather, I want it to serve as the foundation for the stories that follow. Though I’ve made my life into a continual barrage of “whimsical spontaneity of questionable choice”, they’ve all been tied to this quest for Aphrodite, how that became a greater symbol of all that I desired, and every single one is relevant to this moment. This one instance in which I didn’t talk to a girl I liked, while actively talking to and pursuing girls I liked far less (and who all bested my less than like with none at all). Or, as an adult, choosing women unavailable, be that emotionally, physically, or romantically and attempting to force them into the wedge that defined Aphrodite no matter how much they subconsciously protested.
As I said, I’m not a dumb guy. I just want a designed perfection in life that defies true definition and requires only one possible truly glorious and dream-worthy outcome in order to pacify my need to be happy.
That whole “Day Whatever” thing? Yeah, I think that can go away now. I mean, posting in a succession of days that mark every day I have worked on the novel makes great sense. Not that I often make sense. I usually make not sense, and with great precision. So, it’s canned. On a shelf to be forgotten forevermore. Like Apocalypse Tuna. But NEVER FEAR! I am still here. Still hereing and being here and being not not here in order to post what I have written on the The Progenitor.
That said, in the time I have managed not to waste watching football, cheering my fantasy baseball team to a long-awaited league winner winner chicken dinner championship (Yeah that’s right, I play fantasy sports. What of it? I’m a dude who likes sports, all right? Back off, lest I pummel you with my sportish knowledge and bore you to tears.), taunting the cat, humoring the dog, and putting back a healthy dose of the Fall’s first batch of chili, I have created more words! Words that pair with other words to form sentences and paragraphs! Paragraphs that talk about stuff and lead to other stuff. Two chapters worth, in fact! In fairness, they’ve seen a light edit, but I tend to read through what I last wrote in an effort to drop back into the flow of the story, which always results in some alteration along the way. I edit, therefore I am, or something.
With these two chapters, Agatha’s adventure has officially begun. A bit earlier than I had expected (I’m at 12,000 words, and I thought I’d make it closer to 20k before everything really took off), but it feels right. The story’s never wrong. When it says it’s time to fly, you jump. When it says have some meat and chill, you better not be a vegetarian.
Speaking of jumping, as this story plays with the concept of jumping through time, the task I face is explaining this, and the results therefrom, in a way that is easy to follow and understand. If I have failed to do so at any point, fire away. You’re the reader, I’m the writer. I stand behind the curtain, while you fall asleep in a field of poppies, or head off on a witch hunt with but some sketchy courage, a tin brain, no heart and a stupid bucket of water. I know everything. You know nothing. NOTHING!
So, here it is. All six chapters. 12k words out of a projected 90k pushes me past 10%. It’s a small benchmark, but something about crossing 10% has always infused me with excitement. Hopefully it shows.
I am Captain Impossible. I am also highly caffeinated¹.
That could mean that I am the captain of impossible things, or that I am so impossible to deal with that I’m often found wearing a fancy hat and tugging at my cuffs as I comment on the breeze. I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Nevertheless, here I am, prepared to undertake a project that could be–might be–an impossible chore. Blogging my way through a book project sounds a bit like bludgeoning myself with a hammer just to see what will happen, or at what point I begin screaming Why am I doing this? But FUN FOR YOU! You get to witness it!
I may need to rework that simile. Then again, the whole point of this is to offer a raw, unedited look at the madness that is writering, so you get what you get. It’s my hammer. Don’t tell me what to do with it. I’ll turn this whole thing into a Three Stooges free-for-all quicker than you click your way clear and run from the room screaming why, why, oh Dear God, why is Shemp?
From left to right, I believe they are Writer, Plot and Story, but I could have them confused.
I didn’t want to have to say that, but you left me no choice.
Anyway, if you’ll please stop interrupting, I’ll continue. I was talking about the book I want to write. The working title is Specimen A. It’s Young Adult. It’s one of those speculative fiction/fantasy deals. Originally, it was supposed to be a straight up adult fantasy, but then my main character quit and I found this teenage girl who said she could nail it. And she did. Originally I figured the story would be a one-book ordeal. Then the story told me to screw off and expanded while I slept. This happens. If a writer ever tells you they knew exactly where the story was going from the moment they started, they’re lying. Damn things are like kids in a sugar factory, bouncing all over the place while you run after, arms wide, expecting they’ll bounce your way any moment. Nope. I can tell you where the story is showing me it wants to go now, but it may change its mind. It may have no choice, because some random back-story character will probably pop his head up on page 101 and say Hey, I’ve got something say, all right? And you’ll be all, The Hell you do. And he’ll be so What if I was a woman and married to that guy? And you’ll jump out of you chair and scare the bejeezus out of your cat because you’re like WTF man? Where’d you even come from anyway? And the story will pipe in with I’m good with it, just so you know. And that will pretty much be the end of your outline.
Writing, ladies and gentlemen.
So instead of a general fantasy, one book story with a forty-something year old protagonist, I have a Young Adult trilogy with a female teen as my lead, and, oh, the forty-something year old wants to know if there’s a smaller role he can accept because his agent said it would be good for his career. What a putz. Fine. Whatever. But he’ll probably die. If the story is so inclined. Book One is called The Progenitor. I think. Yes. I like it. Done.
There is, gratefully, a constant in this all. The story hasn’t departed from the original concept, and I’m fairly certain it won’t. The story remains the tale of a main character who discovers … something … about something and something and something happens to … something … or someone and something.
No it’s not. But writing these damn one-sentence synopsis is a frustrating thing. Just find a book on your shelf that you’ve read and know ok well. Summarize it in a sentence and make me want to read it. Not a run-on sentence either. Like 25 words or less. I’ve edited more synopsis than I have pages of actual books I have written.
Specimen A: Ayoung girl discovers her ability to move through time is neither rare, nor unexpected, and leads to a revelation that will change her world forever.
25 words. Boom. Not happy with it, but it’ll do. I much prefer the fifty to hundred-word plus synopsis that allow a deeper crawl into the where the story is going.
I could take a different approach. One I would take if I were a bookseller rather than an author. In that case: Imagine you had the ability to travel through time, but you knew someone, or something, was watching you do it. They don’t like it. They want to find you. You’re pretty sure they want to kill you. So you try to keep your movements through time short, simple. A quick shot through a day of school, for instance, because you don’t want to see your best friend who you saw at the movies with the guy she knew you liked. Or to the night before because you want to study for the pop quiz you’re about to fail. Then you encounter a boy who has the same ability, only he isn’t trying to hide it. In fact, he’s quite reckless with it. Even worse: He moved into the future and found himself in a coffin, and he’s determined that he’s going to die in two days and the best he can tell is that it has something to do with you. However, his presence has awakened those that have been watching, and now they know your secret. They know what you can do, and if you don’t do something soon, the boy won’t be the only one who dies.
I’ll leave it there. As I’ve said before, I want to avoid spoiling the reveal of what is happening. At least until I write that bit. If the story lets me, that is. Ugh. Stories. Can’t live with ’em, can’t be a writer without ’em, amirite?
I have vowed to keep these posts around a thousand words or less, and with this sentence (technically, the footnote that follows, but, um, whatever) I have crossed that. So, that’s it for now. My next post will be after I write the first chapter, which may or may not be tomorrow, life depending. Might be Friday. Because, you know, you’re going to mark that on your calendar. But I’ll add a link to the entire chapter, and await the torrents of comments that will undoubtedly follow.
¹ Which is neither a by-product of, or leading to, previous or future statements, but rather a non-parenthetical aside lacking in necessary format and function to provide insight into much of anything except that I do, indeed, like coffee.
Nine months, twenty-five days, and some hours I’m too lazy to count. That’s how long it’s been since I last wrote here. I guess that qualifies as an appropriate gestation period of silence. Oddly enough, birthed unto the world, that silence now screams, betraying the calm that was my earnest effort to ignore it forevermore.
It’s not my fault. I just didn’t want to do it.
In part, I admit, because life has been … well, it’s been lifing pretty hard. That’s not to say that its myriad pokes and prods have left but puncture wounds and headaches. No, it’s pushed, encouraged, picked me up in moments of stress and told me it would all be okay, then kicking my ass because I looked like I needed it. Still, the lingering lifieness of life has left my writing focused to work I wish to get published rather than words that summarize my current state of mind. The need for those words to be structured properly, for the story to be conveyed with ease, perfect flow, characters worth remembering, everything that makes a book what you hoped it would be, has far outweighed the need to blog. In essence, I mean to say that I want to be damn good at it.
So there’s that.
Ugh. I just saw this picture. The webbernuts seems to exist solely to see how many different ways it can make people cry.
SO MUCH LOVE.
What’s interesting, and eternally frustrating to me, is that much of the lifingness of life these past months has to do with matters of a personal nature. I won’t talk about that on social media, or certainly not here. Which sucks because I’ve always viewed my blog as a therapist of sorts. One that offers no feedback, true, but one that patiently waits out my rants and thoughts and worries and fears and more thoughts and more fears and more worries and sad. So, the few times I’ve wanted to write about it, I’ve arrived to find the door closed, the Inner-me offering a finger waggle then pointing me away. And so I trudge off, hands in my pockets, lip pouted, mumbling about something inane that Inner-me just ignores because it’s inane.
And there you go. It all makes sense now, doesn’t it?
There’s no real point to this. If you’re reading, I apologize. Thanks for stopping by. Leave a quarter on the counter on your way out, if you would. I just wanted to write … something. This is certainly something. Pride. Beaming. Smiles everyone. Welcome to Fantasy Island.
I actually do have something to announce. I just can’t do that now. Basically, I have the news, I just lack the trumpet. I mean, I don’t know how to play a trumpet, per se, but I can make noise with one. Which is a lot like writing. Making noise. I can make noise. I’ve also been working on a new book, with additional side projects, while continuing to push The Storyteller and the Shadowheart of Ahriman (which has endured more blood cleansing than a dialysis patient, but is somehow better off for it). Maybe for the sake of having someone read something I’ve written or am writing–which is a more difficult task than I could have imagined–I’ll just start posting bits on here. Maybe you can read a whole book out of it. For free. Why not? I wrote it for it to be read. Sure, I’d like millions of people to be enjoying it, but the simpleton mathematician in my head seems to think one is greater than zero, so okay then. If for no other reason than to keep him from mathing, I’ll do that. I hate math.
This is the only certifiable math I’ve done in a good many years:
Somehow, it’s reached a point these days where you aren’t really considered a writer unless you’re writing about writing. I can’t really say whether that’s good or bad. Perhaps because I don’t know, but more likely because I avoid reading most of them. One might deem this tutorial littering of the internet a consequence of self-publication, in that everyone who wants to see their book in print (or on a Kindle or whatnot), can then take to their respective blog (or blob, if you’re my mother, bless her heart) and detail all the ways in which you can achieve whatever level of success they deem they have attained.
Again, good or bad, I don’t know. This is just a truth we all have to accept. Maybe there’s useful information out there that can help you. Maybe there isn’t. No idea. I mean, I can’t tell you what the Onion is writing about today because I haven’t read it. I know it’s funny though. I can guarantee that. And it’s there. There is far better than not. Just like writing a book. It will always be better to you if it is there than if it is not.
There you go. Hallelujah, praise Timmy Christ, and may the force be with you. My writing lesson of the day. If you don’t write a book, you don’t have a book you have written. Genius. I have now joined the ranks of pseudo-professional writers who have blogged about writing. I am nearly complete as a human being. I’m one drunken tour of Scotland’s Pub of the Day Club away from ascension.
So, what do you do? How do you decide whether the advice you’re getting is advice you should be taking? Look, the truth is–the thing you need to know before taking this whole writing thing to the next level–there’s no such thing as a simplification of writing that any one person can offer. As with life, the process of learning about writing is an extensive and exhaustive process. One blog, one book, cannot cover what you need to know. Yet here you are, all engrossed in my words, or perhaps just hiking your way across the internet one click at a time, so allow me to illustrate my point in as simplified a way as I can so you only have to read one blog about it. Then you’ll know everything you need to know about writing. Ready?
Writing is hard.
Boom. You’re welcome.
Ok, so maybe that was too concise. But the truth remains. Are there varying levels of talent in which writing becomes less hard? Absolutely. Tom Robbins forged a career out of his brilliance, tapping one mind after another with a skilled hand that is not so much stratospheric as it is alien. Yet, he wrote every manuscript by hand, working on each individual sentence until it was exactly what it needed it to be. He didn’t use word counts. He just let the work tell him when he was done. Which is not “as easy as that.” That’s fucking hard. That insane-level genius. Sure, it comes easier to him than it does to most everyone else, but his easy isn’t easy for him. It’s grueling.
Writing will kick you to hell and back, then wait for you to stand so it can kick you around some more. It’s a giant sponge sucking all your time and energy, then squeezing it down the drain while letting you know it’ll be right back k thanks. It’s something that requires you to spend more time in a world that doesn’t exist than the one you’re supposed to be living in. It offers you an array of friends you can’t live without then scoffs at your genie-in-a-bottle wish that they were real. It tempts you with hope, then insists you proceed with squashing all level of hope anywhere and everywhere for everyone you create, and, shamed though you are to admit it, love. It coaxes you with the allure of wealth, readership by the millions, adoration and praise, then leaves you with a waste basket of rejection and the realization that you have yet to leave the workforce, and probably won’t anytime soon. Writing is your mistress, and it won’t be satisfied with an occasional text. It wants all of you, but it doesn’t want you to stay over, and it sure as hell doesn’t want to be anything else. It wants you to succeed, it needs you to succeed, but it doesn’t stop badgering you just because you don’t.
And you know what? You love it. You revel in it. You slosh around in your misery like a pig in filth. You devour the entire helping of writing for the pure gluttony of it, then dive into the fridge with an appetite for more. Writing is that friend you can’t live without, and it both is and isn’t there with you at every waking moment. It is the single greatest love-hate, abusive relationship you will ever know, and it will inspire you to journey into the greatest, most wonderful, corners of your mind, where mystery and fantasy burn like wildfire, where romance and seduction beat like a heart, and where the entire universe is willing to bow to the supreme truth of 42.
This is what you want. This is why you believe you exist. This is why most of your earth-based friends and family have difficulty understanding you. This is why you creep people out in crowded spaces as you stare off into alternate realities, completely unaware of your surrounding, or of the uneasiness you leave those in your path. This … this insanely hard, difficult, maddening, bitch of an art, is why everything matters, and why every struggle is survived, every fear faced, every trace of indignity of self ignored.
If not, you can stop looking for advice on writing. You can stop worrying about improving. Just write. Do your blog thing, keep a journal, write whatever your kids or family seem to want to hear, but leave the advice on the shelf, leave the expectations be.
Sometimes I’ll do anything I can to avoid writing. I’ll run from the computer like it’s a Charles in Charge reunion special. Reading, destroying brain cells on Facebook, over-managing my fantasy baseball teams, catching up on baseball news I already knew, Words With Friends, walks, shopping, driving, sitting on the patio like a grown man in time-out, harassing the cat … name it. It runs contrary to the idea writing is my passion, my life, I know, but I do it regardless. Not because I’m afraid to write. Rather, because I’m afraid to write badly.
On the surface it’s an absurd statement. It reeks of a failure in confidence. If you’re afraid to write, avoiding it for any reason, then perhaps writing isn’t for you, right? However, I don’t lack confidence in my writing. Though I’m no savant and have a great deal yet to learn, I’ve worked hard on my craft. Besides, Publisher’s Weekly thought well of me. Shouldn’t I? My issue, though, isn’t with my talent, or my ability to weave a compelling tale, or whether or not what I’m about to type will be pure crap. The ‘delete’ key takes care of that. If not, editing exists for a reason. What I’m afraid of is producing work that floats off into the ether like space debris: forgotten and forever to orbit in the dark vacuum of nothingness. Perhaps that means it was bad, perhaps it doesn’t. Sometimes you can feel so damned positive you’ve written something great–or at the least good–only to watch it wander into an uncaring world that as much notices it as avoids it altogether.
Maybe that doesn’t qualify it as bad, exactly, but as a writer it becomes difficult to separate good from bad when feedback is non-existent. Sure, you get some words of encouragement from those who know you, or from other writers, or beta-readers, or even your Publisher/Editor/Agent. They like it. They praise you in widely generic ways. They might even specifically site an instance in your work they particularly liked. Which makes you smile. It makes you proud. It gives you that momentary feeling of heroic wonder. Then it becomes print, you talk about it through various social media portals, maybe you have some events, and you wait for the accolades and reader reviews. And wait. And wait. Ultimately, the silence invades your mind, leaving a gap in your defenses wide enough for an F5 tornado of doubt to plow a destructive path through your pristine landscape of ignorant bliss.
No matter how much you talk it up, nobody’s talking back. Your book sucks. It must. It has to. You re-read it. It doesn’t feel as sublime as the last time you looked it through. Are you no longer blind to the truth, or have you allowed silence and doubt to insert their impression in your head? What does that mean for your current manuscript? Should you suspend writing in order to review what you’ve written? Will this unedited piece of unfinished potential crap offer you insight as to why your recent work is failing? Or are you over-thinking it? Of course, you can go to your Publisher/Editor/Agent for advice, but they’ll tell you to cool your jets, this kind of thing happens all the time. But no, you think, this is happening to me. It wasn’t supposed to. My book was good.
Or was it?
It’s troubling to think all this can cross through the mind in a fraction of a second. Even more troubling, however, is the anticipation it can and might likely happen to your work-in-progress–before you’ve even finished it. You have constructed a fully viable, fully entrenched, vision of your manuscript’s future while it still doesn’t even know how it will end. The characters are gathering for an intervention and you’re in the corner wallowing about how nobody will ever care about anything you write. Ever. I suppose if I were a parent, I might better understand this, or how to cope with it. My cat doesn’t inspire worry. Her naps will always be quality naps.
So, I’ll stare at the computer screen, eyeing the open Internet tabs, finger ready to open Scrivener. I might read what I have to that point, if I haven’t wandered off already. Maybe pack the laptop and head out for coffee, read it there. Maybe take a drive to hunt for inspiration. It doesn’t happen all the time, and generally by the time I’ve begun typing, my fears have waned. My characters are at the forefront. I’m a God, moving pieces, orchestrating fates, divining obstacles. All is good. My work is good. My story is good. My book, so far, is good.
I’m a writer. I don’t write simply because I can. I write to entertain, to bring something to someone’s life they will enjoy and share. It’s narcissistic, cathartic, inspiring, and humbling. I like to imagine a God, creating a Universe, filling worlds with living creatures, molding paths, futures, destinies, holding arms to Heavens when the job is done, with a notable “Huh? Awesome, right?” expression. That God would be bummed if even the crickets went silent. I guess it’s okay for me to be as well.
Truthfully, this could be said of any artist. Any Creator. We are gods, after all, desperate to create worlds in which we’d much rather be, sculpting rules and destinies from the jagged peaks of our imagination, reforming the memories of our past and the hopes of our future into triumphant tales of heroic adventure. We write the code for the program, doing so with a reckless arrogance, ignoring reality in favor of the most favorable path to redemption. Not simply for our heroes, but for ourselves. And when we step away from our narcissistic free-for-all, we find bills, hunger, war, political mudslinging, and for many–loneliness beyond repair.
Something happens in the process that alters us forever. We begin to long for the worlds we created. We begin to hunger to complete the stories, to enhance the landscapes, to better realize this fantastic scope through which we peer. Reality becomes less real. Fantasy more believable. Either word seems insufficient and life gets twisted somewhere in between. We find more time to stare through windows on scenes so far removed we appear to be catatonic, or angry, or one Sugar Snap away from inviting Dig ’em for a lengthy stay.
Our worlds live and breathe in our minds, taking on a life of their own; and though we see the world as perfect, the characters as family, we find the words lacking. Not simply because we doubt their ability to convey, or because they are insufficient or weak, but because they don’t breech the boundaries of space and time. They don’t open a portal to our worlds. They don’t allow us to escape. So we keep writing, we keep creating, we keep building, hoping to find something of our fantasy within the reality we are trapped.
We never do. Yet, the desperation is a madness we crave, the only place in which we truly find peace.
There are times I find this idea unsettling, depressing, an incurable infectious disease in which small pieces of my brain melt helplessly away by the day. Then I find things like this in my work:
“It is apparent to me now there is less between imagination and reality than I dared dream. I wonder at times if closing my eyes will be the end of me, or if I can never truly begin until the world fades to black. Therein lies the deceit of lightness and dark: They serve your need, or leave you mired in blindness, unable to distinguish truth from lie.”
And I realize my madness can manifest in beautiful ways. My characters can trumpet my words in ways I will never be able. My stories can bring civility to the war between the lightness and dark; and though I may never step foot in the worlds I create, I can give them life, hope, and a path to fulfillment. I can give them–with due struggle and pain–all that I want for myself. I will give them a life that pushes what they can handle, but allows them a heroic end. A Happily Ever After. I know their path through and through. I don’t know mine.
I can only hope, when my final second ticks and the clock draws into silence, I have left words that resonate. Words that, beyond belief, beyond the bounds of reality, have given life to worlds that will always be visited by eager minds. Perhaps then I will truly know peace.
So I write and I dream, and I hope that somewhere, in some world, there is someone writing my story, smiling at my ways, counting the days until I can be the hero I was created to be.
As a young boy, I fell in love with Harry the Dirty Dog. After all, I hated baths, and the idea of burying the scrubber and running away had occurred to me countless times. In later years, I found comfort and familiarity in Judy Blume’sTales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Frecklejuice. In Middle School came The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Scarlett Letterand every word ever written by the inimitable master of fright Edgar Allen Poe. It was at this time I wrote my first story. I’m not sure the title, but it involved a young boy, a baseball game, and overcoming a horrible ankle injury to win the championship. I’m not sure what happened to it, but regardless of how awful it likely was, I’ve never forgotten it. As a starting point, it was comfortable, familiar and hopeful. I don’t recall writing another story until I reached High School, a few years later, where a simple read of A Tale of Two Citieschanged everything. It was fabulous. Breathtaking. Inspiring. I wanted to be a writer. I wanted to craft stories that thrilled, captivated, and most certainly entertained. I wanted to be remembered, as I had remembered those that inspired me. So I began writing.
It went horribly for a long time. Not to say I was a horrible writer. Just that my dreams were not surpassing my reality. Fear and doubt intervened. The weight of adulthood crushed me. Bills mounted. My skill plateaued as I fought to survive, as I managed to write as time allowed, as I read intermittently, as I refused to let go despite the screeching gnaw within my brain. If I had the courage to brave reading my material from that day, I might wonder how it is the desire survived. The potential was there, however dormant, suffering from a lack of experience, and proper guidance. But I persisted. I kept writing. I met successful writers, whose wisdom and sage advice strengthened my voice, and my resolve. I set aside my love for Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams in order to concentrate fully upon what I wanted to write, rather than my desire to fit in their mold. Anointed: The Passion of Timmy Christ, CEOwas, and still is, a fine book. One I can be proud of. Flutter followed it nicely, though I still believe my mind set at that time left me a bit vulnerable within, too raw to maintain the tempo and cadence I wanted it to have.
Since then, I’ve been quiet. Not so much quiet in my every day existence, though I’ve had some moments, but rather quiet on the publishing front. Partly, this is due to circumstance. Partly because I insist on being the best writer I can be, reluctant to offer substandard material. I want to be read well, to sell in high volume, to be revered. But I never want to be Dan Brown, James Patterson, or God forbid, Stephanie Meyer. I want to be Judy Blume, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, and so on. I still want the same thing fourteen-year old me wanted: to be remembered as one of the greats.
And though that has as of yet materialized, the blessing of the writing life is there are no restrictions of time. In fact, much as the apprentice must rise to the level of Master before being recognized for their skill, life has taken me on a tour, an education I may not have asked for but have greatly appreciated. It has granted me the chance to learn, to improve, to better myself as an artist as well as a person.
Most importantly, it brought me Oliver Miles.
It gave me a glimpse of the boy I was, of the countless stories that inspired me, of the many hours I dreamed of what it would be like to walk the worlds within the pages that so fascinated me. Of what it would be like to be the hero. And when The Storyteller spoke, he did so easily, with great intent, with a yearning need to heard, with the voice of a child who longed to matter.
In the beginning there was a boy, who very much belonged to the books that he loved.
He gave me something to believe in. Something special.
And the journey of fourteen-year old Oliver Miles began, precisely where my love for writing was born: In the pages of his favorite books. His passion, however, rest squarely within the five-book series, The Damon Grell Chronicles, a collection he read countless times, arriving at the final chapter of the final book with the same unshakable sense of frustration and disappointment.
“‘Infusco!”’ The light shrouding the figure became heavy and fell, dull waves of warmth tattered to thin wisps by cold shadow. Silence embraced the chamber, expanded into the growing darkness, and broke in a grinding shift of granite upon granite. The coffin fell open, its lid split in two upon the sandy floor, the shadows alive, swirling, absorbing all light, taking form, and Damon Grell rose once more.”
After all, Damon Grell didn’t simply fail in his final showdown with the dark Lord Ahriman. He died. And, as if the pain of that loss alone didn’t suffice, Damon was then resurrected by a shadowy figure at the story’s end, leaving the world of Elysium without a true hero, and Oliver without a sense of resolution. Though Damon has been raised, there’s no way to ensure his state of mind, or abilities. Without Damon, Lord Ahriman would rule over all. Without a proper hero, Elysium would fall. Little could Oliver have known that Elysium had indeed found its hero, and that he, Oliver Miles, was the one it had chosen. Drawn into Elysium by the mysterious Storyteller, Oliver finds a world more real, more deadly than he could have dreamed. A world where the magic of words and the future hope of Elysium lead him into a race to find the resurrected Damon Grell before the Shadowheart—the most powerful form of magic known in Elysium—can fall into the hands of a rising darkness that threatens to destroy the world.
I am possessed by this story, and the subsequent four that round it out. So much so that I find the need for it to be perfect. To honor the story fully. I’ve worked on it for years, completely rewriting it several times, most recently last Fall. I have so much back story, I could effectively write The Damon Grell Chronicles as well as the origin story of the individual who would ultimately be known as the Storyteller. I could spend the rest of my life delving into the many side stories and companion pieces had I the opportunity. Perhaps I will. It would be a tremendous thrill to be afforded the opportunity to do so.
As an artist, I am compelled to believe in my work. To believe in its value, its credibility. To raise it above my head and proclaim it special in ways no other work could proclaim. And so I shall. However, I do so with a sense of awe and wonderment over the feeling this tale leaves me. I do so curious over what plan the Storyteller put in effect upon handing me the details of Oliver’s journey. I do so more confident than I’ve ever been that I’ve honored the wish of a fourteen-year old boy who longed to have a voice in the literary world that truly mattered. And soon–hopefully quite soon–you will understand why.