11 January, 2010

Oh those pesky questions - Part 1: The future of Faldorrah

Here I try to be obtuse, yet inquiring minds want to know... ;)

We'll start with the Dubric books, but to do that we have to backtrack a little. Well, a lot. And this will get long and rambly. My apologies, but here we go.

I have had problems with stress and depressive episodes most of my life, and one of the things I did to escape the blues was to write. My "normal" methodology, learned through literally a lifetime - started when I was still in grade school - was to dump the pain, anger, frustration, whatnot onto a page or other form of creative media, but we'll limit this essay to writing. Often, I'd weep while writing, unaware I was even crying, shit, unaware of everything until the purge was done. Bill used to say that while I was writing, a bomb could go off behind me and I wouldn't even notice.

I grew up very poor, living in what wasn't a whole lot better than a shack, and we didn't even have indoor plumbing, if you could call it that, until I was a teenager. It was filthy, crumbling around us, and was infested with roaches and, on more than one occasion, rats. My mom worked all the time with her many jobs to keep us fed and clothed. My dad worked, but he was plagued by his own demons. I still hate apples because sometimes that's all we had to eat until Mom got home with groceries. And field corn. Don't even try to tell me it's sweet corn, I know better. I had very few friends as a child, and God forbid anyone ever came to the house.

I had my family, and my pets - we ALWAYS had pets - and the freedom that comes with living in the country. My mom tried to make things better. My dad went out for coffee. I ruled my siblings by being bigger and stronger, and I created things. Lots and lots of things. Including stories. But I grew up very, very prone to depression and repressed anger.

Ghosts in the Snow was my seventh completed book, if my memory is counting right - don't even ask to see the old ones, they suck. I wrote most of it while my dad was rapidly deteriorating from diabetes. We - as in mom and us three kids, but mostly mom - had to provide constant supervision for him since he wasn't very mobile. He was half blind, cranky as hell, and had various ailments and oozes that needed tending, no small feat in that house. I was also working full time as a graphic artist, pretty much bored out of my mind. Was just me and the boss, who was more interested in partying than getting jobs. We were broke, dad was dying - and I had to be there to help even tho I hated the bastard - and I didn't have much hope of things getting better.

I really struggled with that ol' depression. Those were some pretty hard times for me.

Anyway, I wrote to cope. I wrote in a flood of pain and fear and anger and boredom. I cut open my psyche - as I always had - and let it just fall onto the page. Nothing different than it had ever been, as far as I could tell, other than if I didn't write daily - and some days were five thousand word days - I'd get twitchy. My husband encouraged me to hang out with writers online and they then encouraged me to seek to sell the monster of a book (about twice the length it ended up being). It was a doorstop, but it was also the best thing I'd ever made. So, I did what I was supposed to and sent it out.

It got picked up, it sold, all incredibly quickly. About that time - oh, hell, Tam, be honest, EXACTLY at that time, the same goddamn day the contract arrived - my brain broke. It's complicated, having to do with me and my dying dad, and I don't need to air all that shit even in a non-professional blog, or at least not today, but I spent much of the next three years bawling.

Everyone around me - family, friends, my one co-worker - we're thrilled. I wanted to throw up. The book went thru major revisions including tossing out more than 7/8 of the original door-stopper manuscript AND the entire finished not-quite-a-doorstop sequel. Despite the horror of my writing friends at such unimaginable gutting of a story and obliteration of almost 400,000 words, I was totally cool with it. After all, as Nella says in one version of the story (I think it's still in the final) it's just work, and there's always plenty of that.

At least I thought I was totally cool with it. Now, I'm not so sure. I'd originally crafted the series to be about demons, not mages. And Aswin Romlin was the central character, not Dubric (who I pretty much hate anyway. He's just such a bastard, at least As is a nice guy). And there were going to be seven epic-fantasy books, mostly about a revolution, not a series of mysteries...


Anyway, instead of writing to purge, I wrote to contract. I did all the things I was told I was supposed to do, like conferences and blogging and workshops and meeting deadlines and just following orders. But I was angry. REALLY angry. And I took a lot of that out on my characters - as anyone who's read Threads of Malice can surely see. I wasn't angry about the process of publishing, least I don't think so, it was just one more thing in the pile. My dad died while Ghosts was in production, and I stopped working not long after that because I was a full time wife, mom, writer, marketer, and worker. And my mental state was raveling loose around the edges, might as well be honest about that. Something had to give, so I chose the job.

I am ever thankful that Threads was written and off to edits before Ghosts hit the shelves, otherwise I doubt I could have finished. I have never, ever, felt that happy, giddy, OMG thrill that writers supposedly get when they first see their covers or books or words in print. It's always been awful for me. If I'm alone or at home, I start bawling/screaming/freaking out as if faced by some horrid, slimy, stinky, oozy, tooth-gnashing thing that I have to plunge my arm into. In public, I just get really silent and close myself off. I do not cope well with some things, and these things rarely make sense to others. Mostly I try to just do what I'm told. And, a writer friend told me to submit Ghosts into consideration for Best First Novel 2004. So I did.

My already straining brain snapped the day it won. I started contemplating suicide. Writing stopped, EVERYTHING stopped, and I put myself on medication and in therapy. I almost quit those dark days in the spring of 2005, almost called my agent and editor to tell them I couldn't do it anymore, here's your money back. But, in the end, I knew I'd signed a contract, I had deadlines, expectations, and it was just work after all. So I forced out Valley of the Soul, word by awful, painful word. I'd never cut my psyche open on purpose before, never made myself face the page when I would have done almost anything, paid almost any price, to not have to write about Dubric or corpses or any of that shit.

But it's not like I had something better to do. I wasn't doing much of anything but sitting like a bump and crying. Bill and Laura - that's our daughter, she's almost 20 now and it's weird calling her The Kid - were awesome, but they didn't have another book due. The fan mail kept landing in my email box, the reviews, good and bad, kept coming (I handle bad reviews MUCH better than good ones, btw, and a few good friends would seek them out just to cheer me up. Strange but true). Conventions contacted me wanting me to come. Which meant flying, awful, terrifying flying, and crowds and speaking to strangers and being perky when only desperation and wellbutrin kept me from hurting myself. 2005 was BAD, really, really BAD. But I shoved out the words anyway. I did my JOB.

I finished Valley's initial version around Christmas, a couple of days late, and turned it in. My editor wanted massive changes much like she had with Ghosts (Threads, btw, is almost entirely word-for-word a straight match with my first draft, there are some line edits and a single removed scene, that's it). So I made the changes. That wasn't hard, being edited is the easy part for me. And I was finally done, free... off the hook. Thank GOD! I survived!

But folks wanted another Dubric book. I doubted I had one in me - oh, I had ideas, don't get me wrong there, mostly involving the lovely concept of purging the cast with fire - but I still had that lingering responsibility to satisfy the fans. And to not quit on myself.

So I tried. I made myself sit. Made myself open my word processor. Made myself look at the blank page, not that it did any good. I went nearly all of 2006 barely able to write a grocery list without bursting into tears. One payday, I had trouble writing checks for the bills. My hand just wouldn't quit shaking. I stayed in therapy, admittedly cheered that the books were slowly failing. Ghosts sold really well, but Threads and Valley tanked. I was relieved. We could have used the money, could have paid a few bills, but I'd look at those crappy numbers and say a little prayer of thanks.

But slowly, by almost invisible increments, I wrote. Just a sentence, a concept, a teeny little vignette where Lars and Jess got frisky. I like writing about Lars and Jess getting frisky, they're so damned cute! But, anyway, I didn't have story, and story is important. Time passed, life happened, and we moved from the burbs to a teensy town in northern Iowa, partly for Bill's job, but mostly because he took the job since I needed to get away from all the pain burbling around my relationship with my family.

I'm a lot happier here, still not a completely cohesive, logical whole, but a LOT better. Words started to come back and the purge-by-fire concept became a book called Stain of Corruption. When it was nearly done, just had to wrap up the ending before Serian bled to death, I sent it to my agent and publisher. Because that's what you're supposed to do with finished books. Send them out.

They rejected it, and rightly so. My numbers sucked, it had been too long, and, frankly, it didn't have that 'spark'. I was THRILLED. Free, free, free, free free!! Thank you, lord, I'm FREE!

And things got a lot better. And I got words.

I thought a bit about Stain and realized a couple of things. My publisher was absolutely right, it didn't 'spark' but the concept was sound. Just needed a different approach. I started it over, writing it with Lars as the main character, not Dubric, since it really is Lars and Jess's story, and I'm a lot happier with it. That said, at this point in time I do NOT intend to sell it. I am very open to giving it away should I ever finish it, as a .pdf or maybe a lulu print or something. Selling my pain nearly killed me before, and I don't intend to do that again. I've never minded people reading my stuff, it's the exchange of funds that freaks me out. So enough of that shit. I won't ever make another penny off of Dubric, dammit, and that gives me a good deal of joy. I work on Stain when I need to purge off some of the pressure, when I feel a need to splatter Dubric with some blood or ash - or just send Lars through hell - and it's a lot better for me and my soul.

Since I don't intend to sell, I might, maybe, post bits from it from time to time, those tamboesque vignettes maybe. I really like the opening scene, especially in this version. It's much, much better than anything in the book before. But I dunno. Mostly I make it all up as I go, which is how it works best for me.

If anyone has further questions relating the Dubric books, I'll start a new label for all things Dubric and answer/provide as best I can.


B. Morris Allen said...

1. Obviously I'm sorry to hear that writing is so painful for you. You need to do what's best for you, regardless of what your admiring public may request.

2. One of the things I like about the Dubric books is that they are in the aftermath of a great epic. Your writing is so good that I'd also happily read an epic, but this difference is part of Dubric's charm.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry you hurt so much.
These books have been a blessing for me because I could see some of my own pain on paper,see that someone else "gets" it.Especially in 'Threads'.
Best to you,