writing

I Don’t Like the Drugs, the Drugs, the Drugs…

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This dude? Probably had fuggin’ ADD.

A couple years ago, I wrote a semi-regular feature here on the site called The Secret Origin of Lincoln Crisler. I talked about memorable comic books, my wicked stepfather, my brushes with all sorts of religions, and some of the novels and series’ that were important to me during my formative years. It was fun to write, and it’s all still there, at the handy link I provided. I most likely could have written that column for a lot longer than I did, but it petered out. Alot of things I do…do.

Which is actually an unintended but rather appropriate segue, since one of the things I never discussed, and am discussing today, is the reason for said petering…or puttering. Or, to put it more elegantly, my DiVinci Syndrome. Otherwise known as Attention Deficit Disorder. I was diagnosed with it when I was between seven and nine, and prescribed Ritalin–around 50mg/day, by the time I was 14.

Humans, I was doped the fuck up. The Ritalin took all the energy out of me, which probably wasn’t a bad thing, since I was poor, lived in the ‘hood and didn’t have any friends to play with anyway. I barely ate most of the time, and since I wasn’t genetically wired for large size anyway, I was a scrawny sonofabitch–I mean, I didn’t break 5ft tall or 100lbs in weight until my freshman year of high school. Around that same time–freshman year, at the age of 14–I flushed what was left of my pills down the crapper and never looked back.

I was thinking about Death and mortality…while washing the dishes and shit. At fourteen.

That’s not a happy ending, though. I had all sorts of night terrors and depressing thoughts for six months after; what I’m sure were withdrawal symptoms from quitting such a large dose of Ritalin cold-turkey. I slept or read through the classes I was good at (most of them) and still aced the exams, and slept  or read through the ones I wasn’t good at (math, for the most part) and didn’t ace them. I didn’t have a replacement for the drugs until I got to Army Bootcamp at eighteen. I simply floundered. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without the military, and I say that without any hyperbole whatsoever.

I threw the pills away in 1996.Skip forward to 2014: I’m 32, married with kids. My son began exhibiting some of the same signs as me, and we started getting him help. My missus and I were both pretty resistant to putting him on medication, and we could afford to be that way–we have an intellectual edge on the folks I lived with at the time (my mom and the unwashed druggies who came by all the time), and we have the military health care system. But eventually, we put him on medication, because we figured it would help him. And it has.

I was seriously loath to do it, because I remember hating how the drugs made me feel, and I certainly remembered how coming off them felt. But they have better stuff twenty years down the road from when I was diagnosed, and as a MENSA candidate and Psychology graduate, my wife and I were equipped to make better decisions than simply dosing the kid to the gills. And damned if seeing better medication, handled a better way, didn’t make me wonder at the possibilities that might be in store for me.

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Okay…so it IS a little bit awesome. But OMG guys…I can do moar. And faster. I know it.

Most people who have a window into my life probably think I have my shit together: I’m a career noncommissioned officer, a homeowner and an author/editor with eight years in the biz under my belt. I’ve been chipping away at a business degree on and off, and I’ve had four books with my name on the cover come out in the last twelve months. And I’m not down on myself, don’t get me wrong. I’ve always prided myself on being self-aware. But I know that I’m only giving 80-90% of what I can, and I’m thinking the medication will take me the rest of the way.

I have to admit, I’m a little scared. The most common medications are stimulants. What complications could that present, given that I still work out regularly–have to, because I’m a Soldier. Could it put more strain on me, now that I’m in my thirties instead of not even in my teens? But at the same time, I’m excited about the possibilities. Could a couple pills a day make it even easier for me to breeze through my work? Help me use my time more efficiently? Allow me to better harness my brainpower? Maybe I’ll even be able to write first draft novels in three months straight, like I should be able to. That would be killer.

I’ll know more in a few weeks. But the medicated future seems a lot brighter than my medicated past was.

 

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Knowing When to Hold ‘Em

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No, this isn’t a Kenny Rogers homage (I got that out of my system early in my career—and you can read it here, if that’s your sort of thing). I’ve been thinking of the relationship writers have with ideas, and the differing schools of thought. I read one author’s answer to how he kept track of ideas—I forget if it was King, or maybe Konrath—which was basically Write them down so you don’t lose them. But the ones I had to write down in order to remember usually ended up not being very good. The best stories grabbed ahold of me until I wrote them.

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea. I can see the value in writing down ideas for later. I have a plain-text document with snippets of ideas going back 6-7 years. I have half-finished stories as old as that. I’ve gone back and reworked years-old partials into complete stories that were completely different from the original intent. I’ve also probably forgotten more ideas than I have recorded. Were most of them crap? Perhaps. Some of the recorded ones are crap. I also have a couple of ideas I’ve neither written nor recorded, but which have stuck in my head for years. I’ll write them one day. I know it.

My wife and I discuss my work sometimes. There are things she’d like to see me do, because she thinks the result will garner more attention and money for my art. I don’t think she’s wrong. A talk she and I had last month yielded what could possibly be a breakout mainstream novel for me. I’m stoked as Hell to get to work on it. Right now, though, it only exists as the merest of outlines in my head. That’s OK. I know I won’t forget it. And according to the guy I paraphrased earlier, that means it might be Real Frickin’ Good. And every so often, the missus asks me why I don’t write one of these Right Frickin’ Nao.

I’m not in a rush to write it, though. Doesn’t that sound strange as all get-out? I have a theory of my own that I’m following. I don’t think I’ve seen it championed elsewhere, though I’m not arrogant enough to believe I’ve actually Stumbled Across Something No One’s Ever Thought of Before. I’m going to hold off on writing that novel, and a couple of others I have in mind, until I’m even better at my craft than I am now.

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t been trying to sell you anything that I didn’t feel was solid, entertaining work. If you can buy it, I think it’s worth your time. But I am still growing as an author. When I started writing for publication, 1500 words was my norm and 20K seemed like an epic. As I’ve grown, my stories have naturally grown in length—novellas come naturally to me now. I’m getting to the point where I can comfortably crank out a novel. I have a finished novella right now that both of my pre-readers say needs to be a novel, so I’m laying it aside and going back to it after I finish some contracted work.

Stephen King wrote several novels before selling Carrie—sold them eventually, under the name Richard Bachman, but they got a bunch of rejections when he first tried to move them. I’m sure he revised them prior to re-pitching, taking advantage of the experience he gained writing The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, etc. Joe Konrath wrote ten (give or take a couple) novels before he landed a contract for the Jack Daniels novels. My buddy John Everson just released his sixth novel, which has been in the works for something like a decade.

I don’t think I’ll end up scrapping five novels before writing a salable one. I’m too tenacious and willing to hack and revise for that to happen. I do seem to have a good instinct for when to bail on a sinking ship and just toss a piece into the Recycle Bin. But a few of these ideas, like the one my wife put in my head—I don’t want to still have my training wheels on when I knock them out, you know? So I’ll be holding on to them. Maybe for a year or two. Maybe longer.

If it’s any consolation, I’m itching to write them a thousand times more than you are to read them.

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Throwing in the Towel

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About a week ago, I came across a thread on a private forum I frequent from an author I know in passing. He wrote a nice, long, heartfelt post about how he was quitting writing because he didn’t feel he was good enough at writing fiction. He compared it to a fighter who knows he isn’t good enough to make pro, so he gives that shit up, but might stay involved in training new talent or whatnot. He said he’d be staying involved in one way or another (he’s also an editor). There were the sort of reponses you might imagine:

  • “You’ll come back. You always come back.”
  • “I’ve thought about quitting before; Hell, just yesterday!”
  • “I’ll never quit, it’s in my blood, etc.”

You get the idea. Of course, I had to chime in. And what kinda pal would I be if I just rehashed what had already been said? So, here’s (most of) my post from the forum:

If you CAN quit–and I believe this applies to anything–YOU SHOULD. Life is too short to spend time doing things you don’t feel like you can’t live without.

End of 2010, I realized that I was juggling a family, a military career, a side-business with my wife, a writing career and drum or bass guitar (sometimes both) practice at church for over three years. It was getting to be too much. Something was gonna have to go.

I gave up the music. I’m a much better author and editor than musician–I was good enough to play bars, but that was about it, and with the military moving me around so much, the only steady playing I could do was in church. Do I miss it? Absolutely. But I can encourage my son to play. His grandfather bought him a drum set for Christmas, so I still get my jam time in. Who knows what’ll happen when I retire from the Army? But…like I said, the very fact that I COULD walk away was a pretty good indicator that I SHOULD. And so far, I haven’t had any regrets.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Today’s douchebaggery is brought to you by the letter “L.” Now, a word from our sponsors… But hear me out. Aspiring to be a pro author is a shitload of hard work. First, you have to write. Then you have to make sure your writing is technically sound. You have to find a publisher. Sometimes, you have to find an agent. You might have to find another publisher or agent if the first one rejects you. You have to do all this with multiple projects at one time, while looking for your next project. You have to promote your work. Maintain a website. Interact with readers. Contact reviewers. Attend conventions. Network with colleagues.

Conventional wisdom has it that something like one percent of authors are pros making their whole living from writing. One percent. A recent college study showed 1.37% of women would say yes if a stranger offered sex. The average person has a better chance of finding sex in the street . If there’s anything you like to do that would fill the void left by quitting writing, it makes logical sense to do that other thing.

For me, there’s no substitute for telling stories. Everything I’ve done for the past six years has been worth it. Many other writers feel the same way. But not everyone is wired the same way. Just something to keep in mind. If you realize you can’t live without it after all, you can always come back.

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The Writing Warfighter

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I work hard to keep a wall between the different aspects of my life. I don’t want my family to be plastered all over my website and public profiles to such an extent that my wife is accosted by nutjobs at conventions if all my hard work pays off in notoriety. The clients of my family’s side business may not enjoy zombies, serial killers and such. Military operational concerns (and the plain ol’ desire to not want to deal with it when I’m home) necessitate minimal revelations to the public about my career in the Army. That last one, though, is sometimes that hardest one to keep separate.

My military life coincides with my writing life more than anything else. Most recently, this was brought to mind by Drew Williams’ recent guest piece on Brian Keene’s blog. Drew solicited personally inscribed signed books from a number of genre authors, then sent the box of 32 books oversea’s to a buddy’s troops in Afghanistan. You should read the whole blog entry, but for those with limited time, here are the names involved, because you should totally support them with your cash:

Kim Paffenroth, Cody Goodfellow, Harry Shannon, Nate Southard, Michael Laimo, Maurice Broaddus, Bob Freeman, John Skipp,  Steven Shrewsbury, Gene O’Neil, Scott Nicholson, Tom Piccirilli, Brian Knight, Mike Oliveri, Gord Rollo, Lee Thomas, J. F. Gonzalez, Mort Castle, Kelli Owen, Brian Keene, Mark Rainey, Nate Kenyon, Sephera Giron, M. Stephen Lukac, Bryan Smith, Elizabeth Massie, and Weston Ochse. (And a second thanks to Brian Keene for letting me borrow his blog and one to Brian Knight for finding a few extra “RARE”ities!)

Reading this got me to thinking about a similar experience, which I shared in the comments on Brian’s blog. I started my writing career while on a FOB in Afghanistan, and a few months after I began making friends in the horror community, Ms. Fran Friel, a lovely person and outstanding Stoker-Nominated author, conducted a similar drive to send books for me. I got a box of probably twenty or so books later that month. I read my first books by Gord Rollo and Stephen Mark Rainey that way, amongst others, and I’ll never forget that amazing display of generosity.

That was just the first of many overlaps. During my last deployment, to Qatar, I stumbled across a Permuted Press anthology, ROBOTS BEYOND, in a random pile of books in a barracks common area. Having reviewed a number of Permuted titles and being on friendly terms with several of their authors, I was tickled to find this. I ended up submitting a story to the editor’s next antho, as a matter of fact, and it was shortlisted (I’m still not sure when, if ever, that antho is coming out, but I can’t wait to read it). It was so nice to have a little taste of home that I didn’t have to chase down. I also have a few older Dorchester titles, procured from a lending library, that I still haven’t read.

During that same deployment, I made friends with an Airman while riding the post shuttle. He also was a writer, and had recently self-published a novel through Createspace. He only had a few weeks left on his deployment when we met, but we killed a decent amount of free time together. Not only did I advise him on a way to break his series down to make it more palatable to editors, I also recovered the entirety of the EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS he gave Booksurge in return for shitty editing, cover design and book production.

I wrote the bulk of the stories that would eventually become MAGICK & MISERY and DESPAIRS & DELIGHTS while deployed to Afghanistan. I wrote the entirety of WILD while deployed to Qatar.

I gave a powerpoint presentation on the small press to a group of soldiers in order to obtain my instructor credentials at the US Army Signal Center. I penned an essay on military service as a support system for creative efforts while in a leadership course. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that piece, and its work probably still isn’t finished.

I’ve met an astonishing number of genre stalwarts who formerly served or are still on duty, either in the regular army, the Guard or Reserves or as government employees. They include, in part, Brian Keene, Weston Ochse, Bryon Morrigan, R. Thomas Riley, Jeffrey Wilson and Tim Deal, among others. I know I’m forgetting several.

I’m grateful for the occasional intersections my military life makes with my writing life. It’s important to keep them separate for the most part, both because of national security and the preservation of my sanity, but I’ve also met some great people because of crossed paths. It’s even opened a few doors for me, because if American soldiers past and present comprise approximately 1% of the United States population, horror authors publishing while on active duty are an even smaller, and sometimes fascinating, segment. Most importantly, I’m grateful to have a respected and honored career with which to pay the bills and support my family while pursuing my dreams.

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Now, Back to Our Regularly Scheduled HUH!?

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I’m moving, but don’t worry! [Someone once] told me we’re all on the same planet, so I’ll be okay!

Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata, Animal Crossing: Wild World, 2005

Any creature I can think of under the sun gets settled into a routine of some sort, develops habits. Dogs are trained to perform certain actions (eating, elimination) at certain times; Pavlov’s Dogs being a prime example. Hell, even plants get into a cycle of sorts; many outdoor specimens will track the sun as it moves through the sky.

People are no different from other creatures in this respect. Take a group of people in Army Basic Training, for instance. After a week of being fixed to a routine that’s plotted to the minute, you’ll find such oddities as a whole platoon of joes in line for the crapper after meals, because their bowels are on a regular schedule and in sync. Another application more familiar to civilian personnel might be the guy that can wake up on time, without fail, without an alarm clock. Oh yeah, routines are simple human nature.

I’m no different from other people in this respect. I’m one of those joes that stood in line with 40 other dudes after every meal for nine weeks. I’m also one of those guys that can, under most circumstances, wake up for work even when he forgets to set his alarm. I’m one of those ‘Type A’ guys. I’ve lived my whole adult life, pretty much, in a set pattern. The bell rings at quarter to five, and I slobber, dress and go to Physical Training.

How unsettling it can be to have such patterns disturbed. The safety net is gone and anything can happen. There are strange dudes packing up all your belongings and carting them across country by themselves. Some other guy has had his hands on your wife’s nightclothes. There are things you have to pack away yourself because you’d be embarrassed to have the movers see them. Your life is exposed, man! Your house is disorganized. You run downstairs for a freezy-pop and bust your ass on a footlocker. Your own house is trying to kill you! Your wife is still laughing about it two hours later!

Your life is at the mercy of others. Some idiot clerk screws up some paperwork and all of a sudden you have to leave those unfamiliar dudes alone in your bloody house so you can go fix it. Nevermind the fact that you have to explain to someone who outranks you that he could have contacted you about the matter two days ago using various pieces of information on the paperwork you attached. Educating higher-ups isn’t necessarily a deviation from my normal routine, but on top of everything else? Yeah, sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mojo, ya know?

Oooh! Oooh! Then, while you’re gone, those bloody movers pack your checkbook into a box and you don’t realize it until it’s time to pay for dinner! Mother%^&!!!!!!

All of this leads up to a few days on the road, sharing the highway for eight hours a day with hundreds of unpredictable elements at 70-80 MPH, staying in motels in places you know nothing about, surrounded by people you’ve never met. What if the car breaks? What if the bank freezes your debit card at 3am and you need gas (don’t laugh, I’ve had this happen, because they thought my shit got stolen)? Hell, what if you get diarrhea from some crappy truckstop food and the next rest stop is 20 miles away?

Oh. And yesterday you found out your wife is pregnant. The happiest thing I could possibly imagine, and we’ve been trying for so long. But now? Right freakin’ now? Oh, yeah. Recipe for a good time.

From the comfort of your nice, organized life, the writers among you are probably saying You lucky schmuck; there’s a story in there somewhere! Try to write while all this is going on? Heh. Yeah, I’ll be here all week. Good one. I’ve written two stories that might be worth something when I can look at them again, once everything has settled down, but for right now? I wouldn’t ask an editor to wipe his ass on them. I just don’t have the words to describe it. I sit in front of the screen, tell myself to hang it up, go on Zoetrope and bitch about why I can’t write.

I’m planning rest stops for my trip at 2 AM because I can’t sleep and I’m tired of keeping my wife awake. I’m nervous and excited and thinking and I just lay there in the dark, doing the kickin’ chicken until I get up and piddle myself to sleep. For God’s sake, I can’t even figure out how to wrap up this freakin’ blog.

The only comfort is that this too will pass. This whole moving thing, for me, is like a routine within the routine, I do it so often. In less than a week I’ll be in Texas, a few days after that the movers show up (if they don’t go to some secret warehouse and sell all my stuff on Ebay, or crash somewhere or…) and then we really go into extra innings.

And after all that, we’ll see what I can do about drooling again at a regularly scheduled time.

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