Category Archives: Personal

This Is What It Feels Like to Fulfill a Dream

It’s been a week since The Torturer’s Daughter was released, and I’m still having trouble processing it. It’s hard for me to believe that I really do have a book out there for people – people who don’t even know me – to read. I know eventually I’ll be used to this; I’ll take it for granted. I won’t get a chill every time I see my Amazon page, and start giggling like a little girl whenever I see that someone else has bought my book. But for now, I’m savoring the newness of it. The surreal unfamiliarity.

When I first started thinking about self-publishing, back when I was only going to do it under a pen name for a project that didn’t pan out, I knew I wanted to do it seriously, professionally, rather than just for fun or just for the heck of it. The lines get murky when it comes to self-publishing, I know,  but there’s a difference, at least a psychological one, between self-publishing with the intent to start a professional writing career and, say, posting a story on fictionpress.com. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but it’s not what I wanted. But like I said, the lines get murky – so I had to figure out where that line was for me, draw it out inside my head. And that line was having a stranger pay for something I’ve written. I didn’t know how long it would take me to cross that line when I published The Torturer’s Daughter, but I had faith that I would.

I crossed it the first day it came out. Then crossed it twice over. Then again, and again, and again. I don’t know whether dreams are fulfilled at a geometric or exponential rate, but by either count I ended up far ahead of where I thought I would be.

The day The Torturer’s Daughter came out was one of the three best days of my life.

The sales I’ve gotten so far would look like nothing to someone who’s been doing this, and doing well at this, for a long time. But how I felt that first day wasn’t about numbers. It was about crossing that line, crossing it and leaving it in the distance. It was about reaching something I’ve been aiming towards for so long that the aiming itself was one of the threads my life was woven out of. The giddy bemused disorientation of looking at that thread and realizing it no longer belongs, and that something else has taken its place.

This is what it feels like to fulfill a dream.

Tear It Down

The reason there’s practically nothing here at the moment is because I decided to get rid of it all and start fresh. That isn’t as momentous as it sounds; there were only a handful of posts here to begin with, scattered over a period of months. I lost inspiration for blogging after internet gremlins ate my previous blog (which had more than a handful of posts in it), and besides that, talking about writing was… problematic, which I’ll get to.

So I wasn’t updating with any kind of regularity to begin with, and then I wandered away from the whole thing for a couple of years.

But that makes it sound like something that just kind of happened. This was intentional. My writing life was going through a couple of major shifts, and neither of them were things I could post about.

The first was that I was no longer sure of the path I wanted my writing to take. I had always assumed I would pursue traditional publishing, since for most of the time I’ve been writing that’s been the only viable path. I’ve written the queries; I have the rejections. But while I was going through the submissions process for The Torturer’s Daughter, I started having doubts… and when you’re sending queries out to agents who might look up your blog, you can’t exactly post about how you’re not sure you want an agent after all. In the end, I decided to self-publish; I’ll talk about the reasons for that in a different post.

The second was more complicated.

To explain this one I have to start a few years ago, when I had a bad reaction to a supplement that I was taking, where it screwed with my brain chemicals such that I lost my sense of self. It was as if my soul had gotten up and walked away one day, leaving behind a functional shell. My mind and my memories were intact – but the inner core, the part that tells me who I am? That was gone. For two years.

Back then, before I realized what was wrong, I clung to my writing, because it was the closest thing to an identity that I had. I was a writer; that, at least, was something I could be sure of. When everything felt pointless or there was nothing I actually wanted to do, at least I could write.

Except the inner spark that drove my writing, the thing that made my stories matter to me, was also gone.

So I wrote stories that didn’t move me, and gradually stopped being able to convince myself that they did. I held my identity together with duct tape made of flat empty words. There was no joy in it. No meaning. There was only another hour, another thousand words, another book finished. I could never take a break, not even for a day, because if I did, my fragile prosthetic identity would crumble to pieces. I wrote all the time because I had nothing else, except I didn’t have writing either, not really.

Then I realized what had been causing the problems – or made an educated guess, at least. I stopped taking the supplement, and within days I was myself again. I had my core back again. Real enthusiasm, real inspiration, a real identity, for the first time in two years.

And I was terrified of losing it all again.

It took several months for the last of the effects to get out of my system. Every dip downwards, every day I woke up feeling worse than the day before, was a cause for panic, a sign that I was wrong after all, that I hadn’t found the real cause. That this had only been a temporary reprieve. Not logical, but in a fight between logic and fear of annihilation, fear usually wins.

To keep the fear at bay, I had to prove to myself that I was back to normal. Those two years hadn’t been a part of my life, not really. They had been an interruption, and now I was right back where I had left off. Everything was exactly the way it had been before; it had to be, because if it wasn’t, that could mean I was losing myself again. But I knew I was safe, because I had real interests again now, and a sense of purpose. And inspiration. Especially inspiration.

I kept the fear at bay like that for two years, until I didn’t even know I was afraid anymore. And then 2011 happened, and everything fell apart.

For me, 2011 started in late 2010, and I’m not sure it ever ended. I started a list, at one point, of important and/or strange things that happened in my life in 2011; I stopped when I hit 50. But the most important was the series of realizations that hit me like wrecking balls breaking down all the walls I had built up. I had thought everything was back to normal; how had I not realized before how deeply traumatized I was? How had I not realized that everything I did these days was motivated by fear?

With my illusions gone, I could see everything I couldn’t let myself admit before. Including the truth about my writing. The truth was, I hadn’t really felt passionate about a story in a long time. The truth was, part of me never wanted to write again. Writing wasn’t fun anymore; it was full of echoes of the way I had used it, of how my life’s passion had been twisted into endless joyless work. It was still the only thing I wanted to do with my life, just like it always had been, but now it was also a reminder of everything that scared me most.

I couldn’t get out of those patterns while I was still writing. And every time I tried to work on a writing project it made me sicker. I  could have kept going. I had a lot of practice with forcing myself to write. But that would have been counterproductive, to say the least.

So I stopped.

It was the longest I had gone without writing since… I  don’t even know when. Possibly the longest I had gone without writing since I first learned how. It was miserable, and it was necessary.

I’m not entirely back to normal yet. But I can work on editing my novel without completely shutting down. I can think about a story idea and look forward to writing it. This is progress.

I didn’t want to come back and put new blog posts next to the ones I had written when I didn’t know what was going on, when I had a vague sense that something was wrong but couldn’t admit to myself what it was. I didn’t want to build on top of a foundation I had already taken apart.

I wanted to tear it all down, so I could start over.