Thursday, August 14, 2014

Stories (Writing Update 8.14.14)

So, there is always a lot of horrible news to be found in the world on any given day, but sometimes it feels like there is an extra helping of suckage in very short order. It is on those days that I feel most helpless and worthless. It is on those days the I wonder at the value of telling stories.

But today, while feeling heartsick about the recent loss of people who inspired others (both famous and unknown) and the horrible and senseless violence being perpetrated in my own country and in others, I remembered this quote from G.K. Chesterton: Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.

Yesterday I started to work on the first draft of a novel I've been mulling over for a couple of years. It has a 16 year old protagonist, is set in a vaguely contemporary world, and (at least for now) lacks the normal flair for romance that I normally have. For those, and many other reasons, I'm not certain I will be able to produce anything worthwhile with this book. (It has a hell-gate complete with motorcycle gang-like semi-possessed, virgin sacrificing villains. And a grandmother who turned a young girl into a cat in a fit of senility and now is trapped in ghost-pig form until her granddaughter can find the girl and reverse the spell. And white knights, a protagonist obsessed with the study of serial killers and the folks who protect the rest of humanity from them, and a house that is semi-sentient.) 

But, already, I see ideas about the need to use power once it's discovered, and the politics of family and society, and fighting for what is right and not just what is comfortable and convenient. And I remember what Chesterton said and I think that there must be value in reminding the world, in reminding myself that dragons can be killed. 

The world and life are difficult and dark. Some days more than others. But we can (and should) still speak out, stand up, and, sometimes even, fight those things that are dark and horrible and difficult. 

So today I'm writing a story about a dragon slayer who worries she might be as bad as the monster she's trying to end and reminding myself that it is not who or what we are that matters. It is what we do. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Depression, Lies (and Addiction*)

Yesterday evening I heard that Robin Williams was dead, reportedly from a successful suicide attempt. A lot of other people had heard too and my Twitter feed was full of comments and expressions of sympathy. Many people said many wise things, but one stuck with me. It said: Depression lies.

I have been fortunate. In the 35 years I've been alive, I've only had serious depression three times.
First, my last semester of my sophomore year in college.
Second, my last semester of my senior year in college.
Third, during and following my mother's struggle with metastatic melanoma.

Increased mindfulness, the recognition of stress as a key trigger, and a better relationship with food and sleep (as in making sure I get the right amounts of each at regular intervals) have drastically reduced my tendency toward depression. But I've been in deep and I know that it's always there, waiting for the opportunity to sink its teeth in once more. And that's a scary and bewildering thing because sometimes I don't know why I get depressed.

However, one thing I can say for certain is that depression lies.
Don't confuse this with: depression is a lie. (More about this in a moment.)
The black hole-in-my-chest, white noise buzz that cuts you off from the folks around you, even when you're sitting right next to them? That's very real.
The overwhelming urge to sleep because anything and everything else is too hard? The feeling that even the thought of doing anything (including pushing the covers back) is exhausting? That's real.

But the things depression whispers to you, the thoughts it feeds into that crushing void, those are lies.

Here are some of the lies depression has told me.

That I'm a horrible person.
That ultimately I just push people away.
That wanting to be happy is selfish and greedy.
That I'm stupid.
That I'm unattractive.
That I'm lazy.
That my goals are silly and meaningless. (Really, you want to write novels and there are people out there dying of Ebola?)
That I'm worthless.
That I'm awkward and talk funny and too fast.
That I have no sense of humor.
That I'm not compassionate.
That I'm arrogant.
And, this is the big lie that is the deeper lie beneath all the others, that this feeling and hopelessness is all my fault.

Of the three times I've been seriously depressed, the first time was the worst. There's some part of me that would like to say that's because I've gotten better at handling things. (Mindfulness, being aware of stress, eating right, etc. All good things. All things that help manage the tendency. But they are just tools, not a "cure" or overall solution.) But it's not just that I'm more aware now of the things that can trigger depressive episodes or that I've gotten better at "coping". The reason the first time was the worst was because I lacked a support system.

Don't get me wrong, I had some good friends who were trying to help as best they knew how. I had parents who would have done more if I had told them just how hard I was struggling. (Which I didn't because I was afraid they wouldn't understand.)

I also was surrounded by people who had never dealt with depression and, like far too many well-meaning folks, thought I must be doing something wrong. (This is a problem I see a lot, but it's especially prevalent in the Christian community where the idea that "Jesus will make you happy" has deep roots. I do not disagree that faith has a lot of meaning and provide a lot of comfort to certain folks. Nor will I deny that faith has supported me personally in many circumstances. But the idea that "If you're a 'real' Christian you wouldn't be depressed" is a poisonous lie that even the most well-intentioned folks spew out.)

Which brings me back to the Big Lie. Depression likes to tell me that I am the problem. Sure, maybe there are tough things going on in my life, but there are folks out there in tougher situations and they aren't having to fight to get out of bed. Yeah, maybe my mom just died because cancer ate her brain, but I was 27 and not 5 and I had a chance to say I love you. and Good-bye.

The problem, depression likes to whisper in my ear, is me. And that first time I went under, I was surrounded by people who seemed to think the same thing.

Here are some of the things they said to me.**
"If you would just stop moping around you wouldn't be depressed."
"Maybe if you stopped wearing black all the time, you wouldn't be depressed."
"I always find comfort reading the Bible/going to church/praying every day. Have you been reading the Bible/going to church/praying every day?"
"That music you listen to is awful. Try something more upbeat."
"Maybe you need a boyfriend."
"You watch a lot of R rated movies. Maybe you should stop."
"Your friends are weird. Maybe you should join X social group."

The Big Lie was everywhere. It said that if I would just hang out with different people, listen to different music, dress differently, talk differently, be differently than what I was, then I would be happy. And if I didn't want to do all those things, then I had only myself to blame for my unhappiness.

It was a lie, but I believed it. And I struggled.
Because here's the other thing about when you're depressed. Everything is a big deal. It's like being in junior high and high school again where it's all drama and not eating the right thing at lunch might mean you don't get invited to that party this weekend. It's all bull shit and the connections depression makes between one thing and another are just more lies, but it doesn't feel that way. There is no way to distinguish the fact that scuffing the toe of your favorite pair of shoes won't actually cause you to lose your job. Depression lies. It tells you that everything hinges on you not fucking something up and when you forget and leave your coffee on the kitchen counter it's OMG! YOU ARE SUCH A LOSER!

But you're not. And I'm not and depression lies and the only thing to do is to remind yourself of the truth, which, in general, is that life is pretty good.

Here are some of the things I remind myself of.
No matter how fucked up things seem, the problems I'm facing are all fixable. (Left the coffee at home? Pick some up on the way downtown. Scuffed my favorite pair of shoes? Maybe it's time to find a new favorite.)
Even when things are really awful, there is still something good to be found in each day. (Some days this is more of a challenge than others. Some days it boils down to "Ice cream for dinner, because grown up." Some days it's just recognizing that no cat has peed on my sheets and I can go straight to bed if I want to.)
Also, the sun came up today!
My cats are butts but they are amusing butts. 
My skinny jeans still fit.
AC/DC on the radio is the best! (Especially if it's Thunderstruck.)
And most of all: Depression lies. And no matter how things seem to suck right now, I would hate to do something impulsive*** because of a lie.

Finally, I would like to say that if you are thinking about hurting yourself please talk to someone. These folks are a good place to start: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255

And then, go read this: Matt Fraction - Sorry to put this on you, but I have an honest question
He says a lot about things I don't have any particular experience with and probably a lot better than I say anything. (But with swears. I mean, even more than I do.) 

And talk to someone. You are not alone. In fact, you're probably less alone than you could ever imagine. So talk.

*I mention addiction here, because I've seen a lot of the same responses to addiction as I have to depression. Folks who don't know, just don't know and they say some stupid things even when they're well-meaning.

**These are paraphrased, because most of the details are fuzzy, but I am not exaggerating the ludicrous responses I got from folks.

***let me just say, my depression has never made me suicidal. I get very reclusive and listen to Matchbox 20 way too much, but I don't have any desire to end my life so please don't think I'm saying that. Because I'm not.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Growth (Writing Update 8.7.14)

When I learned that Eggplant was going to close down and my little SF Western novella was coming back to me, I did what any author would. I emailed my agent and said "Help! Now what?" and flailed a bit.

I was really hoping he would get back to me with "Of course we can find a new home for this." Instead his response boiled down to "Egh. This needs some work." So, I figured I'd put it on the shelf for a bit and let it simmer. Maybe there would be new subplots I could work into the already tight plot structure. (It's a revenge western. In space. The plot is mostly "I'm looking for the bastard who killed my mother." and then lots of bodies dropping because folks are stupid enough to get between my very dedicated, revenge-hungry protagonist and her psychotic, cybernetic horse.) I would let it sit it for a while and then come back to it.

Naturally, as soon as I decided that was the plan of action, I immediately came up with a new solution. It wasn't the sort of thing I was anticipating. It involves the clever juggling of two timelines and the addition of a new character into past events. It also meant starting the story from a different place.

It also meant that my opening paragraphs - which I loved - would have to go. I didn't want to get rid of my opening. It was snarky and set the stage for the story in just a few words.

So, I balked. I shook my fist at my muse (who, being a right proper bastard, flipped me off) and tried to figure out some way to keep this thing that I loved about the original version and work it into the new version. But none was apparent. (Because my muse is a right proper bastard who doesn't compromise.)

Reluctantly, I resigned myself to the idea that if I were going to rework this book (because there's nothing quite like being told "This isn't quite good enough" to get my stubborn up) I would have to start from scratch. No clinging to the parts I loved. No hanging onto the turns of phrase or witty comebacks or lovely, gritty descriptions and noirish narrative. I would have to start from scratch.

And, as soon as I committed to that, I was struck from behind by a brilliant opening line. (Because my muse is also a right proper genius when he's not being a bastard.) A line that is just better than my original. Soooo much better. (And bear in mind, the opening for the novella as published was this: By the time I was born Mankind was dying on a hundred worlds and Earth, our legendary mother, was lost. Not lost in a metaphorical sense. Not lost to famine or plague or war or the inevitable destruction of Sol. Just plain where-did-we-put-that-mother-fucking-planet lost.) Not award-winning prose, but certainly solid. And I loved it, or I wouldn't have written it.

But... sometimes in order to grow we have to let go of the things we have already done well in order do to new things better. And, yes, that also means sometimes we do things worse. But worse is always fixable and we can't do better if we don't let go of doing things the same. 

Wordcount: Dust and Stars - 355

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Drive (Writing Update 8.5.14)

Back in February (having just finished up the last few tweaks on The Steampunk Novel), I picked up the first thousand words or so of a short story I'd started the year before. It was the sequel to a story that was scheduled to come out from Crowded Magazine in May, and I figured it was as good a time as any to work on the next part of the adventure.

My real life was hectic. I mean, more so than usual. Mid-February our water got shut off and stayed off for seven weeks. Even once the water was back on there were court dates, legal papers to write, and all of the normal everyday real life stuff - housework, grocery shopping, getting my son to and from school, cooking, laundry, etc. But I kept plugging away on this story.

Only it was turning out not so short.
It climbed past 15k.
I started thinking of it as a novella.
And still it grew. And grew.

Finally, in mid-June, I reached "The End" and realized I had a 65k novel on my hands. It was a lovely little book with magic and spiders and a cross-world adventure and assassins and romance. And I was scared stiff about what the agent would think of it. Although there were some slight thematic similarities to The Steampunk Novel, it had a much different feel and tone. Less gothic angst, more humor, a few more fights, and lots of spiders. And I always struggle with humor. So I worried, but I sent it off and waited. (Not for long because my agent is awesome.)

Then made some revisions, wrote short outlines for sequels, finished the revisions. (In a lot less time than I originally anticipated.) And now there's more waiting. Again.

And new ideas are chewing on my brain. Because I love writing. I love my craft. But I am not doing this just because I love putting words on paper, but because, deep down, I want to do this for a living. Not the way Patterson does. Or even the way King does. (Although, you know, who doesn't wish fondly for a call saying "We just sold paperback rights for an assload of money.") But in a steady "This is my day job" kind of way.

And that means I don't need (or want) to loll around waiting for good news. Because when that good news comes (and I know that it will) it won't be like winning a billion dollars. At some point, I'll need to make more good news happen. Preferably by way of more book sales. Or, you know, maybe I'll get back into the film making world. (I still write screenplays sometimes, but that realm is even more competitive than selling a novel.)

But the point here is, I wrote one novel this year. Maybe it's time to write another one.